Business Musings: What The…?

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I toyed with a lot of titles for this post, most of which would have insulted those of you who have followed my blog posts for a long time and know what I’m about to say. I don’t want to insult you people.

And then there are the others, the ones for whom this post is intended. There’s a lot I could say, but let’s settle on:

What the ever-loving fuck, people?

The responses to Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter from people who should know better have been awful, truly awful. It’s clear that many of you are reacting out of something other than logic.

Before I go any farther here, let me point you to my initial blog post on Brandon’s Kickstarter. I deal with a lot of myths and misconceptions there. Believe me, you’ll want to read this, even if you don’t ultimately feel comfortable with what I’m saying.

Then let’s go with two of the points I’ve seen over and over again, and I’ll leave the rest for someone with more patience than I have.

The two points are:

  1. What does Sanderson need the money for? He has enough already.


  1. Several versions of Why would he step outside of traditional publishing? Or Should traditional publishing match this? Or I’m sure he’ll get his traditional publishers to offer this much money in his next contract.

Oh, and for the hell of it, this one:

  1. Bestsellers can license their copyrights, while the rest of us can’t.

Ack! Ack! Ack! Jeez, people.

Let’s start with the third, because I saw it on several writer boards, some from people who claim to have studied the business of writing.

I say claim because if they actually had studied the business of writing, they would know that all writers license their books to traditional publishers. The agreement between a writer and a publisher is a license, not a sale.

To outright sell a copyright is something that not even traditional publishers ask for these days. In the parlance of the folks who don’t know a lot, that’s an all-rights deal, and even the worst agent knows to avoid that.

Everyone who does not sign an all-rights deal has licensed their copyright.

Want to argue with me? Go ahead. But first, read The Copyright Handbook  from NOLO Press. And then read your traditional publishing contract, y’know, the one you signed on the advice of your non-lawyer agent. I have a hunch you’ll “forget” you made this argument.

But, Kris, you’ll say, I do understand copyright. It’s just that the bestsellers can license better than we young’uns can.

Um, no. It all depends on the contract and the determination of the people negotiating. Every contract is different. Some bestsellers are great at negotiation. Some know what they want. Some suck at it and will take what’s offered. When I was in traditional publishing, I always had better contracts than my bestselling friends. Not because I had more clout, but because I actually read and understood the contracts, and negotiated the crap out of them.

Okay. Let’s put this part to bed.

Now, to the other points. Let’s go with Point 2 first.

And let’s start with a political argument.

So many of you making the argument that Brandon should remain in traditional publishing—that all writers should remain in traditional publishing—also rail against monopolies and corporations and the influence corporations have on politics, not just here in the U.S., but also in Europe.

Um…folks…what the hell do you think traditional publishing is? Right now, the corporations in the U.S. are so big that they’re eating the smaller ones. (There’s an anti-trust lawsuit about this right now.) The big 5, soon to be 4, are huge companies that are part of multimedia conglomerates, and have fingers in pies all over the world.

These publishers don’t care about some midlist author. Until this March, they didn’t care about a writer at Brandon Sanderson’s level either. Right now, all of the execs are having meetings about Brandon’s Kickstarter because it threatens their business model.

They should read social media. The myths they’ve fed writers are so strong that people who hate corporations are defending the need for traditional publishers.

Oh, and the whole diversity issue? I dealt with that in the previous post. But in a nutshell: traditional publishers are anti-diversity unless they see how it can benefit their bottom line.

Kickstarter is open to everyone. Even the midlist writer. How do I know? I’ve had many Kickstarters. My business offers a free class in how any writer can do a Kickstarter, using best practices. People who follow those practices probably won’t make millions, but they might make the same amount of money on their Kickstarter as they would with an advance from a traditional publisher…without licensing any part of their copyright.

So, ask yourself why you’re peddling this pablum. What part of Brandon’s Kickstarter scared you? All of it? The implied work level? The dollar signs?

Is it just plain jealousy talking here or have you bought into all the publishing myths hook, line, and sinker? If it’s the second point, believe me, I understand. It took me the better part of a decade to disentangle my dreams from the myths of traditional publishing. In some ways, that’s why the first few years of this blog existed. I couldn’t believe that I could make money and control my content, without the help of some “editor” who just graduated from college and a publishing executive who wouldn’t know business if it bit them on the ass (which it usually ends up doing, since publishing executives get fired all the time for not making money for the big giant corporation).

