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Brandon Sanderson and Crowdfunding


On February 28th, 2022, a downcast Brandon Sanderson released a short video informing fans that he was launching an important video the next day – and he wanted us to watch it. Speculation was rampant. Sanderson is one of the world’s most popular fantasy authors, with mega-bestseller series such as Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive. Would this announcement jeopardize the completion of those series? Was Sanderson facing health issues?

The next day, he uploaded a video titled “It’s Time to Come Clean.” Clicking on the video, I was terrified. Five minutes later, I was as happy as I could have been.

It turns out that, in secret, Sanderson wrote FOUR secret novels over the last two years – in addition to the novels he owed to his publishers. And he was selling them all through his company, Dragonsteel Entertainment, via a Kickstarter campaign. Sorry publishers.

Supporters were given the choice between eBook, audiobook, and premium hardcover editions – and even some exclusive ‘swag boxes’ for fans with $500 USD or more.

Naturally, the fans went insane. And after the campaign raised $15.4 million USD in the first 24 hours, so did the publishing world at large. At $31 million USD raised to date – the biggest Kickstarter EVER – Sanderson’s stunt has generated a lot of discussion, even appearing on major news sites. Let’s talk about it – specifically about crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding in SFF Publishing

Within fantasy publishing, platforms such as Kickstarter and Patreon have become increasingly successful for authors – and Sanderson’s Kickstarter has centered them in discussion even more so than before.

But how big of a deal is it really? As sci-fi author John Scalzi notes, no one else in the genre is capable of replicating Sanderson’s level of success in crowdfunding. Sanderson has spent decades building a fanbase, a YouTube channel with 350,000 subscribers, and possibly “the largest support team of any novelist in the world.” Authors like Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin have the popularity to do this, but not the infrastructure.

All considered, it’s unlikely that any other author will make $31 million anytime soon. But there has been an undeniable trend towards crowdfunding in fantasy and science fiction publishing lately – one that Sanderson’s Kickstarter will only further accentuate. 

Crowdfunding Rewards Engagement

Bestseller and Hugo winner N.K Jemisin, for example, makes $5,000 on Patreon each month. Self-published authors such as Michael J. Sullivan have made Kickstarter central to their careers. Even successful traditionally published authors – such as Fonda Lee and Brian McClellan – have dipped into Patreon for side projects ranging from short story collections to podcasts. 

In short, everyone’s getting into crowdfunding – traditionally and self-published. Well, not everyone. As much as I love Sanderson’s work, I can’t help but see his Kickstarter success as the biggest example of a growing – and worrying – trend where genre authors are forced to become entertainers and marketers in order to succeed.

Crowdfunding success heavily depends on an author’s internet presence, and their charisma. What about authors who don’t want to be businesspeople? What about authors who don’t have on-screen charisma? Today’s internet culture rewards authors who can play at being influencers, and punishes those who just want to write. Would I like Sanderson’s books as much if I hadn’t watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos on his channel? Definitely not.

Brian McClellan and his author guests discuss this constantly on his podcast. A recent episode with Evan Winter focuses heavily on “the side of work being a creative professional that distracts us from actually creating” and “how [Winter’s] background in marketing helped him launch his first book.” McClellan himself has also adopted the “hybrid model” that Sanderson advocates, and supports his podcast via Patreon. Even traditionally publishing, authors need to become their own marketers these days.

Christopher Ruocchio, for example, is a traditional published sci-fi author with decent sales, who also runs a YouTube channel, has a Patreon, regularly communicates with fans on Discord, and independently publishes novel-adjacent short stories. 

There’s lots to like here, make no mistake. Crowdfunding makes short fiction viable again, and it allows writers to leverage their fanbases to help them quit their day jobs and focus on writing earlier than traditional publishing would allow on its own – N. K Jemisin did exactly this.

But as much as I like seeing authors succeed without traditional publishing, I worry about these new forms of gatekeeping that independent publishing introduces. Some of my favourite authors, like Susana Clarke, would never be able to break into this social-media-centred market today.

