Very Quick Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Mega Kickstarter

Context: Brandon Sanderson, who has been a #1 New York Times bestseller as co-writer of the Wheel of Time series and his own Stormlight Archives novels, announced a Kickstarter in which he offered four previously unannounced novels as well as a “Year of Sanderson” swag boxes, all to be delivered in 2023. Announced today, the Kickstarter has already gotten $13 million in pledges, and it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that by the end of the pledge cycle, it may end up between $20M and $25M in pledges.

This has naturally sent the SF/F publishing world into a bit of a tizzy, with people wondering What It All Means for publishing, and who else in SF/F, or fiction generally, who could do something similar.

Naturally, I have some thoughts on this! Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Kudos to Brandon — it’s nice to see his work over the years has led to this. But I think it’s very important to stress the phrase “over the years” here. Brandon published his first books the same year I did (we were in the same Campbell/Astounding Award class together), and since then he’s both been writing assiduously and developing a merchandising and fulfillment backend of the sort that almost no other writer has done. His writing and work ethic got him the nod to finish the Wheel of Time series, and when that was completed he was able to carry much of that vast fandom into his already existing fandom, and into his own work. He’s done other Kickstarters and has developed a reputation for delivering on what he’s promised; he and his crew have done the legwork in creating specialty items and getting them to fans.

In short: Almost uniquely among modern SF/F authors, Sanderson is positioned not only to have an audience large enough for a vastly successful Kickstarter, but he’s also positioned to follow through on those Kickstarter promises with an already-built organization. The numbers this Kickstarter is generating are large, but in the larger context of his career, his ambition and his work, not ultimately that surprising.

2. Could any other currently working SF/F writer do this? I’m skeptical. Certainly there are other writers as popular as Brandon, but it’s the backend bit here that I think is easy to overlook as being critical. People are pledging to Brandon’s Kickstarter not only because they’re fans of his work, but also because they have confidence that a) he’s not going to do a Kickstarter fail and run off with their cash, b) that the quality of the books and swag boxes will be as advertised; he’s not going to half-ass it.

Look, running a Kickstarter is hard; I have any number of friends who have done them and all of them will tell you the effort it takes is immense, and what you get in return, after everything is said and done, isn’t always worth it. Lots of people who have funded Kickstarters will tell you similarly; what they’ve gotten is not always worth the money spent. In this case, however, Brandon & company’s previous experience in merch and fulfillment, on Kickstarter and off of it, works in their favor, in a way that someone doing a Kickstarter/fulfillment for the first time can’t realistically hope to match — even writers who have similar fan bases.

The SF/F writers I think could do similarly are people who, like Brandon, have at least some merchandising/fulfillment experience to go along with their writing. Neil Gaiman is one; Pat Rothfuss and George RR Martin are two others (don’t start in here about their publishing frequency; it’s already tiring). Among newer writers, VE Schwab and NK Jemisin are two I think have the goodwill for a very successful Kickstarter, even without a great amount of experience in distribution. After that, things get iffy. There are others who could essentially publish themselves out of petty cash (Stephen King, JK Rowling, James Patterson), but I’m not sure why they would want to bother; their merchandising/distribution set-ups are already well-built out (GRRM is likely and realistically in this category as well).

3. Could I do a Kickstarter like this? In at least one of the discussions online, someone suggested I might be able to pull it off. And my answer is: Probably not, or at the very least not nearly as well as Brandon. One, his fanbase is both larger and more fervent. Mine is fine — I know how much I sell, and it’s lovely — but Brandon’s is more. Good for him. Two, again, there’s the merchandising/distribution backend to consider. I don’t have one (yet), and even if I get one it’s likely to be built differently than Brandon’s is. Maybe at some point in the future, say if Old Man’s War finally gets made as a movie and is a smash, and I start more actively merchandising my work, then I could pull something like this off. But now? Nope!

And that’s fine with me, by the way. Again: Brandon’s done the backend work already; I haven’t. I’m not going pretend our positions are equal here. To repeat, what we’re seeing here is the result of years of planning that Brandon’s done but other writers, even ones of similar popularity, have not. It matters.

