The acclaimed fantasy author Brandon Sanderson raised over $14 million in a single day for his latest series of books. Relatively unknown outside the fantasy community, Sanderson has entered the mainstream as he shatters records for Kickstarter. Is Sanderson a publishing outlier or will his campaign change the way we sell and publish books forever?
At the time of this writing, in just a few days, the campaign boasts close to 102,000 backers and over $24-million. Those numbers continue to grow, leaving the $1 million starter goal in the dust, and dwarfing the standard author advance most publishers offer, even to their top authors. The New York Times bestselling author is nothing if not humble. He took to Twitter to express his gratitude. “I went to bed… hoping people would enjoy my little reveal and woke up to a phenomenon.”
Where are his backers coming from? The Nebraska native’s social media presence is modest: 327,000 YouTube subscribers, 145,000 followers on Instagram, and 298,000 Twitter followers.
The comments section is a flurry of activity. One user remarks, “Every time I’m done with Kickstarter somebody always comes along and drags me back in.” Another says, “This gives me hope for the future. Thank you, Brandon.” The backers are a mixture of diehard fans and passersby excited by the juggernaut fundraiser.
User Ogeid85 comments, “I was shocked to see the overwhelming support of this project” then he asks for a good place to start with Sanderson’s work. Fans are quick to offer recommendations, going all the way back to his first novel. While some users expressed fears over the formatting of the Ebook option, the only real complaint appears to be the shipping prices abroad.
Blazing His Own Trail
Winner of the David Gemmell Legend Award for his novel The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson is a powerful force in the fantasy community. He first discovered his love of the genre when his eighth grade teacher handed him a copy of Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. Despite that early experience, he still set out to study biochemistry in college. It wasn’t until he returned from a missionary trip to Seoul that he embraced his destiny as a writer.
In 2005, Sanderson made his dreams a reality with the release of his first book Elantris. Since then he has published over twenty-five books. His work has been translated into thirty-five languages and sold eighteen million copies. He was also tapped to finish out Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, based on the late author's notes. Sanderson certainly had a following before March 1, but his success on Kickstarter will make Sanderson a household name and could catapult his success to Game of Thrones or Harry Potter levels.
Kickstarter is a place for underdogs and dreamers, with backers a mixture of do-gooders, fans, and friends. Sanderson took to the platform to raise money for not one, but four brand new novels. With almost a month left in the campaign, that number is only going to grow. It spells a big pay day for both the author and the crowd funding platform. Kickstarter takes 5% off the final pledge amount, which means just two days into the fundraiser, they have already made $850,000.
Pledge options range from $40 to $500. Those who contribute to the campaign are eligible for premium editions of the four novels that might not be available after the month is over. They’ll also receive “a swag bag of cool items relating to one of my already established worlds,” according to Sanderson.
Building to a Reveal
While the award winning author is playing coy with the details of the four novels to keep them spoiler free, he promises to unveil information about each one throughout the month on his YouTube channel.
The immediate success of Sanderson’s fundraising could inspire others to enter the world of crowdfunding. Kickstarter recommends those who view Sanderson’s page also check out some ongoing campaigns for fantasy and graphic novels that have raised between $31,093 and $202,522, paltry sums when compared to Sanderson.
If a $500 pledge grants you access to all four books plus swag and perks, what does that mean for the future of the publishing industry? Will authors increasingly turn to self-publishing efforts? Or has this campaign been seventeen years in the making, a wave of success that wouldn’t have been possible without his 2005 debut novel?
Fans who just want hardcover editions of the books can expect to pledge $160, a staggering amount when you compare them to the publishing standard. The top five hardcover fiction books on the current New York Times bestseller list range in price from $20 to $23. If Sanderson’s books individually fetch $40, what does that mean for other authors?
It’s no surprise that Sanderson occupies the top spot for publishing campaigns on Kickstarter. He also holds, so far, the second most funded in the history of the site. Last year, a campaign for a leather bound edition of his novel The Way of Kings raised $6,788,517 with 29,778 backers. The third most funded project doesn’t even come close, with just over 2 million raised.
Brandon is touched by the response. “Thank you for spreading the word,” he says, “and for all that you do to make it so that I can share my imagination with you.” This campaign is far from over, and Sanderson stands to make a lot more money before the end of the month, but what will he do next? With hardcover books costing a pledge of $160, will the public eventually call him out on his greed, or will people not mind paying so much for a Sanderson original? Only time – and Kickstarter – will tell.
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Featured Image Credit: Kickstarter.
Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.