Fantasy Author Raises $15.4 Million in 24 Hours to Self-Publish

PG managed to get round the NYT paywall today. The OP was published two days ago.

From The New York Times:

Brandon Sanderson, a prolific sci-fi and fantasy author, started an online fund-raising campaign this week to self-publish four of the novels he wrote during the pandemic. His goal: to raise $1 million in 30 days.

He blew past the first million in about 35 minutes. And the ticker kept rising.

In 24 hours, he raised $15.4 million, which the fund-raising website Kickstarter said was the single most successful day of any of their campaigns. By Thursday, two days into it, he had raised more than $19 million.

The eye-popping sum raises questions about what is possible for authors with major platforms who are willing to self-publish — and why the vast majority of big names stick with traditional routes to publication. But analysts, and even Sanderson himself, don’t see this kind of self-publishing as a problem for the industry or a desirable choice for most writers. Rather, for the right author, the two paths can coexist and help expand options for readers.

“Publishers need authors to be entrepreneurs these days,” said Kristen McLean, the executive director of business development at NPD Books, which tracks book sales. “This is just going to build his profile and continue to drive the backlist sales of all of his books.”

Part of why this project has worked for Sanderson, McLean said, is his unique relationship with his fans. He has sold 20 million print, audio and e-books, Sanderson said, including titles such as “Rhythm of War,” an epic fantasy novel about a coalition of humans resisting an enemy invasion. Like many authors of science fiction and fantasy, he has spent a lot of time in conventions and interacting with his audience. In 2019, he said, he was on the road for 111 days.

But self-publishing on the scale Sanderson is proposing is an enormously complicated proposition. Fundamentally, most authors want to write books, not run a publishing house.

Books require editors, designers and lawyers. Someone has to register the ISBN number and file for copyright. Someone else has to proofread the manuscript, then proofread it again. Printing thousands of copies of physical books, then storing and distributing them, is expensive and onerous.

To that end, Sanderson has built a company, Dragonsteel Entertainment, which employs 30 people including a marketing director, concept artist, continuity editor and human resources director. He also has a warehouse in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a short drive from his house.

Sanderson has been self-publishing e-books since the early 2010s, he said, and a 2020 Kickstarter campaign to fund a leather-bound reprint of one of his books served as a test run for this larger project.

“I am an artist who was raised by an accountant and a businessman,” Sanderson said in a phone interview from his office in American Fork, Utah. “For a lot of authors, this would be a bad idea because there’s a lot of management.”

Sanderson emphasized that he was not leaving traditional publishers, in part because he wants to be sure that bookstores can continue to have his work in stock. He is published by Tor, which is part of Macmillan Publishers, and Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and he has a book scheduled for publication later this year with each of them.

e also has no plans to use his company to publish other authors, he said. What makes him successful is his ability to appeal directly to his own fans, who may not necessarily want to buy work by somebody else.

One of his goals for this project, Sanderson said, was to experiment. First, he wanted to see what it might look like to poke a little hole in Amazon’s dominance. Amazon sells more than half the printed books in the United States, but it is even more powerful in e-books and audiobooks, which account for 80 percent of Sanderson’s sales, 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,” Sanderson said. “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 wanted to play around with bundling and upselling. Traditional publishers, he said, offer few products and few options. The array of packages on Kickstarter range from $40 for four e-books to $500 for the four books in all formats, plus eight boxes of “swag.”

Other high-profile writers occasionally self-publish. Donald Trump Jr. took that route with his second book, “Liberal Privilege,” after releasing his first book, “Triggered,” with an imprint of Hachette. Colleen Hoover, a novelist who has three books on the New York Times best-seller list this week, continued to self-publish long after she became a hit maker. And there are certain genres, like romance, science fiction or fantasy, where self-publishing e-books remains common for signed authors.

“There’s a lot of hybrid publishing out there that is just happening quietly in the background,” McLean said. “It’s just the way sophisticated authors in genres manage their business.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The author of the OP, Elizabeth A. Harris, is an NYT reporter whose beat is books and publishing. PG is not acquainted with her and, to the best of his knowledge, this is the first article written by Ms. Harris that he has read.