4. I’m seeing some people using Brandon’s Kickstarter as evidence that writers don’t need publishers any more, and my thought on that is whoa, Nelly, let’s slow down for a minute here. Brandon’s position is very nearly sui generis, for reasons I’ve already explained. He has essentially been running a publishing/merchandising/fulfillment company for years, while working with existing publishers to build (oy, here comes that word) his brand. Using Brandon Sanderson as evidence of anything other than that he makes a very fine and successful Brandon Sanderson is ignoring a lot of the work he did and eliding over the factors that got him to this point.

Can writers be successful without publishers? Sure, and some have been! But it’s an immense amount of work, that some people aren’t competent to do and others don’t care to do. I’ve mentioned before that I love working with my various publishers because they let me do the things I’m good at (writing, some marketing) while they handle literally every other thing, from copyediting to distribution, that I have no ambition to bother with. A writer like me is likely to be more successful with a publisher than without one. Publishers do bring things to the party, as it were, to make the party better.

Also remember — and Brandon is himself a good example of this — it doesn’t have to be either/or. A successful writer can do some things with a publisher first, and other things on their own first (provided they’ve done enough to establish a backend capability). The takeaway from Brandon’s Kickstarter success here is not that publishing is doomed, but that writers, particularly already-successful ones, have more options available to them than ever before, especially if they have already done the work to execute on those options.

5. And this is really the thing I think needs to be brought home here. Brandon’s done the work. He’s spent years doing the work, inside traditional publishing and out of it. Along the way, he’s caught some pretty big breaks (see that Wheel of Time thing), but many of those breaks have also been about the previous work. If you do the work, and have some luck (okay, a lot of luck), you’ll have more options to get your work to people.

But it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It took Brandon 16 years (not counting all the work he did before he got professionally published) to get where he is now, reaping the benefits of this whopping Kickstarter. Could someone else do it? Maybe, in time. But right now, it’s Brandon who put in the time, and effort. Good for him. If you want the same, get working.

— JS

65 Comments on “Very Quick Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Mega Kickstarter”

  1. Before anyone else mentions it, yes, indeed, Brandon also benefits from operating on the Lowest Difficulty Setting of life, here in the US, and its entirely possible some opportunities were open to him as a straight white male that weren’t open to others (and still might not be in many ways).

    Update: This comment has made some of the Usual Suspects very salty. My frothy little dudes, being a straight white male gives you a leg up in this society, yes, still, stop pretending otherwise.

  2. I wonder if the recent TV version of Wheel of Time has bumped up his audience and contributed to this happening now? (Personally I thought his WoT books were great and have liked a few of his other series (but not his big Stormlight books — personal preference thing rather than a quality judgement) and if this brings him in more money and lets him put out more books, good on him.

  3. I’ve backed a few of Rudy Rucker’s KS campaigns. The most recent raised fewer dollars than Sanderson has backers in the first day. To be fair, Rucker is a bit more of an acquired taste (one I picked up decades ago). Amazing to see the breadth of creative campaigns out there, and some of the unconventional approaches to publishing.

  4. Another thought about #4. Sanderson doesn’t seem to be abandoning traditional publishing either. He still has various works like the Stormlight Archive that are going through the traditional publishing route. This seems to be layered on top of that traditional publishing base.

  5. I have done all kinds of variations on publishing, from trade to small to self to crowdfund and back again. It’s awesome. It’s also a megafuckton of work the farther you get from conventional Big Five. (Probably telling that my first thought on seeing the numbers were “Holy shit, someone’s gonna have to fulfill HOW MUCH?!”)

    I’m in awe he can do it. I can’t, and there’s no amount of money that could make me the kind of person who could. I panic when I owe ONE person a book.

    So yeah, this is amazing for him and he absolutely deserves the success, but no, this is not gonna replace publishers for 99% of us.