And while we’re talking about content here, let’s add one more point. A friend of mine wrote a long screed about Brandon’s Kickstarter, saying that Brandon was writing to market and that’s why he was doing so well.

If that friend had bothered to read the material on the Kickstarter itself instead of reacting out of…anger? Jealousy? Built-in assumptions about the fantasy genre?…then he would have seen that Brandon wrote these books without a contract and because he wasn’t thinking about the market.

Please, people, do the rest of us a courtesy. If you’re going to get on a high horse about something, make sure that you’ve actually looked at that something before going off on your own weird, pointless, and ultimately dumb tangent.

And now, you “he has enough money already” people. Most of you also argue that Brandon should remain in traditional publishing, which shows how little you understand traditional publishing. Writers don’t make a large fortune in traditional publishing unless the traditional publisher is making millions off that particular writer. For the math, see the previous blog post.

But let’s unpack this little gem of an argument in two different ways.

First, you people seem to assume that Brandon knew he would make tens of millions of dollars on this Kickstarter. That’s not how Kickstarters work.

He asked for one million dollars. That’s what it would take to fund the Kickstarter, and given his previous Kickstarter, I’ll wager he hoped he’d get five million. But he clearly would have been happy with one million.

Let’s examine that, shall we?

With the cost of goods and shipping and labor, not counting his own time, at one million dollars, he probably would have cleared $400,000. I’m guessing based on numbers a friend who knows the cost of those swag bags ran for me on this.

If my friend was right, then Brandon was hoping for $100,000 per book.

Which is a traditional publishing level advance…without the payment shenanigans. He’d get the money up front instead of spread over four years.

That’s it, people. That’s running a business, not being greedy, as most of you are saying.

Now, let’s go deeper into this particular argument.

Where the hell do you folks get off saying that writers need to limit their earnings? None of you complain when movies make millions. Or when your favorite publishing house clears multimillions every year.

You don’t complain when movie stars make millions per picture or when artists sell their works at a gallery for a million or more per piece. Nor do you complain when musicians go platinum and, yes, make millions.

So what is wrong with a writer making a lot of money on his art? Hmmm?

Once again, you need to look at your own assumptions here. Apparently you believe, like my friend, that the only writing of value is stuff for which the writer earns next to nothing. And the only way a writer can make a fortune is to sell out.

Recognize that myth? It’s an ugly one.

Finally, because this is the part that pisses me off the most, you writers are insulting readers.

No one is “giving” Brandon millions of dollars. As I write this, on Saturday, March 12, the number of backers is 120,000. That means that 120,000 readers like Brandon’s work enough to invest anywhere from $40 to get four books over the next year ($10 per book) to $500 to get four books in a variety of formats and 8 swag boxes.

That’s it.

This is a reader-sponsored campaign. Readers are giving him money to read his work.

Isn’t that what we all want?

And if you look hard at the categories, you’ll see that by far the biggest number of backers are in the $40-160 range, where what they get are the books.

The books.

The work.

The writing.

That he wrote without a contract, during the pandemic, because the ideas grabbed him and wouldn’t let him go.

Seriously, people.

What is wrong with you?

I don’t want you to defend yourself here. I won’t post what you have to say.

But most of what I’m seeing all over social media comes from one of two places: 1) jealousy (doesn’t he have enough money already?) or 2) the myths (why isn’t he doing this through traditional publishing?).

Most of you I can’t help. You’re too deep in your own assumptions to respond with anything but anger to this post (as well as to the Kickstarter).

But I write this for two reasons.

  1. I hope I get through to a handful of you.


  1. I really didn’t want to say this over and over on social media. I have my own books to write. And my own Kickstarters to run. And my own career to attend to.

From the perspective of point 2, let me say, I think that what Brandon is doing is good for all writers who understand business and know how to take advantage of this.

If you don’t know how to take advantage of this, check out the free class. If you do, then you’re probably as excited about this opportunity as I am.

What opportunity? Some of you ask. Check out the previous post. It’s all there for you, if you can open your mind enough to understand it.


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“Business Musings: What The…?,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / studiostoks.

24 thoughts on “Business Musings: What The…?

  1. Loved the article, Kristine, totally in agreement.

    When I heard about Brandon’s success, I felt like he kicked the traditional publishing model down the block. It made me smile. Good for him, I thought, and good for all writers. And good for readers having choices outside traditional publishing.

