The Kickstarted Game Changer

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From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

For decades publishing has been a stagnated industry, relying on fifty- and sixty-year-old methods to sell books. Most of the practices within the industry are also at least fifty or sixty years old. Sure, the industry has made some modifications to accommodate innovation, like the ebook, but those are minor tweaks.

Those tweaks do not take into account the actual changes in the world. What traditional book publishers could do for writers in the mid-twentieth century was vast and impressive. What traditional book publishers can do for writers now is pretty minimal, and getting more so, thanks to the damn virus.

If you’ll notice, most of the repeat New York Times bestsellers (even at the small numbers that it takes to hit the list) have been around for at least ten years. And that includes Brandon Sanderson.

Sanderson provoked this mini-series of blog posts when he launched a Kickstarter this month, and it flew past a million dollars within a day. This is important for a variety of reasons, a handful of which I explored in the previous post.

The real reason this large Kickstarter is important is that, if we writers do this right, the Kickstarter is the game changer that the industry needs.

I’ve long had the sense that the publishing industry is moving at lightspeed—away from traditional publishers. If there’s an innovation, it comes from the indie (self) publishing side.

. . . .

The opening line of this very silly sales pitch from a promotion company is this:

Nowadays, some traditional publishers won’t even consider signing an author who has less than 10,000 email subscribers. Even indie authors see a big jump in sales after they build an email subscriber base…

Even indie authors? Even indie authors? This technique for building sales came from indie authors. They’ve refined the email marketing list long past what this particular article proposes. The things it espouses were hot in the mid-teens, and aren’t effective now.

Except, maybe, to get a traditional publishing deal, which pays increasingly less money for scooping up most of the copyright. That copyright detail will become important in the third and final installment of this miniseries.

Traditional publishing is floundering. Its overhead is top-heavy, it’s still locked in expensive production contracts, it’s also paying New York rents, which, as of January of this year, had the second highest rental prices in the nation (only San Francisco cost more).

I’m sure a round of layoffs is coming in traditional publishing which follows the last-hired-first-fired method of getting rid of people. Which means that the innovators—the young people—will disappear.

And now this.

Brandon’s Kickstarter should send waves of fear through traditional publishing for a variety of reasons.

1…The monetary size of the Kickstarter. As of this writing, the Kickstarter has earned well over 5 million dollars. It will cost money to fulfill the Kickstarter, not just for the items promised, shipping, and the salary of the staffers who will handle fulfillment (or the cost of a fulfillment service).

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that this Kickstarter finishes at 8 million dollars (which is what Dean is estimating, based on the way the Kickstarter is going in the middle here). Let’s use super huge fulfillment expenses and say that it will cost half of the earnings to produce and ship the rewards. (It will cost significantly less, but go with me here.)

That still means this Kickstarter will clear 4 million dollars.

In today’s market, no publisher can pay 4 million dollars for a book advance. Even if some publisher did manage to cough up that kind of money, Brandon wouldn’t get it all at once. He’d get it, probably in 5 (or more) installments—signing, turn-in, copy-edit, page proof, hardcover publication and paperback publication.

The most would be on signing—maybe a million right there or maybe not because again, I can’t see a publisher shelling out that kind of cash in 2020. The rest would be split in payments under $500,000, with at least 15% taken for the agent.

All in all, it would take three years to get the four million dollars for the book—if the publisher moved at lightspeed. Even then Brandon wouldn’t get the full 4 million. He would get 3.4 million, with $600,000 (minimum) going to his agent.

With this Kickstarter, he’ll get the full 4 million sometime in August. (This assumes that Kickstarter’s 5% fee is in the 4 million I set aside for expenses.)

Here’s the kicker though: This Kickstarter is for a single license—a leather-bound hardcover with beautiful interior art. Not for paperback rights or standard hardcover rights or ebook rights. Not for audio or anything that you might find in a standard traditional contract.

Just one little slice of the copyright.

In other words, the fans on Kickstarter are paying for just one version of a book many of them might have already read. There are still other licenses out there that could be monetized should an author (not Brandon) want to do this.

So if Brandon can clear 4 million on one slice of the copyright pie, think what would happen if he decided to Kickstart his next hardcover novel. Then Kickstart the paperback. And Kickstart the audio book.

Not all of them would earn 4 million, but that doesn’t matter. If he makes $500,000 on each of those Kickstarters, he would add another 1.5 million to his Kickstarter total (9.5 million) and since we’re saying it would cost half to fulfill, that’s another $750,000 up front, not counting the money that would come in from the ebook (which I haven’t listed here) or the sales to the general public.

Instead of 3.4 million over three years on a book, he’d clear 4.75 million in about a year (or less).

