Brandon Sanderson’s Exceptional Kickstarter

Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter Header Photo

All any aspiring fantasy writer is talking about now is Brandon Sanderson’s wildly successful Kickstarter for his Secret Novels, scheduled to arrive in supporters’ inboxes in 2023. I have to admit that even I am a little jealous of his success

First, I think we should take notes not by whether or not we like Sanderson or his writing, or how much money he is receiving (his company Dragonsteel Entertainment is after the fees and business expenses), or put ourselves in the mindset that we cannot replicate his success because we are not Brandon Sanderson. Obviously, there are established writers who can’t do it, and probably we probably can’t replicate his success to that degree. 

As writers we should look at his business and marketing strategies objectively to see why it was a success and what we can take away from it.  

1. Content is King:  Sanderson not only produces books regularly but also podcasts with other writers and is now a YouTuber. He is creating educational content and also posts movie and show reviews that will drive traffic from people who would never have followed him otherwise. By collaborating with other writers, he also grows his own following as other fandoms discover him. It also works vice versa. 

2. Social Media: Sanderson and his team figured out what works on social. He effectively trolled everyone by posting a “need to come clean” sad video, driving up interest, and then turning what many though was a sad video into an emotional high. Call it clickbait but it works. He also is very active on reddit and constantly communicates with his fans to create superfans. He and his team also connected with booktubers to set up the announcement after spending considerable time making connections with them (ie Daniel Greene). Spend time learning how to use social media and build your platform.

3.  Established trust: by producing content and following through on his promises to create good content over the past 15 or so years his fandom has come to trust him. They trust that he will fulfill his promises for content and to fulfill the Kickstarter rewards.

4. Start Small: Sanderson used a smaller project to test the capabilities of his team. Kickstarter and other funded projects are logistically challenging not only to create the content, but to fulfill it. Writers who have little experience in printing, shipping, Excel or CRM list management and project fulfillment should brush up on those skills or add people to their teams who can do it. Crowd-funded projects that are not fulfilled will likely not be funded for the next one.

5. Connections: Don’t work in a creative vacuum—word-of-mouth campaigns and social media are not successful without creating meaningful connections. This is true in the working world, and it certainly is in the creative world. By supporting other writers in your circle, you too will benefit when you help them become successful.

We too can start small and work our way up using the same techniques if we want to replicate even a portion of his success.

Patreon for Writers: Collaborate and Publish

You Did It!

Congratulations, you’ve officially launched your Patreon page! By preparing your launch you’ve set yourself up better than the majority of creators.  You launched your page, but so what? Launching your page alone won’t get you donations. According to Kickstarter, the first 24 hours of a campaign are the most important. With your lists in place, your emails scheduled, your social media shoutouts posted, you will have an initial surge of donations before they taper off. Here are three ongoing tasks that will always be a part of your fundraising efforts:

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Patreon for Writers: Ongoing Campaigns

Campaigns?!

Such a scary word, but never fear, gentle writer, for this is the fun part!

In the non-profit world, I have experience with two kinds of fundraising: the Annual Fund and the Campaign.

These two types are the bread and butter of fundraising for annual operations and specific projects, be that capital (ie buildings) or productions (music festivals, scholarships, etc). Similar techniques can be used for your writing projects depending on your goals. Let’s take a look at how a non-profit model can help you understand and build your campaign.

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Urban Legends

 

Urban legends are something every child grew up with, at least here in America. They’re the kind of stories told over crackling campfires, gooey s’mores, and in the deep, dark woods. While they fall into a similar category as creepypastas, urban legends typically have similar formats (wayward hikers on the road, a creepy graveyard, former occupants going bump in the night) but are unique to the area.

Unlike creepypastas, which thrive in the void of the Internet, each urban legend has a distinctly local flavor. With every unsettling crime comes the ghosts of its victims. The spirits of those who died in accidents haunt their violent pasts. And creepy somethings inhabit the empty space between the crumbling drywall of abandoned buildings.

There’s no shortage of urban legends around my area, and my favorite urban legend from Ventura County, California is about the Charman.

The Charman

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In the aftermath of the devastating 2017-2018 Thomas Fire, there’s no shortage of fear around wildfires in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. 

Local legend says that there is a haunted bridge near the old RV campgrounds in Ojai, California called Camp Comfort, where the homeless folks live and the Charman frightens drivers in the dead of night.

Creek Road is an undulating mountain road locals take to avoid traffic on Highway 33. Drivers speed along all its curves, avoiding deer, rocks tumbling down the mountainside, and the occasional ghost hitchhiking among the long dry grass.   

