Business Musings: The Final Brandon Sanderson Post

Business Musings: The Final Brandon Sanderson Post

Well, Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter is one for the record books. It became the highest grossing Kickstarter about a month before his Kickstarter closed. And then it continued to make money, finally ending at $41.7 million.

Brandon himself estimates that when this is all said and done, and every one of 185,341 backers have received their books and swag, he will get roughly a high-end novel advance for each book. That’s disingenuous, though, because these orders on Kickstarter are pre-orders.

I have no idea how many of his readers didn’t want to spend money on Kickstarter or lived under a rock somewhere and somehow didn’t hear about the Kickstarter. Those folks will buy the books in a bookstore, either online or brick-and-mortar. Libraries haven’t picked up their copies yet, and to my knowledge, no foreign sales have been made yet either.

The earnings potential for these books has just started, and they technically aren’t published yet. (I dealt with that in my first post, oh so long ago, on this Kickstarter.) One more thing about the way that Brandon will earn money on these books: the publicity for this Kickstarter alone is the kind that money can’t buy. He’s been all over TV and the financial media, talking about the Kickstarter.

Of course, this has sparked a heck of a backlash, particularly from those who work or have worked in traditional publishing. Some regular readers of this blog made me laugh out loud with their private letters, telling me that Brandon won’t know what hit him at tax time and that this is actually bad news for writers because it gets their hopes up.

I dealt with a lot of the jealousy and the willful blindness in this post, but let me simply say this: Brandon knows business, and I’m sure he’s aware of the tax consequences. I’m also certain that he has advisers who will help him through the financial maze ahead of him, especially considering he’s done this before (albeit on a much smaller scale).

The jealousy, the back-biting, and the fear from traditional publishing folks was to be expected, I suppose. A lot of people don’t want to see success.

And as I predicted at the beginning of March, the bulk of the argument against (against!) this Kickstarter is that Brandon is a unicorn.

But he’s not. Any writer who wants to spend the time cultivating their fanbase can grow a huge Kickstarter. Brandon put a lot of time and effort into his. He does things that I know I could do, and over the years I have actively chosen not to. Not because I disapprove, but because I know who I am and how I work best.

That’s what writers do.

But let’s move past the pettiness and the stupidity to something much more important.

The fact that, no matter what the trad pub folk want to believe, this is a game-changer.

I’m writing this in early April. A few days ago, I read a thread on Facebook filled with my trad pub pals—some writers, some former editors, at least one publisher, and to a person they agreed that no other writer will ever have success at Kickstarter. Ever, ever, ever. It’s sad too, because (these folks said) now writers will become even more disillusioned than before.

Here’s the thing: as is often the case with traditional publishing, these folks were going with their gut and not looking at the facts.

Because as they were pontificating, writers were making more than their usual novel advances on Kickstarter.

  • Kevin J. Anderson made $46,000 for the next book in his Dan Shamble series. The series, which he is now doing indie, originally started in a New York house. He never made that much as an advance on any of the Dan Shamble books. Kevin was doing it for the love. And as with Brandon, the earnings have just started.
  • Christina F. York set a modest goal for her Christy Fifield mystery novel and as of this writing it looks like she will triple it. She was dipping a toe into Kickstarter with an already finished (but unpublished) book, and has been surprised and pleased at the response.
  • Over two Kickstarters, which we conduct through WMG Publishing, we’ve made $54,000 so far in 2022—at least according to the front-facing data. We made so much more, through other means that the Kickstarter (um) kickstarted.

And no, I’m not going to explain that. Instead, let me urge you to take the free class that we offer on how to do a publishing Kickstarter.

A quick search of the publishing category on Kickstarter, sorted for active campaigns, showed me book projects that have funded and brought in (so far) anywhere from $50,000 to $500. The bulk of these are in the $10,000 category per novel…which is, roughly, what any new writer can expect from traditional publishing these days.

Of course, if the writer goes traditional, their advance will be split into (at minimum) three payments. I also have to assume that anyone who is going traditional also has a book agent, and they’re paying that person 15%. So, instead of getting the money up front, these traditionally published writers are getting 85% split into payments scattered over a year or more.

Yeah, tell me again why traditional publishing is better.

We had our second Kickstarter of the year in the works when Brandon’s went viral. We were waiting to see if we were approved, and it was taking longer than usual. Then we heard from Kickstarter. They had gotten inundated in the publishing category with people who were finally trying to fund their novels.

Some just jumped in, without doing any research. Those folks who managed to get their projects approved through Kickstarter still haven’t funded because they have no idea what they were doing.