For 95% of traditional publishers in the United States and for quite a few commercial English-language publishers who sell their books in the US, The New York Times is an extremely valuable place to have their books be mentioned. A NYT Books and Publishing reporter is certain to have a great many excellent contacts in every major and a lot of minor publishers.

PG expects Ms. Harris may have contacted several publishers as she prepared her article. That would be the almost certain first step a reporter would have taken with a story like this. Yet, nobody who works for a publisher appears to have agreed to be quoted, even on an anonymous basis.

The one source identified in the article is NPD, a company that operates BookScan. BookScan’s business is providing information about the sales of printed and ebooks, mostly to traditional publishers. An interested observer might ask why a traditional publisher would need to pay someone else to track its sales, but, hey, publishing is a special snowflake and commercial concerns are for the beancounters who work somewhere in the basement and is a bit off topic anyway.

A chance for an executive of a major or minor publisher to be quoted in the New York Times would usually cause her/him to stop any business meeting or interrupt any lunch or vacation to speak with an NYT reporter. But nobody was willing to say anything, not even a catty remark, about Sanderson.

PG’s speculation is that everybody in New York (and maybe London) publishing hopes this is just a one-time happening that will never be repeated again. Everybody knows fantasy and science fiction authors are strange people anyway. Nothing to see hear, move on.

PG would appreciate it if any of the visitors to TPV discovers anyone associated with a traditional publishers commenting about Brandon Sanderson in print that they would send a link to PG via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

2 thoughts on “Fantasy Author Raises $15.4 Million in 24 Hours to Self-Publish”

  1. “He also wanted to play around with bundling and upselling. Traditional publishers, he said, offer few products and few options. The array of packages on Kickstarter range from $40 for four e-books to $500 for the four books in all formats, plus eight boxes of “swag.”

    The son of an accountant and a businessman saw good money left on the table and was properly offended that, after all his achievements, his tradpub was costing him money by not properly monetizing his books.

    By contrast:,also%20giving%20pre-order%20bonuses.%20Pre-Order%20Bonus%20Photo%3A%20FromSoftware

    This quarter’s hottest video game release is ELDEN RING.

    “Elden Ring is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The game was made in collaboration with fantasy novelist George R. R. Martin, who provided material for the game’s setting. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on February 25, 2022

    Elden Ring received critical acclaim, with it being among the highest-reviewed games of all time. Praise was directed at its open world design and gameplay, which was considered as an improvement to the Souls formula, though it received minor criticism for technical issues. ”

    It comes in *five* versions for six different platforms at prices ranging from the XBOX/PS4 standard $59 to a Premium Collector’s Edition at $259. On all platforms, released the same day worldwide.

    The publishers knew they had a good product so they gave customers the chance to pay as much as they feel comfortable with.

    Last fall, Electronic Arts bundled the three games in the MASS EFFECT trilogy that goes back 15 years, tweaked the first, refreshed the graphics and combined virtually all the DLC and called it MASS EFFECT LEGENDARY EDITION. Again, six platforms, disc and digital, for $59. Sold millions, often to the same people who’d bought the individual releases. (Guilty as charged.)

    A couple months before, BETHESDA Softworks released a tenth anniversary edition of SKYRIM, the all-time top selling western RPG which has been released so many times in so many different Editions it’s become a meme. When asked about why so many rerelease the Bethesda boss said “We’ll stop re-releasing it when they stop buying it! ”

    You see the same thing in music and video. They aren’t too proud to take people’s money.

    Neither is Sanderson.
    It is only smart 21st century business. No windowing, trusting your creators, marketing the heck out of the product, and if 70-80% prefer digital over basic physical, find ways to convince them to pay extra for a gussied up physical release.

    As far as the Manhattan mafia goes, that’s all a passing fad, like ebooks.
    At most, they’ll wait years after a book’s run before doing a premium edition. And only for the biggest oldest names.

    Meanwhile, smart indies do ebook, POD, audio, hardcover, and premium leather bound editions as appropriate.

    Customer focus is the difference.
    Know the audience, what they want, what they’ll like, and do the best to give it to them.

  2. You mean I would have to take five minutes and register for my own ISBN AND file my own copyright?!? Quelle horreur!

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