How Angry Should Other Writers Be About Brandon Sanderson’s $22 Million Kickstarter?

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From Slate:

There’s nothing like the announcement of a fat book advance to set other writers grumbling in protest, whether the jackpot winners are Michelle and Barack Obama, who landed a staggering $65 million deal for two books in 2017 or such unsavory figures as right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, whose relatively modest $250,000 contract with Simon & Schuster caused enough uproar that the book was eventually canceled earlier the same year.

But the announcement today that fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of a four-book series had surpassed $20.8 million to become the platform’s most richly funded project to date presents an unusual challenge for critics of how publishing values books. Conservatives could complain that an overwhelmingly liberal industry had drastically overestimated the popularity of the Obamas and progressives could complain that a company like Simon and Schuster showed terrible judgment in promoting and lining the pockets of a troll like Yiannopoulous. But in Sanderson’s case, there’s no gatekeeper to blame.

Literary writers have long bemoaned the amount of money and promotional resources publishers have poured into books by celebrities, politicians, and the authors of formulaic commercial fiction. More recently, critics of the industry have demanded that publishers invest in more titles by authors of diverse identities. Since Sanderson’s Kickstarter made headlines, there’s been, unsurprisingly, some grousing on social media about whether such an already commercially successful author needs that kind of money. “Today is a really good day to support your favorite author who hasn’t made $18M in the last few days,” tweeted the fantasy novelist Natania Barron. Others have been frustrated that it’s a straight white Mormon man benefitting from this largesse: “There is so much excellent diverse SFF out there,” tweeted the critic Alex Brown, “and y’all are intent on giving that man millions of dollars.”

But it’s hard to take issue with a guy who’s simply selling his books directly to people who really, really want to read them. Sanderson wouldn’t have such a large following, of course, without the benefit of years of publishing conventionally, with the full resources of a traditional publishing house and its distribution networks behind him. (He also wouldn’t have that following if he weren’t reliably pleasing his readers.) And that $23.3 million won’t go as far as an old-fashioned advance, since Sanderson has to print, warehouse, and ship the books himself, along with the swag boxes and special collector’s editions that many of the project’s subscribers have purchased. It is, of course, a vast pile of money, but it’s not unprecedented: Dell paid Ken Follett about the same amount for two books all the way back in 1990 while Penguin paid a reputed $50 million advance for Follet’s Century trilogy in 2008. For that, Follett didn’t have to do anything but write.

A novelist as popular as Sanderson may even be taking a slight loss on this operation, compared to what he might net if he released these books through his current publisher, Tor. But Sanderson is interested enough in the business side of book publishing to try this experiment, and at a time of paper shortages, container ship catastrophes, and other supply-side headaches, to boot. Most authors of any identity or level of literary accomplishment aren’t interested in taking on such a project. And it’s not every author whose fans are willing to pay more for swag and for books printed on fancier paper with plusher bindings. This enterprise and its success is unique to Sanderson himself, and the track record he has with his fans.

There may be a handful of authors—Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin spring to mind—who could pull off something similar. There are authors who sell even more books, such as James Patterson or Diana Gabaldon, but whose fan base doesn’t care much about collectibles. And it’s entirely possible there are still other writers out there unfamiliar to me with fanbases so doggedly devoted that they might well be eyeing Sanderson’s $22 million haul and thinking, “I can beat that.” But I suspect not more than a handful.

It’s one thing to challenge publishers to provide readers with a wider variety of books by a more diverse selection of authors so that everyone can find more books to appreciate. It’s another to scold readers for their enthusiastic support of an author whose work they genuinely love because there are authors and books you consider—for whatever reason—more worthy. People don’t enjoy books simply because other people tell them that they should. And if I were one of those allegedly superior authors, I’m not sure I’d want to see my own work cast in the eat-your-spinach role against Sanderson’s French fries. Writers always seem to find a way to begrudge each other’s successes, but the case against Sanderson and his fans is based on sheer fantasy.

Link to the rest at Slate

PG was amused by the “Sanderson may even be taking a slight loss on this operation, compared to what he might net if he released these books through his current publisher,” statement in the OP.