  6. Writers building teams to run expanded business seems to be a 21st century trend. Gaiman and his work for the CBLDF was the first I ever became aware of then the Greene boys with their P4A and Rothfuss with Worldbuilders all doing fine charity work. Sanderson’s Dragon Steel is a different take and heading in another direction; but is doing good work brining in newer writers. He mentioned that one benefit of this Kickstarter was to bypass the Amazon domination of the market and I have to love that.

  7. Given how odd Rudy Rucker’s work is, the amazing thing is that he ever got published by a regular publisher at all. A big part of it was likely being in the right place at the right time; cyberpunk was really hot for a while, and Rucker was close enough to it to convince people to pick up his books.

    It’s great that there are now ways other than conventional publishing and distribution to get work out in to the world and maybe even make some money from it. The traditional model doesn’t work for every author and every book, and works that are out of step with what is currently fashionable are especially likely to benefit from other channels. E-books, in particular, have worked well for some authors. But as Scalzi points out, the traditional publishers DO work well for many authors, including him.

  8. I have a friend who is a successful romance writer. She is very clear that she is a “commercial” writer. I think that she is self-published. She has worked very hard building her audience, and got to the point where she quit her day job – technical writing – because her romance writing was making as much or more than the tech writing. More power to her!

  9. It may be a successful Kickstarter campaign, but it’s not a very good one.
    For one, it’s really vague – you don’t know what merchandise you gonna get, even what types of merch are planned. You don’t have any idea about the books either! Brandon Sanderson is a great author, but don’t kid ourselves – his books heavily fluctuate in quality and some are a real slog to get through.
    Secondly, for all this talk and experience about running a fulfilment business over the years, he really dropped the ball with international orders: flat fee for shipping outside US, and what a ridiculous fee it is! If you opt in for the full “Year of Sanderson” package, you pay 117% of your pledge in just shipping and handling fees!! That clearly shows that he can’t manage this size of operation or at least the fulfilment side of it.

    He is going to earn a great deal of money here and more power to him! Hopefully something good will come out of it for the whole SF/F community. But I can’t but to feel disappointed.

  10. Apparently all of the “Let’s Go Brandon” chants were very motivational to the guy who I thought of every time I saw or heard that phrase. Dang, way to go B.

  11. I don’t think you can divorce publishing frequency from the rest of your argument! You make the point that the backers “have confidence that a) he’s not going to do a Kickstarter fail and run off with their cash, b) that the quality of the books and swag boxes will be as advertised”. GRRM’s fans have largely lost that confidence.

    Mark said “Writers building teams to run expanded business seems to be a 21st century trend.”

    Well, now, the Scalzi bought a church… He’s going to need an expanded team to fill it.

  12. I think Louis McMaster Bujold could do it, in terms of popularity. She’s also been self-publishing for a while now- but only, mostly shorter, ebooks – which is a different scale. Nil interest on her part though, I suspect.

  13. While I wish Sanderson the best and I fully anticipate this project being extremely successful within the US, for those of us internationally it’s quite frustrating. The shipping costs are prohibitive, there’s not a chance that I can afford them and I know many others saying the same (especially as it is not possible to spread the cost over several payments). I’ll probably get the ebooks, and then hopefully at some point in the future there will be print copies available in the UK.

  14. International shipping is just a beast right now. I am not surprised with the campaigns fees in that regard. And I don’t think you can blame Sanderson on how expensive it it is. That is just the state of international shipping at the moment. Several other kickstarters are experiencing the same kind of international shipping fees. I tried to purchase a book from France from a publishing house over there and the shipping fees were as expensive as the book itself. I don’t see the fees decreasing until the current supply chain issues are resolved.

  15. Kickstarter. Let me see if I understand the process. I send you money to create/build something. in return I get a token gift and a chance to buy what you made. Oh yeah what a deal for you, for me bragging rights for helping you make money

  16. @Richard: You’re entirely right. And 45,000+ backers, to the tune of $12,000,000 have said that they’re OK with that business model.

  17. I have never heard of you before today and this article.
    Very nice and well written article, however… just as I was looking into buying your books you dropped the ball. Over and over again in your article you write, Brandon did all the hard tireless work, he 100% earned with no questions what he has received.