The story changes depending on which local you talk to. Some folks say a motorcyclist died along the windy mountain road. Others say it’s the spirit of a firefighter who died during the last great wildfire in the 1980’s. But what is certain is that something haunts the road and that certain something is a burning man who terrifies drivers who stop on the bridge just outside of Camp Comfort.

Locals even have cocktails named after him! If you’re ever in town, be sure to try out the Charman Margarita (traditional margarita with hot sauce) at Seafresh. 

Of course, in all of the 18 years here I’ve never once seen the Charman on the bridge. But maybe, when I’m driving home one night, that will all change!

The McWaterford Witch

For writers, using urban legends as part of their eerie little tales allows for great creativity. In my upcoming short story, “The McWaterford Witch,” a group of girls on a camping trip witness an urban legend that comes to life. The horror arises from their own fear: that something will happen to one of them. For who knows what lurks in the woods at night?

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6 - Hanna Day (1)

This blog post is part of the Secrets in Our Cities Scavenger Hunt. You can participate by visiting all of the participating blogs, a list of which can be found in the introduction post on the Just-Us League’s website.

Once you’ve gathered all of the clues, figure out the secret line and submit it. One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of Secrets in Our Cities, and three lucky winners will receive ebook copies.

The Scavenger Hunt will be open until midnight EST on November 5th, 2018. The winners will be announced on the Just-Us League’s blog on November 7th, 2018. Your information will only be used to contact you if you win a prize.

Patreon for Writers: Working with Artists

Probably the most fun part of doing any creative project is seeing your writing come to life via artwork. Those who seek to self-publish need a great cover, and who better than to turn to talented artists? However, working with artists can be more challenging than anticipated, and learning how to work with an artist can take some practice.

I’m no Picasso myself, however, I do create political cartoons for my local newspaper and create parody non-profit culture comics. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with newspaper publishers who don’t understand how much time some changes take and don’t charge properly for the time.

As of May 26th, 2018 I’ve been working with Artist and Illustrator Sam Dutter for my upcoming epic fantasy book The Hymns of Creation. While it’s not my first time collaborating with an artist

1. It’s a Business Relationship

While writers and artists share the same goals of making cool stuff, sometimes we’re tempted to think that the artists have the same goal.

Artists are not paid to read your book. Normally, a publishing house will have an art director in charge of commissioning cover art, but if you’re Indie then you’re the art director of your project. If you strike gold with an artist who loves your work AND wants to work with you on super customized artwork then that’s awesome! But don’t send them your entire manuscript and expect them to make something up.

2. Prepare Your Materials

If you’ve ever worked on a group project before you know that it’s a two-way street. If everyone doesn’t provide the materials needed one person ends up doing all of the work. All artists work in different ways, but they can’t read your mind.

Some materials to prepare:

  • A contract
  • References, including links to book covers and stock photos you envision
  • Book summary
  • Character descriptions

3. Always Let them know what you’re using the artwork for!

Don’t pull a Terry Goodkind and trash your artist on social media. That’s just bad manners!

Crowdfunding online is all about being social, which includes collaborating with your team members. Some artists may not want to be more involved, and that’s ok too. But if they do, then it’s a great way to mutually benefit each other via exposure after the initial payments go through.

Some tips:

  • Many Millennial artists spend years building up their social media presence. If you plan on using any part of the artwork for social media promotion be sure to let them know–they can help you resize artwork for social media.
  • Ask your artist to resize part of your cover for your Patreon page
  • Be sure to thank your artist on Patreon and, if they also have a Patreon page, be sure to link back to it.

4. Don’t Be Cheap

We’re all on a budget. I know. I am too. As Indie writers we have to be careful about how we plan our budget, and for many writers, it doesn’t seem worth it to sink a lot of money into a customized cover.

Some books may not need customized artwork, and that’s OK!

When we watch artists livestream their artwork it’s easy to think, “well, that sketch took them five minutes! They shouldn’t charge that much!” Remember that many artists may have spent five years studying to be able to do a concept sketch in five minutes.

Some tips:

  • Respect the prices they quote you. If you ask for more than your contract states don’t be surprised if they charge you for the service.
  • Their art equipment, especially for digital artwork, is expensive.
  • If money is an issue get quotes from several potential artists.

5. Have Fun!

Ultimately both the artist and the writer want to have fun–after all, seeing the cover makes your book seem real.

Up next: Running a Campaign

  1. Building your fanbase
  2. Build your Database
  3. Building your Patreon Page
  4. Working with Artists
  5. Ongoing campaigns: The Ask Event Model
  6. You, Me, and Gift Management 
  7. Collaboration and Launch!