March 11, 2022

Fantasy author raises $25 million on Kickstarter to self-publish 4 new novels

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Brandon Sanderson a Lucca Comics & Games 2016. Sala Ingellis. Photo by Niccolò Caranti (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Brandon Sanderson has just created the number one Kickstarter project of all time. Backed by over 110,000 people, more than $25 million dollars has been pledged as of time of writing … with 23 days still to go for supporters to invest. So who is Sanderson and how has he cracked the crowdfunding formula?

As Sanderson introduces on his Kickstarter page:

“Never heard of this Sanderson guy before all this buzz about his Kickstarter?

“I write primarily science fiction and fantasy with a focus on compelling characters and imaginative settings…

“The one thing you should know is that many of my books take place in a universe called the Cosmere. (Three of these new books are in that universe.) Think of the Cosmere like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, except every story (instead of starring a different superhero) is taking place on a different fantasy planet with its own ecology and magic. People can travel between planets via various methods.”

Whether you have heard of him or not, Sanderson has a huge and dedicated fanbase. He is no newbie to writing: a prolific author, his debut novel Elantris was published in 2005 and since them, he has incredibly published almost 50 further titles. He was chosen in December 2007 to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, he is the only author to make the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award eight times in seven years, and he has made the New York Times Best-Seller List fifteen times.

So why, you might ask, does such an established author, who is published by Tor (Macmillan) and Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House) want to self-publish four new novels?

Sanderson has apparently always had dreams to crowdfund a series of novels on his own terms, and when he started writing the first of his new books during the first lockdown as a gift for his wife, he saw an opportunity he realise that dream. He said, as reported by the New York Times, that part of the appeal was to shake up Amazon’s dominance: over 80% of his ebook and audiobook sales are via Amazon channels. He said:

“If Amazon’s grip on the industry is weakened, that’s good for the publishers — they are very much under Amazon’s thumb right now… I don’t want to present this as ‘Brandon versus Amazon.’ Amazon’s great. But I think that in the long run, Amazon being a monopoly is actually bad for Amazon. If they don’t have competition, they will stop innovating.”

He also went on to say:

“What I can do with the Kickstarter is I can say, “hey, if you really want to have more, we will give you more.'”

To this effect, the Kickstarter options range from $40 for four e-books, to $500 for the four books in hardback, ebook and audiobook, plus eight boxes of ‘swag.’ Originally he was hoping to raise $1 million in 30 days, but amazingly he exceeded this target within the first hour. And the crowdfunding keeps growing. Thanking fans in a video, he told them that he is ‘flabbergasted’ by the response and that ‘this last week has left me speechless’

Self-publishing can be a great option for many, but does have its limitations. Books need to be edited, proofread, typeset, designed, printed, distributed, publicised … this all costs time, money and know-how. How does Sanderson do all of this himself, you might ask?

Well the truth is, his “self-publishing” involves using the resources of his own company. He is the founder of Dragonsteel Entertainment which employs over 30 people and has its own warehouse. So he is not self-publishing in the way it is generally understood, he has an infrastructure and experienced team to help him create and sell his books. He effectively has his own mini-publishing empire, although he has no plans to use his company to publish other authors. He has also previously used Kickstarted to fund a limited edition, leather-bound 10th anniversary edition of his book The Way of Kings in 2020, which brought in $6 million. So this isn’t his first rodeo, by any means.

And let’s not forget that Sanderson has an established and loyal fanbase, excited by his new books and willing to support him. He has built this loyalty over the course of many years, and he spends a lot of time interacting with his readers and attending events and conferences. As the New York Times reports, in 2019 he was on the road for 111 days. That kind of hard graft is rewarded by fans.

While his Kickstarter project is full steam ahead, Sanderson has also made it clear that by no means is he forsaking his publishers, and in fact he has books scheduled to release both with Tor and Delacorte later this year. The man is a writing machine. He said to the New York Times:

 “I love my publishers… I have no intention of leaving them. But I like to try new things.”

Sanderson can reap the benefit from these ‘new things’ thanks to the hard work he has put in over the years, and thanks to his traditional publishers helping to build a name and brand for him. Writers do indeed have more options than ever to get their books out into the world which can only be a good thing, and self-publishing and crowdfunding are viable options for many, but success takes a lot of work, and frankly a lot of luck and good timing. Neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing in itself is a guarantee of success. But once you achieve it, Sanderson demonstrates just how far you can ride the wave.

The new novels will be released every three months from January 2023.

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.

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