    We as writers need to embrace all avenues, especially those not owned by giant corporations with gatekeepers. And even if Brandon makes a personal fortune on this, good for him. He wrote those books, its about time an author and not a publisher or a retailer gets the biggest piece of the pie. And if the publishers force writers to find readers, do their own promotion, they really aren’t needed when a writer does, as he’s proven.

    I don’t follow as much of the writing world online as you do, so it shocks me hearing the writers’ reaction you detail in this article. I have to restate my glee hearing of his success, how good I think it is for all of us in the long run. Thanks Brandon and good luck!!! And good luck to every author who figures out how to be successful, whatever the model.

  2. When I saw Brandon post this Kickstarter (and how he hit it out of the park on day one) I immediately thought of you and Dean. This was showing authors that ANYONE can do a Kickstarter and sell their ebooks. This was a huge win for indie authors, and it benefits us all! More readers will be looking for books on Kickstarter than ever before.

  3. I honestly did not know people were so enviously bitching about his Kickstarter until today. And yes, it’s envy. But me, I figure if an author can make more: bless ’em. If my fave authors had Kickstarters and I knew I was gonna buy their book anyway and this way they got money faster, why not support them? It means they can write more for me to read and I might get it sooner, instead of waiting on some publisher’s schedule.

    I’m surprised more authors don’t just go solo, ones who have a solid following and already make good money and can hire editors/formatters/etc on their own, especially.

  4. I think he wrote to market, but not one that his publisher would have taken seriously.

    Amazon is filled with authors making six figures on books publishers weren’t interested in because “they won’t sell.”

    I also think these niche books might have tanked with trad pub, because Sanderson used this Kickstarter and the previous one to market his books as much as produce them. His true fans will continue to look for more Kickstarters now.

    Traditional publishing’s marketing plan seems to mostly be print books and get them stocked in stores.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  5. Let me add to the chorus of “Amens.”

    Brandon is simply producing a product people not just like, but LOVE. HE has carefully nurtured his audience over a long time and gives people what they want. And they are showering him with money.

    The people critical of Brandon are simply being jealous, spiteful and foolish. The fact is, any author could do this given the right circumstances — consistently produce great work, build your audience, offer them something they want. Write, rinse, repeat.

    I look at Brandon’s success and I’m happy for him — he has honestly earned it. And I look at it as an inspiration — hey, maybe I can pull that off someday. Every single author should be looking at his Kickstarter this way. Stop griping and start taking notes.

  6. Amen, amen. I had planned a Kickstarter this month to launch my new YA historical — a galaxy far, far away from epic fantasy when it comes to fan base. I’ve been watching the news of Brandon’s monumental campaign with awe and delight — in part because I hope that increased traffic to the site means increased pledges to my little baby campaign. And in part because I’m pleased that am author bet on himself — and won big.

    That’s running a business, not being greedy, as most of you are saying.

    One of my last gigs as a professional actor was a production of Equus. I understudied the enormous lead role — and played a horse.

    When (as never happens) I actually went on as the psychiatrist, I called the local union office and invited the president down. As we we chatted, I said, “You know, up until now I’ve feel like one of the most overpaid actors in the world.”

    He said, “Stop. Rewind. Make that least underpaid..”

    Of course l, he was right. We creative types habitually undervalue our own worth.

    CEOs of corporations that lose money every year are paid tens of millions. Why shouldn’t an author who’s done all the work make the same for actually doing something?

  7. The amount of jealousy Brandon Sanderson’Kickstarter has stirred up is amazing. It’s like somebody picked up a giant rock and we’ve all gotten to see the unexpected ugly little squirming things underneath it.

    As a reader, I am so excited! Brandon is one of my favorite authors. Backing to get both the ebooks and the audiobooks was a no-brainer.

    He’s really good to his fans. Plus, he’s done so well that he’s giving back by paying all extra international duties on physical items shipped to fans outside the US.

    As a writer, I’m excited about the possibilities. I remember Dean saying back when Brandon ran his first Kickstarter that he’d blown the field wide-open for the rest of us. I think that’s even more true now.

    I’m planning to run my own Kickstarter later this year for an ongoing series. You, Dean, and Loren Coleman have been so helpful in educating the rest of us to the fact that we can do this too.

    It’s a shame some writers can’t rejoice in other writers’ success.

  8. One gentle correction on terminology… because it’s actually even worse.

    An all-rights publishing contract is still a “mere license” unless it actually transfers the copyright. Anything short of transferring copyright ownership is a license.