The post Brandon Sanderson and Crowdfunding first appeared on Reader's Repository.

Reading Widely is Overrated

Disclaimer: My essay is NOT meant to discourage reading widely. Any fantasy author will tell you that reading in many genres is critical to improving your writing – none of them are only influenced by fantasy. Instead, my goal is to advocate for the alterative benefits of a more focused reading life. Ideally everyone would do both, but who’s got the time?

A while ago, I was digging through some boxes of SFF novels at a used book sale. A guy came up to me and asked if I’d found any copies of Fahrenheit 451 or Dune. I responded that I hadn’t and showed him some other titles I’d found – genre staples like The Forever War and The Eye of The World. He declined them, explaining that he was only interested in the real classics – he was on a quest to read the 2-3 biggest titles from every genre. That’s an admirable goal, no disrespect to him, but I couldn’t help feeling sad that he was missing out on so much great SFF.

But aren’t I missing out by only read SFF? Yes, undoubtedly – but I’m gaining a lot too. Reading widely is a commonly discussed – and valuable – habit, but today I’m going to argue for reading narrowly.

Genres are Ongoing Conversations

Selection of hardcover epic fantasy novels

Genres are conversation, and only reading one or two classics means that you’re ignoring everyone except the loudest person in the room. 

Take A Game of Thrones for example. George R.R. Martin was responding to all the authors writing derivative and Tolkienesque quest narratives and was himself in dialogue with contemporaries such as Tad Williams and Robin Hobb. If you only read A Song of Ice And Fire, you’re joining the conversation halfway through. You’ve got no idea who he’s responding to, and you’ll never hear how others respond to him.

Alternatively, by reading The Way of Kings without reading A Game of Thrones, you can’t properly contextualize it as Sanderson’s response to the genre’s prevailing grimdark movement. Every text that’s worth reading gives readers plenty to discuss on its own – but viewing it within its wider genre context enriches the experience.

From there, you can read lesser known, but still influential, works in the genre. Want to better understand the transition from Tolkien to modern fantasy? Check out Wars of Light and Shadow or A Crown of Stars, or any of the other epic series that emerged in the nineties. Plus, reading and supporting lesser-known authors is what keeps publishing alive.

Personally, I’d rather have an in-depth and in-context understanding of A Song of Ice And Fire than a surface level understanding of ten different classics. 

No novel is written in a vacuum, they all have genre context, but it is important recognize that fantasy novels also have non-genre context. Joe Abercrombie cites A Game of Thrones as a key influence, of course, but also Western novel Lonesome Dove and Shelby Foote’s multi-volume history of the American Civil War. Heck, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells was influenced by the classics of Russian literature.

Essentially, if you’re doing your due diligence on your genre of choice, you’ll end up reading widely anyways.

In Fantasy, We’re Part of the Conversation Too

Sure, I can read Romeo and Juliet or The Great Gatsby, but what can I say about them? Critics and academics have studied these texts for decades and centuries. Thousands of authors have responded to them. And even if you think you’ve come up with a new interpretation, chances are there’s already an indie movie or modern retelling that beat you to it. 

It’s similar for modern mega-hits – people with far larger platforms than you have already defined the conversation, and it is much more difficult for us to interrupt. For fantasy novels, especially those outside the few biggest series, us fans have a real chance to share original analysis and have it heard. We can define conversations. 

A lot of authors will even engage with fans directly. Between Reddit, Discord, BookTube, Tumblr, GoodReads, and even BookTok, we have many opportunities to meaningfully contribute. There is value in discovering the classics for yourself, but I personally find it so much more exciting to participate in conversations that are ongoing.

When Evan Winter releases Lord of Demons (next year!), anyone can host a BookTube discussion about it or make an analytical Reddit post – and in doing so help shape the conversation.

What Can a Classic Give You That a Modern Fantasy Can’t?

Cover of Jade City by Fonda Lee

Well, lots: a stronger vocabulary, knowledge of history, an understanding of literary allusions, etc. But you don’t need to go back to the 1800s to get at the fundamental questions.