But a lot of people took our class and bought some books on Kickstarter and have put up some thoughtful publishing campaigns.

We had always wanted this, which is why we offer the free class. We wanted readers to understand that Kickstarter is another good place to find books. And now, people are beginning to realize that.

Brandon helped tremendously. Midway through his Kickstarter, he decided to back the other publishing Kickstarters. And because he’s good at videos, he highlighted several of them in this video. He also sent a list of what he backed to his backers.

What does this mean, besides him being very generous? What it means is that he is teaching his backers to look through Kickstarter as another way to discover books.

That’s 185,000 people who now know that they can find good books on Kickstarter. Often, those people can get the books early or at a discount or both.

Not all of those 185,000 people will ever back a Kickstarter again. Some of them will only back Brandon’s Kickstarters. But there’s a goodly percentage who will now browse Kickstarter as a way to discover new books.

The fun thing about Kickstarter is that it’s a great way to gauge reader interest in a project. We did so with Fiction River ten years ago. I was sorta kinda doing it with the Fey. I was wondering if readers even remembered the books, since they had been published so long ago.

We got a great response.

Why do I think that a few hundred people is a great response? Because they’re a subset of a subset. They’re Kris supporters who are on Kickstarter. They are readers on Kickstarter. They are fantasy readers on Kickstarter. (And after Brandon’s Kickstarter, there will be more fantasy readers.)

For a writer, Kickstarter acts as advertising. It also helps writers reach true fans, if they have any. A well-run Kickstarter can also act as another site for preorders.

Not every reader wants to be on Kickstarter. So a lot of readers will hear about the Kickstarter, and then preorder the book on their favorite site, from Amazon to Kobo to Barnes & Noble.

If the Kickstarter goes well, the book sales will go even better.

And here’s the other thing that all of the naysayers forget: the Kickstarter is a kick…start. It’s the beginning of the sales for the project, not all of the sales for the project.

People who are trained in traditional publishing think that the sales up front, like a Kickstarter, are the only sales. But in indie publishing, sales can continue for years. Brandon’s first Kickstarter was for books that had been in print for a long time. He was just doing a special edition.

That whole velocity method that traditional publishers use is out of date in this modern world. Because they only function on that level—with the idea that the early sales are the only sales—they cannot and do not understand how this Kickstarter thing works.

Smart writers understand it, though. It’s another way to earn money on your writing.

A few tips:

  1. Take our class. There are a lot more tips in the class than I can give you here.
  2. Don’t consider a Kickstarter until you’ve published a lot of books already.
  3. Don’t do a Kickstarter until you’ve finished the book you’re going to Kickstart. Yes, I know, that’s backwards from traditional publishing which gives an advance to write the book. You must write the book, and then Kickstart it. That way, you don’t fail your backers by being late or not finishing the book at all.
  4. A Kickstarter is work. You need to plan it. You can’t just dive into it and make a million bucks. You need to do the work, just like anything else in this business.

Here’s the thing to remember: there is no quick way to make a million bucks as a writer. Everything (even that dreamed-of Hollywood deal) takes time.

So if you’re interested in this, study it, learn it, and figure out how to do it for you.

Kickstarter has become more viable for writers because of Brandon. I figure in a few years, even more readers will use Kickstarter to find new books. A lot more readers are there now, because of the work that Dean and Loren have done.

Start there with that class, even if you don’t plan to have a Kickstarter for a year or so. Then work out what is best for you. Some of you might have the ability to build a large and rabid fan base. Some of you don’t want to do that kind of work.

Be realistic. Figure out what you need and what you can do.

And then move slowly.

Kickstarter will be there for you as another tool in your toolbox. And because Brandon was generous, it’s a better tool in April than it was in February.

That’s great news for all of us.

****

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“Business Musings: The Final Brandon Sanderson Post,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / lenm.

17 responses to “Business Musings: The Final Brandon Sanderson Post”

  1. Anthea Sharp says:

    And now Sherrilyn Kenyon is on Kickstarter with a project that will fund into the millions. Fun times!

  2. Philip Maxey says:

    My previous post appears to have dissapeared.

    But to my 2nd point, regarding distribution. I’m in the UK. The biggest book/ebook market is the states for a lot of UK authors (including myself). But I can see that being a problem with doing a KS campaign when you could be looking at $20-$40 shipping for a $5 book? Unless you get the book printed in the states and then find a US distributer?

  3. Phil Maxey says:

    I just signed up to the KS course, so thanks for that.