    This is contrary to the so-called “unitary copyright” theory under the US 1909 Copyright Act, which required ownership of the copyright at the moment of exploitation. This is why old publishing contracts — and too many much-more-recent ones (hey, the law changed in 1978, 42 years just isn’t enough to get publishers to change their practices, any more than it’s enough to get rid of ipso facto revert-on-bankruptcy-filing clauses that have been outright prohibited since 1978) — have provisions in them that transfer the copyright to the publisher, then revert it to the author 90 days after publication. It’s all about the deep, dark administrative processes of copyright registration, and misinterpretations of law by judges who should have known a lot better by not later than about 1912 (the Townsend Amendment).

    So why do commercial publishers, and others whose interests are partly dependent upon commercial publishers, continue to call it a “sale”? Because the law of “sales” is more favorable — both in substance and procedurally — to buyers than the law of licensing is to licensees. I’ll just whisper “audit riiiiiiiiiiights” to that rosebush in the corner as one example. Not to mention a significant element of sheer laziness.

  9. Hi Kris,
    It sounds as though some Americans (I presume a lot of your NL readers are from the USA) have caught what we here in Australia call The Tall Poppy Syndrome. This is the figurative cutting down of individuals who have dared achieve more than the average person. It is, as you say, an ugly thing.

    I imagine these writers feel Brandon, a respectable-selling author in trad publishing, is now cutting their grass in the self-publishing world. How sad, but not unexpected.

    I have never read Brandon’s work, but know of it through my husband. Curious, I watched his kickstarter video (the full version). He was glowing. The excitement he felt over writing these books (which were outside of his usual trad series) was palpable. It made me happy too, that someone had found a patch of contentedness during these hard two years.

    Move on, as you said Kris. The people who have judged will remain stalwart and closed. Write your books and write this blog for those of us who remain open and proud of others’ achievements.



  10. He did the work – all of it – wishing him nothing but the very best for keeping his good fans happy.

    I wish I had his energy, but being envious would be silly. He deserves this, I’m hoping it was beyond his expectations; anyone who doesn’t like it may go ahead and try to do better. ‘Try’ being the operative word. If they succeed (especially if they’re civil and human about it), more power to them.

    Thought that should be obvious. People who do well in our business break glass ceilings for the rest of us to get more sunlight.

  11. The best thing about this is that in his weekly videos, Brandon Sanderson talked about how much money they were going to save because their bulk order had gotten bigger, and how instead of just pocketing the money, they decided to spend more and make the books and loot boxes higher quality. (The duotone book interiors looked amazing, too.)

    The Kickstarter was a fantastic business idea AND he and his team are working to do right by his fans. I’m taking notes. I’m taking ALL the notes.

    (Oh, and when I read points 1 and 2 I rolled my eyes, but when I read point 3, I actually said “What the fuck?!” out loud, so thanks for that!)

  12. Thank you for the great work you do. I look forward to your business of writing blog posts each week. You provide the best insight regarding the ongoing battle between indie and trad publishing. I never heard of Brandon Sanderson before his Kickstarter campaign, but am now one of his biggest fans. He’s leading the charge knocking down the gates. I hope publishing executives are eating Pepcid and Xanax as they watch his numbers increase. The playing field is a little more level thanks to Brandon and Kickstarter. Keep up the fight, you won me over a long time ago.

  13. I just recently got into an discussion with someone online at a once-respectable Q&A site about the dearth of companies in media and pointed out that there were 6 companies responsible for around 90% of ALL media–books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, cable series, radio, you-name-it, they own it. And that was as of 2011. It doesn’t surprise me that the ownership has contracted even more. the person I was discussing this with was insistent that the concentration of media ownership is a myth; I doubt the anti-trust suit would convince him otherwise, although I will mention it (assuming I can find the thread again). I am so pleased to see authors moving out of trad publishing, telling the monopolies to eff off. Thanks for enlightening people!

    1. Oh, my. My media communications professor had ownership all mapped out like a family tree as early as 2000. There were possibly seven at the top back then?

      1. I first ran into the idea back in 1983, when Ben Bagdikian published “The Media Monopoly,” since updated in later editions to “The New Media Monopoly.” I think the most recent was 2004, although Bagdikian didn’t die until 2016, so may have put out a new edition since then.

        1. Wow, that takes me back!!! My professor pretty much worshiped Bagdikian. I didn’t realize The Media Monopoly was written that early. Thanks for the information!

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