    Then you throw in “were open to him as a straight white male” at the end. This is a disservice to him and continues to drive a wedge into our society. I like Brandon work my butt off, we have earned what we have, no questions asked. It is disgusting that Good People, doing the Right thing have to defend themselves.

  18. @Richard: “Let me see if I understand the process. I send you money to create/build something. in return I get a token gift and a chance to buy what you made.”

    You don’t seem to understand the process. Aside from the very lowest tier (explicitly labeled “no reward – back it because you believe in it”), all of the pledge amounts on this Kickstarter get you ebook or physical copies of the books. You’re not paying for the chance to buy them, you’re pre-ordering them (with the caveat that you’re not guaranteed to get what you were promised if the whole project falls through). “Bragging rights for helping you make money” is a weird and hostile way to describe “supporting an artist by paying up front for work they wouldn’t have been able to afford to produce via normal channels, and getting some fun merch in addition”. Of course if I’m backing someone on Kickstarter I want to help them to make money – that’s the point!

  19. @Richard: While I have lots of issues with Kickstarter, this one is Brandon giving you four books and possibly other stuff depending on tier. You don’t have to purchase them separately later.

  20. Well, that’s simply not true. I can go to my local post office and mail an insured priority package to US for less then 80% of their shipping quote: and that’s without looking for the cheapest option, negotiating a discount for volume or working with a shipping company to drive the cost down per order.
    My guess would be that Sanderson is simply treating this Kickstarter as a pre-order platform with extra steps and is simply uninterested in providing a good experience for his international audience.

  21. Michael, I understand that can be frustrating, but that’s life. Straight white men get more for the effort they put out. No one says Sanderson isn’t one of the hardest working writers in the industry, or that his success isn’t well-deserved. But again, it can’t be denied: we white men get more for the effort we put out. We are assumed to be in the upper echelon, we don’t have to prove we belong there.

  22. @Krzysztof Nieradko: That may be your experience where you are, but shipping rates are highly variable depending on where the package is originating and where it is going to. The rates can be quite different depending on if it is US -> UK or UK -> US for instance. And since Sanderson is attempting to do standardized pricing, he has to price it at the worst possible rates he might expect over the next year for the highest priced destination.

    We can argue if that is the right way to do it, but given he is doing it this way, the pricing makes sense. As painful as that is.

  23. I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t watch Brandon’s entire vid but I giggled like a school girl at his not only one reveal but two.

    I love that he said what I as a former, never ever to be again, convention runner know – convention appearances take time away from writing. Unless you have a really good discipline in your writing, you’re going to have a TWOW situation where fans have given up (my observation).

    I know you do the JoCo, DragonCon, WorldCon and supporting signings for your books (still wish you’d sign at Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC). I think it is important for each author to decide how many appearances they can do and keep their schedule.

    Geez, why the heck am I preaching here. I’m going back to my hidey hole.

  24. @Gildarts
    I have backed a lot of Kickstarter/Indiegogo projects over the years and shipping/fulfilment almost always done outside the Kickstarter platform. And since you are correct that shipping rates are highly variable depending on where the package is originating and where it is going to, it’s so much more baffling to me to have a flat rate. It simply shows how inexperienced they are. There is NO defence for doing it this way – let ppl make their pledge and charge them shipping rate specific to their destination after the campaign is successful when they are fulfilling the shipping survey. That’s how it’s always done!

  25. Richard, Most Kickstarter projects, you give them the money for creating something, then you get the something. The one project I’m backing at the moment, an expansion for a game I backed and received earlier, they get the money at the end of March, I get the expansion next year.

    It’s usually possible to just pledge money to a project if you support it but don’t really want any of the results, and there are some that are for creating art like dance or an installation.

    The only ones I’ve seen that really fit what you describe are the places that start a business and send supporters samples of their products.

    Mr. Sanderson is certainly not doing anything like that. If you give him $160 dollars, plus shipping, then next year you get 4 premium hardcover novels. $480 gets you the hardcovers plus 8 swag boxes over the year. There is no “chance to buy” something, you get what you pledge for.