    I was just wondering how this would work in regards to KU, as most of my books are in KU. Could you do a KS, and use that as a means for fans to get your book early, once the campaign delivers and then after a period of time place it in KU?

    • Philip Maxey says:

      I also noticed in the KS example you gave that the author only ships to the US. I’m in the UK, but with the US being the biggest market, I can see offering print copies being a problem, as that’s going to add a lot to the cost to the backer.

    • I think KU is a problem, because it truly limits your audience. However, putting the book on Kickstarter early and on KU after might work. The problem is that you’re going to piss off a lot of fans who are not willing to buy through Amazon. So you’ll do all this advertising outside of Amazon and then your readers won’t be able to buy the book.

  4. This is Christy Fifield/Chris York’s husband here, and I’ve been working with her on our kickstarter for her new cozy mystery novel, “Murder Buys a Lemon” As Kris said, this is our first Kickstarter (thouggh we already have others planned or considered). I’m plased with the results so far, and I think we did really well on a lot of stuff. I think our page, our graphics, and video are pretty good, and the product looks good as well. As for the content of the product, well, Christy has tons of fans who will attest to how great this series and her writing are.

    But a key phrase is “out there.” Most of them still have no idea about this campaign, and that’s kind of our fault. We didn’t do the ground work to build a mailing list over the life of the previous four (traditionally published) books in the series. We let our publishing website get neglected to the point that we nuked it and hurridly threw up a basic Squarespace site just to have something that wasn’t embarassing. Chris has been running a weekly creativity blog and Patreon, but it’s not under her pen name and her audience there isn’t necessarily made of cozy readers. She hasn’t been very active on social media the last few years (until recently, anyway) and her follower numbers are small. My social medial numbers are laerger, but again, not her audience profile. Our publishing company numbers were practically non-existant, but I’ve used my skills to build a small but focused follow, especially on Instagram ( which is the WORST place to generate traffic, but I[ve gotten some anyway. In other words, most of the “free” and obvious ways of getting the word out weren’t available.

    We could have corrected some of that by parking the book and putting off the Kickstarter, but that would hqve been counterproductive, especially in that we were more interested in learning and experimentation that in the up front money. our major concern was to make the modest funding goal and see what would could learn in the process. Well, we’re well past 200% of the goal and I still hope to make at least 300% by the time we’re through.

    And WOW, are we learning a lot! Study up first so you can go in smart, but this is one area where you can really learn by doing, even by failing. The trick is not to overpromise so that you lose money if you succeed, or can’t handle the fallout of you should somehow succeed beyond your possible expecations (it has happened for folks).

    Sure, in a perfect world we’d finish up with as much or more than Chris would have gotten from a traditional advance, and that’s unlikely. But we can see how that CAN happen with a future book (and her sixth installment is already in the pipeline, and announced during the Kickstarter), and we’ll do EVERYTHING better next time. Anyway, her book will be out there and the money will keep coming, and in time, more of those old fans will get hooked back into the loop, and we’ll tap them for the NEXT Kickstarter!

    And let me say, there’s no way we could have done this as well (or likely would have done it at all) without the help and encouragement we got for Loren Colemen, Kris Rusch, and Dean Wesley Smith, so a huge thanks to them all! See you all on Kickstarter (or the crowd-funding platform of your choice).

  5. acflory says:

    Thank you. Just signed up and am about to read the best practices document.

  6. “Don’t do a Kickstarter until you’ve finished the book you’re going to Kickstart. Yes, I know, that’s backwards from traditional publishing which gives an advance to write the book. You must write the book, and then Kickstart it. That way, you don’t fail your backers by being late or not finishing the book at all.”

    This is so true! And it can be a great way to get people to buy the earlier books in a series if we’re releasing a new spinoff or continuation of that series.

    Thank you, Kris!

  7. Vera Soroka says:

    I found an author, K. F Breene running a Kickstarter right now.. she is doing quite well. I think this is her first one and she is past 137,000 mark. I think she is indie as well.
    So, I guess she has cultivated her fan base quite well. That can really work.

  8. Susan Kroupa says:

    I always enjoy and learn from your business blog, and I’ve particularly loved the ones on Sanderson. Thanks for all you do for writers!

  9. Christina York says:

    Thank you, Kris, for the shout out! I just want to second the advice to take the class online, and read Loren’s book. I did both (some parts multiple times) and that has been beyond helpful as I created my very first Kickstarter. I still have a lot to learn, but getting this first one up and funded (!) has been a huge confidence boost.

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