PG suggests the author of the OP doesn’t really know much about the book business. Sanderson is making a huge boatload of money more than he would have received had he published these novels with Tor. The $19 million is just the start of the money he’ll earn. He’s going to sell a whole bunch of books to people who haven’t already bought them through Kickstarter.

Plus, he’ll almost certainly get some interest for a TV/video/movie deal. If PG were to speculate, he suspects that Netflix, Amazon, etc., are already thinking about how much they want to pay for video rights. Then there are t-shirts, toys, etc., plus foreign rights galore.

The author of the OP is a woman named Laura Miller who, according to her byline, is, “a books and culture columnist for Slate and the author of The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia.”

PG checked on Amazon and found that Ms. Miller’s book was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2008 and currently has a Best Sellers Rank: #707,153 in Kindle Store. PG was not able to find any more recent books by Ms. Miller listed on Amazon.

20 thoughts on “How Angry Should Other Writers Be About Brandon Sanderson’s $22 Million Kickstarter?”

    • First time I heard that my thought was “Sanderson?”
      I’m not American so I was confused for a minute.

  1. “Writers always seem to find a way to begrudge each other’s successes”? That seems a zero sum game – traditional publishing? – where one writer’s success means fewer funds for other writers’ advances.

    Sanderson is doing exactly what others in the SP cohort will do when they can, and is satisfying his readers. Impressive – and wonderful – and deserved. He’s done all the work, so why shouldn’t he get the benefit of it? None of that money will be coerced out of anyone.

    He doesn’t hurt anyone – and makes a great point about self-publishing: there will be many who at least go look at his books to see what the fuss is about, and may try some.

  2. Was thinking about not commenting, but… This is the whining of those who just don’t want to work.

    If you want a ton of money for writing – do the work for it. Whether it is perfecting your craft and either schmoozing a trad publisher and/or promoting yourself as an indie – or becoming a celebrity actor or athlete – or convincing enough people in the right places that you should be President of the United States.

    Even those very few who inherit or win a lot of money put in the work if they want to keep it (the majority don’t).

  3. Just throwing this out there. This is how Scalzi really feels. I think he’s jealous.


    John Scalzi
    March 1, 2022, 11:04 pm
    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.

  4. However big a slice of pie Sanderson is claiming, it’s not my pie. Perhaps Ms Miller should ponder the number of future literature majors who got their starts on, say, Tolkein; or who will have, in the next couple of decades, gotten their starts on Rowling. And then moved on to more snooty and acceptable literary forms; maybe one of them can even become the Gordon Lish of the 21st century! One wonders if Miller would say this if Joyce Carol Oates or the late Larry McMurtry did the same thing.

    Oh, I’m sorry, I think the sarcasm may have dripped onto your monitor…

  5. More power to Mr. Sanderson to use the tools available to him and may he succeed beyond his wildest expectations.

    Game companies (not the majors, but smaller independents) use Kickstarter all the time to fund the creation of their games when they’re first starting out, or even when their established. These days it’s the best way to get your product directly to the masses.

  6. “And that $23.3 million won’t go as far as an old-fashioned advance, since Sanderson has to print, warehouse, and ship the books himself, along with the swag boxes and special collector’s editions that many of the project’s subscribers have purchased.”

    ROTFLOL time.

    Yeah, because Sanderson is going to do everything himself from his basement, right?
    Jeeze. The cluelessness is strong with this one.

    TL/DR: Sanderson is adding an extra, higher, level to Indie and (true) Hybrid publishing, and pointing out the way others might follow as they ramp up their careers. An extra level to aspire to after building a loyal fanbase. Not just a single book kickstarter but and entire year’s worth of monthly events. If he is prolific enough to to four books a year (many are) this could be his company’s regular MO.

    (Deep bow. Good show, Mr. Sanderson.)

    First of all, Sanderson is no pauper. And he already has a small press to his name. (Ala DWS/KKR or Kevin Anderson and a lot of Indies.) He can easily get a line of credit from a bank to pay for any upfront costs based on the Kickstarter. He almost certainly has people to take care of the grunt work. All he needs to do is write. And sign papers. And make sure everything is aboveboard, of course. (Wouldn’t want to get ripped off like a certain other author who complained of piracy.)