    This is assuming the project isn’t a scam (very rare these days, but it is happen) and something bad doesn’t happen to the creator. Covid-19 & logistics have wreaked havoc the last couple of years. Ukrainian and Russian creators are getting hit hard right now for obvious reasons.

    (I back a lot of stuff on Kickstarter, so am fairly knowledgeable about it. Haven’t backed Mr. Sanderson, don’t know that I will, I’ve never read any of his stuff.)

  26. @ “Micheal”:

    “I have never heard of you before today and this article.”

    So… you happened to stumble across the article completely by accident? What a strange coincidence! One would almost use the term “unbelievable”!

    ” just as I was looking into buying your books you dropped the ball”

    Oh man! Just as your cursor was hovering over the “buy” button, you read something that contradicts what you believe, and you decided you just couldn’t go through with it, huh? What a principled fellow you are, pal.

    “we have earned what we have, no questions asked”

    You do realize that “earning what you have” directly contradicts the implication of “no questions asked”, right?

  27. A brief note as a fellow Kickstarter-fulfiller (on a much smaller scale with Uncanny Magazine!) re: international shipping. We are in the “me stuffing envelopes at the kitchen table” scale, to be absolutely clear.

    Yes, the flat rate for shipping sucks rocks. Undeniably.

    Kickstarter’s back end does NOT allow for different shipping costs to different places beyond “US” and “Outside US” unless you set up a backer reward for each country or a group of countries, which is, honestly, a crapton more work at the setup stage. Which means it’s less likely to happen given the number of spinning plates required from running a KS.

    Many of us therefore pick a flat rate for “inside US” and “outside US” and those rates have absolutely gone UP UP UUUUP in the last couple of years. If you don’t pick a sufficiently high flat rate, you lose money on both the items and the shipping. I have had the experience of shipping dozens of packages to Australia, for instance (we love our Australian readers!) and having them cost much more to ship than the value of what’s being sent.

    We’d ALL be happy (both shippers and receivers) if the rates went down, is all I’m saying.

  28. @Lynne M Thomas I backed a few Kickstarter projects over the years: 7 electronic projects, a calendar, a knife, a watch, two board games, three books and a documentary (that was digital only). I have never paid shipping through Kickstarter, always through outside website that took my shipping info and CC/PayPal after campaign successfully funded.

  29. The Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter video was hilarious, he’s such a nerd. I’ve read his Mist Born and Storm Light Archives series and some of his other books and enjoyed reading them. Brandon Sanderson books are fun to read, but I won’t be participating in his Kickstarter.

  30. @Krzysztof Nieradko yes, that is the case for folks who use services like BackerKit to fulfill. Not every project does that because it costs more, hence my noting “kitchen table” level fulfillment as my area of expertise.

  31. @Lynne M Thomas Funny thing is project uses BackerKit or at least they say as much in their FAQ. :)

  32. Brandon covered a lot of the questions about shipping in yesterday afternoon’s livestream.

    Books are heavy. Weight drives up shipping costs.
    Dragonsteel priced out the shipping, and what they’re going to pay to ship internationally is actually more than they’re charging. They’re soaking some of the cost on this.
    Ideally, they would like to get to a point where they can have some sort of distribution setup based in Europe, but as of yet, they haven’t found a good solution.

  33. Okay, I had that last comment done in a numbered list, but the site edited out the numbers. My apologies for any reading difficulties the formatting caused. xD

  34. The fact is that Sanderson, so far as I can see, is simply unique in the sheer quantity of work he produces at what most people would probably agree is at least a reasonably high baseline of quality.

    Seanan McGuire is the only other working SFF writer I can think of who even begins to approach Sanderson on that dimension. But even (as far as I know) McGuire works exclusively with publishers; Sanderson is what seems to amount to a successful businessman on top of everything else.

    Frankly I’m skeptical than any other writer, period, could pull this off.

  35. @jscalzi, the last paragraph of this blog post contains “It took Brandon 16 years[…]to get where he now, reaping the benefits[…]”

    Should that be “where he is now” or “where he now is”?

