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Learning From Brandon Sanderson’s $21 Million Week

Breaking down the lessons from Sanderson’s $21 million Kickstarter campaign.

Image from Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign

Who would think that an author would amass the highest Kickstarter campaign of all time? But that’s exactly what superstar fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson, was able to do with his latest crowdfunding pitch.

This is not a normal situation, so we’re not going to talk about how you can replicate it. But as you’re hopefully coming to realize with Writers Are Superstars, when publishing connects to pop culture, there’s always a lesson.

What happened?

Last Tuesday, March 1, Sanderson took to his YouTube page to share with his fans that he’s been quietly working on four new books he plans to release in 2023 (It’s actually five, but one is a middle grade book that he plans on potentially turning into a graphic novel).

Sanderson is calling this “Year Of Sanderson,” and each book will be released quarterly throughout next year (more on this later).

That wasn’t really a groundbreaking announcement, but what made the publishing world take notice is that Sanderson said he will be releasing the series independently. To fund this release, he started a Kickstarter campaign, and $21 million later, it’s become the largest campaign in Kickstarter history.

How did this happen?

We started this piece by letting you know upfront that this isn’t normal. No one reading this is going to make millions in a day off of a Kickstarter campaign for books that aren’t even completed yet. But you don’t need to.

If we want to learn from this, let’s take a step back and breakdown how this happened.

I watched the full announcement clip on YouTube and everything you need to know to show you why and how this happened is in there. First, he’s Brandon Sanderson. He’s a 15x bestselling author and beloved in the fantasy community. That’s obvious.

What’s also intriguing is that on any given year since he’s been published, Sanderson spends between 80–120 on the road, mostly at conventions. That’s about a third of the year spent meeting with fans, making new ones, and endearing himself to the community that has clearly welcomed him with open arms.

All that travelling stopped in 2020 when you know what happened, and Sanderson invested that time into writing and his family. Not travelling for a third of the year allowed him to execute on ideas he wouldn’t have had time to create if he had been on the road. And as he said in the video, if you give a prolific writer like Sanderson free time, he’s going to write.

What can you learn from this?

This is really why you’re here, right? How does any of this apply to you, especially since you don’t have legions of fans and followers. Let’s talk this through:

Sanderson rededicated himself to writing

Yes, it was forced because of the pandemic, but the lesson still remains. You may not be distracted by a heavy touring schedule, but you have work, maybe you have kids, and other real-life responsibilities that prevent you from writing as much as you can and probably should.

But you need to sacrifice something to give yourself the space needed to create your best work. Maybe you wake up earlier or go to sleep a bit later. Maybe you go straight home after work or write on your lunch breaks. Either way, you need to dedicate time to your craft.

Sanderson gave his fans options

The format of the Kickstarter campaign probably contributed to this, but Sanderson did something he would not have been able to do with a traditional publisher. He offered his fans bundles.

At the lowest tier, fans can pay $40 for the e-book version of all four releases. At the top of the offers, Sanderson fans can pay $500 for all versions of each release (print, audio, e-book) plus eight months of swag to cover the remaining months of the year. The swag will include clothing plus other Sanderson oddities based on themes from these books.

What options are you offering your readers? What are you doing to make them feel a bit closer to you as a person and not just another writer? You might say that you’re just a writer and that you don’t want to offer anything else. If that’s the case, what else can you offer that’s in the realm of writing?

What about pieces of writing that you haven’t made public to anyone else? What about a short video that describes your writing process, with clips from the spaces you actually write? What about stationaries with excerpts from a novel you’ve already released?

If you want to connect more deeply with your readers, give them an opportunity to connect more deeply. At the very least, you’ll stand out and be top of mind when you try new offerings, and that’s where you want to be with your readers.

Sanderson communicates with his fans

Sanderson wasn’t spending a hundred days on the road because he wanted to. He admits in his video that he has wanted to cut back for years but didn’t want to disappoint his fans. That kind of presence and exposure goes a long way with readers. Speaking to Sanderson, seeing him in person, further ingrains him into their world. And like I always like to say: having one fan is like having two, because if they like you, they’ll likely let someone else know.

You may not be able to attend conventions at the same pace, but you can go to local readings. Wherever you reside, there’s likely some kind of literary community. Have you made yourself known among that group?

What about online communities? Have you joined any? Are you an active participant? Exposure matters, and the more ways you can authentically show up, the more those communities will take notice.

There’s a superstar in you. We know it. You just need to bring it out and we’re here to help make that happen. Every time culture makes a move, we’ll be there to catch it and breakdown the lessons you can learn so you can apply it to your own career.

Did you enjoy this piece? I’m an author who genuinely loves studying the publishing industry, so follow and share if you’re down for the ride. We’ll keep dropping weekly insights on how publishing connects to pop culture.

While you’re here, read my new novel, BOYS AND GIRLS SCREAMING.

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Kern Carter

Kern Carter

| Read about my life as a full-time writer | Stories about Parenting, Passion, and Profit | Author of BOYS AND GIRLS SCREAMING