As George R.R. Martin (quoting William Faulkner) so often says, “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself” – and any fantasy novel worth reading will do so. As a bonus, it’ll probably be more accessible, relevant and have more diverse representation. Want an examination of family? The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee is great for that, you don’t necessarily need to go all the way back to Little Women or Wuthering Heights.

Additionally, most good fantasy authors – unlike lowly readers like myself – have read the classics, and they’re building on those works as much as the work of their genre contemporaries. It’s okay to let some stuff go, every generation of writers builds on the last.

Only reading select classics is a lot like taking a survey course in college – think “Intro to World History” or “Accounting 101.” I’ve loved some of them, but I always feel like I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg, never getting a look at the immensity hiding under the sea.

Again, classics have value; I’d like to read more in future. Read what you want to read, but don’t feel bad if all you want to read is fantasy. It’s worth it.

The Necessary Contradiction of Epic Fantasy Prologues

Spoilers For: The Eye of The World (Prologue & Chapter 1), A Game of Thrones (Prologue & Chapter 1).

In epic fantasy, prologues generally open before the events of the later story and describe some mysterious or wondrous events – such as great displays of magic. Then, as quickly as they begin, they end, raising many questions but offering no answers. Readers are left with a sense of wonder, dread, or confusion. Then, invariably, the opening chapters follow a farm boy worrying about the harvest – or something equally mundane.

Lews Therin roams his ruined castle, dead wife visible in the background.
From the grapic novel adaptation.

Take The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan for example, the classic opening novel of The Wheel of Time. Its prologue opens on a great castle, the inhabitants massacred by “lightnings that had flashed down every corridor” and “fires that had stalked them.” A madman, Lews Therin Telamon, called The Dragon, roams the castle, searching for his wife while unknowingly walking over her corpse. Another man – an enemy – appears, and reveals that Lews Therin himself caused the destruction. They speak of the “Rings of Tamyrlin,” “the Nine Rods of Dominion,” a battle at “the Gates of Paaran Disen.”

“This war has not lasted ten years, but since the beginning of time. You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant!”

In his madness, Lews Therin somehow Travels instantly to a new location, “a flat and empty land” beside a river with “no people within a hundred leagues.” Here, he draws “on the True Source deeply,” and summons a fiery “bolt that str[ikes] from the heavens,” raising molten rock “five hundred feet in the air.” Killing himself in the process, Lews Therin erects a mountain that bisects the river. 

The scene ends with the other man Travelling to the new location and cursing Lews Therin: 

“You cannot escape so easily, Dragon. It is not done between us. It will not be done until the end of time.”

What just happened? 

On my initial read, I picked up on the great battle between good and evil but was otherwise hopelessly confused – and overawed. Between all the events mentioned, the titanic displays of magic, and the cyclical conflict across the eons, I knew I was in for a truly epic story.

Then, Chapter One opens on young Rand al’Thor, a farm boy, trudging home alongside his father and worrying about the harsh winter season.

What happened to the awesome magic? Why did Jordan do this?

In short, it’s all about setting a reader’s expectations.

While potentially jarring — especially for readers unfamiliar with the genre — this narrative transition is critical.

Consider: why do people read epic fantasy? Largely, we do so to experience extraordinary elements of the world-building: impossible locations, nonhuman species, battles between good and diabolical evil, and of course, magic.

But authors can’t just front-load their stories with crazy world-building — that would overwhelm readers. Lots of readers give up on Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson for this exact reason. Readers need time to explore the world-building, we want to learn why things exist before we see them in action. 

An Other stalking towards a fallen solider.
Art by Magali Villeneuve

But if authors don’t front-load the cool stuff, how will readers know about it?

That’s the problem.

To solve it, authors in this genre are forced to compromise between attractiveness and accessibility in their opening chapters. In the above example, Robert Jordan uses his prologue to showcase the attractive aspects of his massive world and insane magic system, and his opening chapters to introduce an accessible character and setting. So, while readers follow Rand and his friends around the Two Rivers early in the novel, they have the expectation of great things to come.

