About that Kickstarter

You know the one I mean—the one that ended today, after having raised $41,747,373.24 in one month. Author Brandon Sanderson was only looking for one million dollars, and he ended up having by far the most successful Kickstarter of all time.

I have followed the story with great interest since Sanderson’s first announcement at the beginning of the month. I have read countless other authors’ take on the story. Many of them were bitter in the extreme:

“He’s taking money away from minority authors.”

“He’s taking money away from new authors who are trying to get their work out there.”

“It’s not fair. What makes him so special?”

“I just wish I could succeed at crowdfunding like he did.”

There is no mystery here. I did not find this Kickstarter all that surprising. Anyone can succeed like Brandon Sanderson. All you have to do is first, learn to write well. Write at least a dozen epic novels while you are honing your skills, and before you get any published. Once you have achieved mastery of your craft and your genre, find a publisher, which is a whole lot easier when you’re highly skilled and have a large stack of finished novels to prove it.

Then, once your novels start reaching readers, go out and meet them. Spend weeks on the road every year attending cons and talking to fans and answering the same lame questions over and over—with a smile on your face. Find out what your readers love and give it to them. For bonus points, you might also want to try taking over another writer’s popular franchise and finish writing it for him. You can also teach classes and post videos on YouTube for those who can’t make it to the cons. Earn your readers’ trust by always delivering on your promises.

Every minute that you’re not doing all those other things, keep writing. Work very very hard. And once you’ve attracted a massive global following, and you’ve got some unexpected free time, write even more and produce a handful of novels that aren’t part of your contract with your publisher. Then set up a Kickstarter with cool rewards for your loyal readers, and see how it goes.

Sanderson earned his success the old-fashioned way—he worked for it. His Kickstarter isn’t somehow “taking” money away from other authors. It’s taking money away from Starbucks and movies and restaurant dinners, which his readers might have enjoyed instead of investing in his new books. It’s naïve to think that if they hadn’t funded his Kickstarter, they’d have bought someone else’s books. It’s his books that have enchanted them, and if he hadn’t offered this opportunity, his loyal fans would have spent their entertainment budget some other way.

Whatever you might think about Sanderson as a writer, the truth is that he was already in the very top tier of successful authors, and this Kickstarter just proves that he knows exactly whom he is writing for and what kind of stories they want from him. I watched the numbers continuing to rise for the last 10 minutes of the campaign this afternoon, and I cheered him on. Way to go, Sanderson.

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