    Second, the lowest level of the kickstarter is for digital releases. Minimal incremental cost since the books are *already written*. They go out with the basic print edition.

    Third, the higher levels of commitment are for particularly premium luxury editions. He makes it clear he might yet go with a tradpub…later. Or not. Any tradpub is going to get his leftovers. The back of the long tail, while he pockets the three month launch window “hump”.
    “These premium hardcover books are collectible above your standard hardcover. Each one will be roughly 400 pages long, about the same depth and height as our leatherbound books (about 6-5/16″ x 9-1/2”), printed on FSC-certified off-white acid-free paper, and bound in a FSC-certified environmentally friendly colored soft-touch paper material. The cover material is beautiful, giving the look and feel of real leather while, according to the manufacturer, “complying with our strict ecologically sound production methods.” The material will then be foiled with the final cover illustrations. Each book will feature 1-4 color interior illustrations throughout along with designed endpapers and chapter headers, all commissioned specifically for this project. Each shipment also includes a themed sticker and a cool, sparkly bookmark. ”

    Fourth, the books will be released quarterly with a new release of *something” every month for a year. This is not a random dump but a full on marketing strategy.

    Finally, the first three books in the project are new and undisclosed with the fourth fitting into his primary narrative framework. Now, the first three might be a traditiinal trilogy but a really clever publisher would make each the start of a new trilogy, perhaps in different “universes”.

    FWIW: Here is the actual kickstarter.

    Other authors shouldn’t be angry but rather envious.
    And taking notes…

    • And that $23.3 million won’t go as far as an old-fashioned advance, since Sanderson has to print, warehouse, and ship the books himself, along with the swag boxes and special collector’s editions that many of the project’s subscribers have purchased.

      You stole my quote, Felix, and I had the same reaction.

      Talk about the OP not reading the source material. The $40 level gets you 4 quarterly ebooks. I’ll bet a lot of people went straight for that. Given that he doesn’t need to split that with Amazon (one assumes) it’s almost pure profit for him, compared to what he would get from a TP advance – about, what – 20%?

      The grousing is funny too. “why are you buying his books instead of my books?” Get real.

    • The original statement is so moronic, and proves they don’t know jack about how this works. Although they do have the ‘won’t go as far’ bit right. KS will take their chunk. Backerkit, the big name in Kickstarter fulfillment companies, is fairly well known for the massive chunk they take too. And taxes. But even with all that, he’s making off with a very solid chunk of money (better than Scalzi’s deal), and he’s already got the product. The only tripping points I see for him are the swag (which has been an issue for many KS people lately, what with shipping, quality, and yes, overfunding/ordering more than they expected. I’ve funded three KS this past year that are running far behind on delivery because they suddenly had to get more product than expected, the factories making things are behind, or it hasn’t even made it on a boat yet.)

      All of that to say that the OP obviously has no clue and hasn’t done any research into how Kickstarters actually get things done.

  7. No no no no, indie authors aren’t envious. They’re taking notes and seeing what they can learn from it.

    It’s the trad-pubbed literary authors who are envious, but they know they don’t have the readers willing to support them like this.

    • Agree on the latter but there few Indies (so far) who have gotten far enough to have millions of True fans. It’ll be a while before 8 digit Kickstarters become common among Indies. A while, not forever.

      Something to aspire to but Sanderson did get tapped to write the last three WHEEL OF TIME books. That probably let him capture a lot of Jordan followers.

      Envy isn’t necessarilly a bad thing as long as you don’t go crazy with it.
      “What a man has done, a man can aspire to.” – Jerry Pournelle.

      (Women too.) 😉

      Notice how many companies in Europe and China are working on reusable rockets now that SPACEX has safely landed 100 boosters? Or all the wannabe ebookstores that followed Kindle?

      Note takers do fine as long as they learn the right lessons.

    • Most SF&F writers (Tradpub or indie) don’t have the earned fanbase to match Sanderson but that doesn’t mean a six figure kickstarter isn’t an option after getting, say a dozen well received books on the market.
      He got a lucky break but he *earned* that break and made the most of it. Especially now.
      Not everybody does that. So far.