  36. Wow, I just checked Brandon’s Kickstarter and it’s well over $16 million with 29 days remaining. At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start a full-blown publishing (or other type of) company. He’ll certainly have the funding needed. This amazing Kickstarter event may be the genesis of entirely new trend. I’m not sure what that result might be but it will be darn fun to watch what Brandon does with the tremendous financial support given by his loyal readers.

  37. I’ve never been a big fan of Kickstarter, but I’ve backed a few campaigns and mostly been happy with the eventual – sometimes very eventual – results. This certainly looks like a good deal for Sanderson fans.

    Lawrence Watt Evans did something similar for his Ethsar series, on a much smaller scale and before Kickstarter was a thing or at least before it was a big thing. At least two or three of his later Ethshar books came about because fans paid him what amounted to an advance for an ebook copy, and once he’d been paid for the story he was able to accept a contract from a physical publisher for terms that both could live with, resulting in a traditional publication. He was ahead of his time a bit, and I remember wondering if more authors would move towards something similar.

    Then Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites showed up and all Hell broke loose.

  38. So, John, is what you’re saying is. .

    ‘Let’s Go, Brandon !!’

    ( Sorry, but couldn’t resist. . . )

  39. That one author can suddenly pull in a mountain of cash while thousands of excellent writers struggle and starve is disgusting. This is exactly the opposite direction the publishing world should be moving in.

  40. S, Robert’s. I would say it’s either okay for him to make a lot of money off a well thought out product, or it’s not. What does it have to do with other authors? Publishing should be moving in a direction that rewards authors for….what exactly?

  41. I think the lesson to be taken here isn’t necessarily “crowdsourcing is the future of publishing” but that levering social media to create a conversation with fans is something more authors should do.

    One of the reasons Brandon’s fandom is so powerful is because of how he engages with them. Videos, Q&As, livestreams, etc – these pull him from the nebulous realm of “some name what writes books I like” to “a human I like whose work I want to support.”

    I think that’s some of the point Mr. Scalzi was making in the post – while some of Brandon’s legwork was indeed with building his team and his distribution infrastructure, much of it is in building goodwill with fans. People feel like they know Brandon. That gives them a personal investment in his work beyond just liking the books. And I think that’s a lesson a lot of us–particularly newer, more obscure authors–could take to heart.

  42. S. Roberts said “This is exactly the opposite direction the publishing world should be moving in.”

    Just out of curiosity, what direction should it be moving in?

  43. @Quatermain
    I think we see this process in all of entertainment, not just publishing, but also movies, games etc. where big names just keep getting bigger and bigger. Publishing houses and movie studios are extremely risk averse, willing to greenlight a sequel or a book from a well known author/established property much more easily.
    I believe some people would like to see more action towards inclusivity and giving voices to fresh, new perspectives.
    Why this Kickstarter, a big example of people willing to vote with their wallets and support something they like, would rub someone the wrong way escapes me tho.

  44. [Deleted because I said I’m not interested in griping about certain other authors. I actually meant it, folks — JS]

  45. @S Roberts

    Not entirely different than Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise of George Clooney making >$20M per movie while actors with only small work portfolios make chicken feed. It may seem perverse in ways but the market bears what the market bears and experience and popularity mean everything in the movie industry as well as in book publishing. At best, young authors should use examples like this as lessons in how to succeed financially.

    And for the record, I have never even heard of Brandon Sanderson and have no intention of contributing to his Kickstarter campaign but I own hardback copies of every Scalzi book published besides those audiobook only versions, which I own as well. If Scalzi started a Kickstarter campaign it’s highly unlikely I’d be interested (sorry, John).

  46. You mentioned ‘any number of friends’.

    We’ll need to see some documentation, pal.

  47. In much of this discussion, respondents to Scalzi’s thoughtful and generous post seem to think they are talking about writers and marketing. A few people have even suggested that “writers” and “young authors” should pay attention to this when planning their careers. Guys, this is about the kind of meta-marketing an enormously successful author (and their marketing staff) can do to leverage their popularity into even bigger bucks. This is separate from writing. Two guys in a garage cannot market the way Apple can market. Get a grip here.