Another classic example is A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Martin uses his prologue to create a sense of dread and introduce a terrifying fantasy race, the Others, and his opening chapters to introduce House Stark and castle life – a familiar millieu for experienced readers. We know the Others are out there, but also that we aren’t ready to see them again just yet.

Other examples include Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter, and The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – all great books.

In these stories, the prologue is a teaser for greater things to come. An expectation. A promise.

The most common way for fantasy writers to introduce their worlds to readers is by following a naive and callow main character. The reader and protagonist embark on an adventure, discovering the strangeness and intricacies of the novel together.

Using this strategy, writers are freer to develop character and setting in the early parts of their novel, having assured impatient readers of what’s to come.

2021 Releases I Can’t Wait to Read

2021 is looking like it’s going to be a great year for books. Here are five titles I can’t wait to read this year:

One of the Good Ones – Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

When Kezi Smith dies after attending a social justice rally, her sister Happi is left in the aftermath. But when Kezi is immortalized as one of the “good ones”, Happi wonders why this is, as if only some people are worthy of being missed. Happi and her other sister, Genny, decide to honour Kezi in their own way.

This book was released in January, but I have not had a chance to read it yet. It looks very interesting and a great read for thinking about the after math of police brutality.

Happily Ever Afters – Elise Bryant

Tessa is a writer, and is accepted into a prestigious writing program. But when she needs to find herself, her friend suggests that she finds inspiration by following a list of romance novel inspired steps to find Prince Charming.

Another January release that I can’t wait to get my hands on, this looks like a fun rom-com book to enjoy.

You Have a Match – Emma Lord

Abby signs up for a DNA service thinking she won’t find anything new, until she discovers she has an older sister. To find out more about why her parents gave Savannah up for adoption, they meet up at a summer camp.

This is Emma Lord’s second book, and I loved her first book, Tweet Cute. This book is already a Reese’s YA Book Club selection, so I’m excited to read it. I’ve been on a waitlist to get it from the library for weeks now.

As Good as Dead – Holly Jackson

The third book in the series of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Pip is preparing to leave for university. But she has been receiving messages and death threats, and a stalker knows where she lives. She has to follow an investigation about herself to find out who is doing this to her.

I loved A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, so I can’t wait to continue reading the series in book 3. This book isn’t released until August, which will give me plenty of time to read book 2 as well.

You’ll Be the Death of Me – Karen M. McManus

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with murder. When Ivy, Mateo, and Cal skip school, they think they’re in for a fun day. But then they come across another student skipping where they follow them to their murder. All three of them are now connected to this murder, and they are all hiding secrets.

I love every book Karen M. McNamus has released so far. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait to November to read this one.

The post 2021 Releases I Can’t Wait to Read appeared first on Home.

eReaders vs Books

When eReaders started to take the book world by storm, I swore that I would never get one. I loved reading actual books too much, feeling them in my hands and collecting them on my book shelf. My parents made the switch first, buying Kobo’s while I continued buying real books.

I am someone who does most of my reading on vacation, and I am a very fast reader. So I started to have the trouble of packing books in my suitcase and not weighing it down. Finally, after filling my suitcase as much as I could too many times, I decided to cave and buy an eReader.

I immediately fell in love with it. It’s so light, and I love how many books I can carry on it. I even got a waterproof Kobo, so I can sit in the pool, a hot tub, or the bath without worrying about dropping it in. I also started to borrow ebooks from the library, instead of buying books all the time. Although there was the initial high price of the eReader, I have saved so much money borrowing ebooks. I also love how I can do this without having to leave my house, I can get the library download for a book instantly, or join the waitlist to get it as soon as possible.

I do still own plenty of hardcopy books, and I won’t be getting rid of these any time soon. I maybe buy about one or two hardcopy books a year, especially if it’s a special book I know I want for a long time. But the eReader has completely changed the game for me, and I will never go back to only reading hard copy books all the time.

If you’ve been thinking of buying an eReader, consider this as a sign. Here is my favourite.

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