      Imagine what Asimov or Heinlein might achieve today. Or Cherryh, David Weber, or Joan Vinge.
      I don’think Sanderson will be the last.

  8. I never heard of this guy, but will buy and read something just because he raised $20M.


    And the people who don’t like how much he generated are free to do exactly what he did. They will find their gripe isn’t with him, but with consumers who don’t send them money. The opportunity is available. Equitable outcome depends on consumers.

    • (He does fantasy. And SF. Might not be your cup of tea.)

      Try this one, from 2014, THE WAY OF KINGS:

      His reviews average 5 stars over 21,440 reviews. note who he is compared with.

      “Brandon Sanderson is quickly becoming my favorite author. I grew up with Tolkein, Asimov, Herbert, and other gifted writers. Though I was young and didn’t understand everything on the page, the stories came alive for me. I was also a huge fan of Orson Scott Card in high school, and the past 15 years of George RR Martin.

      In my opinion Brandon Sanderson might just beat them all. I know that will be taken as blasphemous and borderline heresy, because Tolkein and Asimov are considered two of the greatest writers of all time. Just hear me out as to why I think Sanderson has something special with this series.

      The Way of Kings is the first in a planned 10 book series in the Stormlight Archive. These 10 books take place on a planet called Roshar, a planet with a unique and rich history. While humans are present, the world is very different than our own. The world is a very unforgiving place, with hurricane level storms traveling across the world every couple of weeks, giant crab like crustaceans roaming the world, and trees and other plant life have evolved a rock-like resilience to the elements.

      Right away you can see that this differs from the more traditional fantasy worlds of other authors. As if this isn’t interesting enough, Sanderson goes one step further and introduces a magic system that hasn’t been seen before. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil it, but the discovery of this “magic” (if it can be called that) is both interesting and refreshing. “

    • Depends on what you’re into. Honestly, most of his stuff occupies that strange borderland between adult and YA fiction that seems to be all the rage these days, but I think you’d probably like his Wax and Wayne series, of which he’s published three books of a planned four–The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and Bands of Mourning–and is working on the fourth. And, unlike certain other authors, he’s pretty good about actually finishing what he starts.

  9. I’ve seen the same negativity toward success before and never understood it. I can describe event after event — there is a broad spectrum — but have never seen a consistent term that makes sense. There are so many Stories that fall within that “broad spectrum”.

    – I always thought of it as “Toxic Competitiveness”, but I’m sure that is not the term.

    I have noticed that most of the negativity is not conscious. The person is not aware that they are acting that way.

    The other key part, is that the less prepared, the less work the negative person has done toward their goal, the greater their negativity, up to and including rage toward the person succeeding. They take it as a personal insult.

    – Basically, “How dare you do…”

    When that is in a group situation, there is the old story of

    – how do you carry a toad in a bucket.

    If there is only one toad, they can climb out of the bucket, so you have to put many toads in the bucket, and they will actively pull down any toad that seems to be climbing out.

    Watching his video, he is basically saying that he was one toad, so was able to escape.

    Think what would have happened if he had announced two years ago that he was going to do this. Write the books, then do the kickstarter. Think of all the people who would have made it their life’s mission to stop him.

    I remember the phrase from school:

    “You are making the other children look bad.”

    The phrase from work:

    “You are making the other people look bad.”

    That’s why the less that management knew what I was doing the better, and once I retired, the bureau was dissolved within two years. The head of the Highway Department literally showed up one day and asked what they actually did.

    That was a pyrrhic victory.

  10. Being ‘angry’ at someone else for their success is a pointless waste of emotion and time.
    Bravo Brandon for this success. If you envy his success work hard on writing books as well as him and building a fanbase equally large and then you too can have equivalent outcomes.

    • There’s a subset of authors who think the real value of a book isn’t reflected in the sales. These authors take it upon themselves to define and assign the real value. When they see a book to which they assign a low real value and it has a high market value, they are offended. So they tell the rest of us how misguided we are to assign such a high market value without proper clearance from the guardians of literature.

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