  48. Well, it’s a matter of scale.

    Can a new author replicate this Kickstarter? Of course not. Can just anybody replicate Sanderson’s success? No, that would be absurd.

    Can a new author use social media platforms, both text and video, to build a direct relationship with their readers? Absolutely. It’s taking things a few steps beyond, “have a blog and update it.”

    Find your audience. Connect with your audience. Interact with your audience. That’s how to build a fanbase.

  49. Well, pooh. I did a long thoughtful post on all this and my internet went out and it all went poof! In short, I remember Brandon when he had just lost to John Scalzi at the Hugos (for not a Hugo), and he was still giddy about the Scalzi Award Lego rocket friends had made for him. He’s always been a good egg with his fans, his peers, and the people who have brought him out to cons (from my own personal experience at least). If he can write an extra FOUR novels to sell via Kickstarter in addition to everything else he’s doing, kudos to him. As a collector of signed books, I am surprised there is not an option for that, though. Seeing what a local bookstore has had to do to meet the demand for signed copies of Diana Gabaldon’s latest novel (30,000!) is very sobering.

  50. @Rosemary Williams I don’t think encouraging people to get even more parasocial with creators who don’t know them and never will. That’s how you you get a ton of toxic fanbases. All for a guy who is a diff guy when he is selling his product. They don’t and never will actuwlly know a celebrity and telling people to think like that only makes them form unhealthy relationships to things. The guy who I know in my ward is way different from what you see at a con or camera. One thing I’ve always liked about John is that he’s never pretended like we were more than an audience and doesn’t build up unhealthy expectations and dependencies.

  51. Thanks for an excellent article, Mr. Scalzi!

    I would argue that the international shipping rate is, while frustrating, quite fair. I live in China, and so know that international shipping can be incredibly expensive. $420 for shipping twelve seperate packages (some of which will be quite heavy) is reasonable. I’ve seen cheaper, but that’s probably for big companies which have far more resources and ways to ship internationally.

  52. And yes, it is entirely possible to have stumbled on this article without knowing who John Scalzi is. I happen to know him from (our own) Metafilter, but a news article linked me here.

  53. Yes! I was going to comment that I’ve never read (or even heard of?) Scalzi. But because of this I’m now reading a book by him!

  54. @ S. Roberts:

    “That one author can suddenly pull in a mountain of cash while thousands of excellent writers struggle and starve is disgusting.”

    I sort of agree with your point, but… dramatic much? Maybe I live a sheltered existence, but I’ve yet to hear of an author “starving”.

    The vast majority of writers, even successful ones, have day jobs that cover the bills. When you think about how little writers (and publishers) earn per book sold, it only makes sense. This trend isn’t going anywhere – more and more books are produced every year, which tends to water down the per-capita earnings of folks lower down on the totem pole.

    @ Eileen Gunn:

    “Guys, this is about the kind of meta-marketing an enormously successful author (and their marketing staff) can do to leverage their popularity into even bigger bucks.”

    Precisely. I follow a prominent British horror author who, after having several novels published by the Big Names, has built up enough of a reputation and following to go 100% self-published. That’s because people who discovered him via his trad-pubbed books know that he can deliver quality product. Had he tried to do this as an unknown, he would have (probably) been no more successful than other self-pubbed authors.

  55. When talking about how Brandon is looking for a new way of publishing that doesn’t involve the traditional machine, it’s important to know that Dragonsteel is already a small press.

    Along with the professionals at Tor and Macmillan working on his books, he has an in-house editorial team that does edits, copyedits, continuity checks, ebook design, and even some of the layout of all of his traditionally published books. He has his own art director who gets interior illustrations and works with the cover artists to make sure they match Brandon’s vision (which is almost unheard of in the industry).

    He has staff to do social media and marketing that interface with the publishing houses too.

    His merchandising arm is growing from a single person making t-shirts to the amazing team he has there too. Book releases have gone from a couple of people at a bookstore to an entire convention.