2….The backer size of the Kickstarter. As of this writing, over 19,000 people have backed Brandon’s Kickstarter. This is a tiny percentage of his fan base—and that’s a good thing.

Not everyone who reads books goes to Kickstarter. Not everyone who reads Brandon’s books buys them. (They’re also in libraries and other such places). I couldn’t quickly find the sales figures for Brandon’s solo books. (We can’t count the Wheel of Time books he completed for Robert Jordan.) But I do know that Brandon’s sales are in the millions of copies.

With that measure, 19,000 backers is a mere drop in the potential bucket.

Imagine if Brandon self-published all of his books, not just a handful of them. His fan base is not going to diminish. It is going to grow or at least remain the same.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

11 thoughts on “The Kickstarted Game Changer”

  1. Here’s the kicker though: This Kickstarter is for a single license—a leather-bound hardcover with beautiful interior art. Not for paperback rights or standard hardcover rights or ebook rights. Not for audio or anything that you might find in a standard traditional contract.

    I’m not sure I get this. The kickstarter isn’t for a NEW book, it’s for a Lux version of “The Way of the Kings”, which he put out 10 years ago, it says. To get this, you have to pony up $200 or more. According to Amazon, he published this with Tor. How the rights all shake out isn’t clear here.

    If it were a new book, or a book that he was in the process of writing, would the cost to opt in be that high? Probably not. People might opt in for $10 or even $20 for paper. If he was just kickstarting an ebook, what would the likely participation point be? Who knows? People do crazy things on kickstarter. If it were nobody trying to kickstart their first ebook, how much do you think nobody would raise?

    A lot of Kris’ columns read like “here’s how to stick up for yourself and make money once you’ve become successful and well known.”

  2. Anyone know when money actually flows on KS? If I click the BUY button, do they hit my credit card immediately? Or is it a pledge?

  3. Seriously considering whether there’s a Kickstarter way of bringing out the second volume in my mainstream trilogy – I’ve been watching all their videos and reading the document they’ve put together.

    It could be a good place for indie mainstream fiction, which has a hard time competing with traditionally published mainstream and literary fiction, just because the readers don’t even think of indie, or, I’m convinced, bother searching on Amazon. I believe they come to buy – especially these days – but not look for other books.

    • Good points, ABE.

      Let me know via the Contact button if you want to share your experience in the future.

      • The biggest problem, as everywhere else (including Patreon – which I’ve given up on after a lot of work, and insisted they cancel my account – as their cancellation language is unintelligible), is that you have to bring your own, ALREADY existing, fans to Kickstarter – or be the beneficiary of some angel event: as one person said, nobody wanders around Kickstarter looking for things they might support.

        Or as another said about established authors like Kris and Dean, they are established authors with fan bases.

        Getting there in the first place is nontrivial. And for someone energy- and brain-challenged, nigh impossible.

        For now, I’m concentrating on the writing, but it occurred to me that there are a large number of details – other than the writing – which take time and effort: formatting, cover, proofreading, producing ebook and print versions, eventually the audio version. These benefit from an infusion of cash. Which could be kicked into being under the right circumstances.

        Even audiobook creation has two categories: narration and production. If you want ‘As read by author,’ you still can separate the production out – and get help. It can be expensive AND time-consuming either way.

        The most important part is the ‘write a good book’ component – everything I read about marketing and other monetizing assumes that. It is NOT a given. Not even remotely.

  4. I read KKR’s post a couple of days ago and got interested. To the point of checking out that “Fiction” section. Then I did a couple of “Pledge Without a Reward”s (could be as low as $1). That’s a good way to watch a campaign from the inside. KKR’s poster boy, Sanderson, and husband, Dean, suggest doing this as a way to get familiar with the platform.

    They also claim that there are readers in KS “Fiction” looking for new books to read. I have no idea, but when I get to the end of my current trilogy, I may consider doing a Special Edition via this way. And I’ll be taking their free Kickstart Best Practices course in the meantime to learn more. I own all my IP, so… why not?

    • That was my thought.
      Not necessarily for a debut project but for an author with several series books looking to do print, a Deluxe First edition for a new project or a Deluxe collected set would be suitable targets for a Kickstarter. Preferably in time for holiday gift giving.

      And it shouldn’t be necessary to rely solely on Kickstarter fiction regulars; an author website and/or mailing list can steer readers there.

      • Exactly. And because I’m writing about Neanderthals, I can think of some interesting Pledge Rewards: handaxe facsimile, bag full of fire charcoal, eagle feather . . . And for the book(s) itself, who doesn’t love gilded page ends and a satin-ribbon bookmark!

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