    His famed productivity is possible in a great part by the fact that he doesn’t have to take time away from his writing to do all of these things by himself.

    This didn’t happen overnight, it has been built by finding the right people and hiring them one person at a time, starting with a single part time employee when he got the Wheel of Time deal

  56. Recently Sanderson casually mentioned that his team, which he frequently refers to, is 30 people. That’s 30 people he pays out of pocket. Even if he’s only paying them each 40k a year, that amounts to $1.2 million. Plus benefits, which is likely another 250k. Even if he said that in jest, I know for certain there are at least a dozen people who work for his company, Dragonsteel.

    I know he sells a lot of books, but that’s a veritable horde. So there must be a ton of merch being moved in order to generate that level of income. You don’t hire that many employees if you don’t need them, unless you’re MC Hammer, and he went broke five years after hitting the big time. I don;t see Sanderson employing an entourage just to have one.

  57. @ “Fatman”

    > @ “Micheal”:
    > “I have never heard of you before today and this article.”
    > So… you happened to stumble across the article completely by accident? What a strange coincidence! One would almost use the term “unbelievable”!

    I’d have to take exception to that point. I, personally, have only a very passing exposure to John Scalzi. I’ve seen their books on Amazon but haven’t actually read any. Yet. But did I stumble on this article by complete accident? Kinda. But, Not really: it was recommended to me via a share from someone I do know on social media and I followed the link on their recommendation that it was an essay worth reading. So it’s possible to be here mostly completely out of the blue with zero prior exposure to the author.

    But I do agree with the rest of what you said 100%

  58. you mentioned Stephen King as a possibility – remember way back in the early days of e-commerce when King published 6 parts of a serial novel called “The Plant?” the logistics apparently got to be too much and he didn’t finish the story. (He also did his as pay what you want, which adds a strong variable).

    Which, of course, just reinforces your point that the backend part is an incredibly important element to any sort of self-publishing/fundraising effort.

  59. While it’s true that Brandon Sanderson is active on Reddit and puts out videos and engages with his fans in other ways, it’s also true that he is not consciously doing so in order to “build a brand” (no pun intended) but because he really wants to and enjoys it.

    That said, I’m sure he does put conscious thought into how he’s presenting himself, and that as with our gracious host, what he presents is an edited and curated self. What I mean is that his engagement — like OGH’s — is originating from a place of sincerity, and I’m skeptical that someone studying what he does in order to attempt to follow that model is going to be able to be similarly sincere.

  60. @Jeff Jarel So you go to the same church as Mr. Sanderson? I am surprised to hear that his presents himself differently in front of his fans. Can you give an example how he is different?
    I think you are right for celebrities in general. But novelist are a bit different. I feel you can understand a lot about a person from the stories they tell.

  61. I have to question the assertion of how much “white male privilege” helped Sanderson’s KS. That’s not to say that such privilege doesn’t exist in some parts of life (some, like Correa and his crew might, but I don’t), BUT I don’t see anyone out there shoveling millions of dollars at ANY author simply because they’re white, or male, or straight. I just don’t think that charge is appropriate.

  62. Greg:

    It’s somehow a “charge”? No. Also, it encompasses his life/career generally, which helped to get him to where he is right now, and this fabulous Kickstarter. Note well that the acknowledgement of his privilege is not limited to Brandon solely; other straight white males have also benefited from it, in genre and out of it, including, of course, yours truly.

    This is the bit that I suspect is eluding the several dudes being deeply frothy about it on the Internet right now; they appear to think the observation of privilege is either an accusation, rationalization or “sour grapes” on my part. But inasmuch as my own very well provided for ass benefits from that same privilege, it’s none of those things; merely an acknowledgement, from someone who knows, that it’s helpful when the world helps things break your way.

    With that said, I’m not sure we need to delve much more deeply into this in this comment thread; I linked to the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” essay in an update to the top comment and anyone who wants to explore my opinion about it further can follow the link. Otherwise, I suspect it will have a tendency to throw the thread here off topic.

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