Some FAQs You Might Enjoy
Hey, all. It has been, to say the least, a wild two weeks for me. After seeing some of the discourse around what is going on with the Kickstarter, I thought you all might enjoy it if I answered a few questions I’ve been getting. (Or ones I’ve been seeing people pontificate about.) Consider this a kind of halfway point retrospective.
This got long, because it’s…well, me. So I created two versions. The short version, which you can read here. And this long version.
So, here we go. We’ll start easy, then get into some more in-depth explanations of why I approached this project the way that I did.
How Are You Doing?
I’m feeling great. Really, things are good. That said, I’m feeling a tad behind–I knew (once I finished Skyward 4) that I probably wouldn’t be able to really start Stormlight 5 in January. There was too much I wanted to do to Wax and Wayne 4, and beyond that I needed to chill a little bit–and so the first two weeks of the year were pretty low-key for me work-wise. (Actually low-key, no secret projects being worked on, I promise.)
I really wanted to get finished with the revision of Wax and Wayne earlier than I have, however. I hoped to be done in early February, but I only just finished. (I sent in the 4.0 last night.) This does mean that I’m officially on Stormlight 5 full time. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the delay means that I didn’t have time to do the Skyward 4 2.0 draft, so that book might end up being put off until summer next year instead of spring next year. I won’t feel comfortable doing the 2.0 on that until I have at least a month of daily progress on Stormlight and I have Secret Project One turned in. Fortunately we have the Skyward Flight sequence to pick up the slack–and if you haven’t looked into those, I would recommend them.
Regardless, I’m roughly a month behind on Stormlight 5. That isn’t terribly bad; the way I pace these things it’s fully possible that I can finish by the end of the year, as I’d like to. But it will depend on a lot of factors. As I’ve been saying for a while now, I’ll allow Stormlight 5 to slip into spring 2024 instead of fall 2023 if I need the extra time. The end of a given sequence (like is happening with W&W 4) deserves extra attention. If Stormlight 5 does slip, it won’t be the Secret Projects slowing me down, but instead the extra attention to Wax and Wayne that has done it–or specific needs of Stormlight 5. Again, I’ll keep you in the loop. (The bright side here is that I added about 25k words to Wax and Wayne in this revision.)
I’d love to be playing Elden Ring right now, but I think I’ll need to put that off also until I know that I have momentum on Stormlight 5. This would not be a good time to start a new video game. Particularly not one by my favorite game developer.
How Are You Going to Spend the Money?
I got this question from the journalist from the Associated Press who interviewed me. He gave an excellent interview, and we had a really great conversation. But this question stopped me for a moment. It’s a valid question, but it took me by surprise, as I haven’t been looking at this the way that some people seem to be. I didn’t hit the lottery, any more than any other business hits the lottery when they have a product that connects with their market.
I will spend the money as I spend the rest of my money. Part into savings, part into paying salaries (along with nice extra bonuses because the Kickstarter did well), part reinvested into the company. (We’re still planning on building a physical bookstore, and this will help accelerate those plans. Also, it’s not outside of reason that as I move into doing more film and TV, I will want to partially fund some of the projects.)
While this Kickstarter is an incredible event, and (don’t get me wrong) is going to earn me a good chunk of money, it’s going to be comparable to other projects I’ve done. Also, don’t underestimate how much money it costs to maintain the infrastructure (like a warehouse–or in this case, probably more than one) it takes to be able to ship several hundred thousand books. It will likely be years before we can be certain how much this actually earned us after all expenses. More than we’d get from New York on the same books, but potentially not that much more.
That said, I will almost certainly buy myself some nice Magic cards. Still have a few unlimited duals in my cube that could use an upgrade to black border.
Did You Anticipate This Level of Success for the Kickstarter?
I did not. I knew the potential was there, but I didn’t think it (getting to this astronomical number of backers) would happen.
My guess was that we’d land somewhere in the 2–4 million range, though I really had no idea. My team can attest to the fact that in the lead-up, I was very conservative in my estimates and expectations. This was an experiment from us that I’d been wanting to try for a while. (I’ll talk more about that below.) I didn’t have any idea how well it would go.
To pull back the curtain for you a little, Rhythm of War’s first week sales were somewhere around 350,000 across all formats. (That week was 50% audio, 25% ebook, 25% print.) Starsight’s numbers were around 80,000 copies across all formats for the first week. (This one was 54% audio, 29% ebook, and 17% print.) Those are US numbers only. Note, these are both what I’d consider very successful projects. Both of these books sold enough to claim the #1 spot on their respective New York Times bestseller list, for example. And though Stormlight sold 4 times as much–it also took 4 times as much work. (In the long run, because of its larger price point, Stromlight does earn more though. Which is why it amuses me that people sometimes accuse me of writing the YA books to “cash in.” Um, no, my friends. I earn less on those. Not significantly less, but still. I write them because they are stories I want to tell.)
The first year for Rhythm of War was about 800,000 copies total. Starsight ended up somewhere around 250,000 copies after one year. (Rough estimates.) It’s too early to tell for Cytonic on this second metric, which is why I used the previous book.
Now let’s look at a less successful Sanderson book. Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds is my worst-selling recent book. First week was under 10,000 copies–and it’s only sold about 80k copies so far in the three years it’s been out, with the first year being roughly in the 50k range. These numbers weren’t surprising to me–it was not only a short fiction collection (which is a tough sell to a lot of readers), it was also in a genre I’m not known for and the first two novellas had been out in ebook for years, with quite good sales. So while this isn’t the best comparison ever, another good thing to look at was the Way of Kings leatherbound, which had roughly 30,000 backers.
Together, this knowledge gives a rough idea of my readership. It’s hard to judge apples to apples with this Kickstarter, as I am giving the ebook with the other editions–and it’s hard to know how many of those readers above are buying two copies instead. But I could guess that the upper end of the number of people willing to show up to buy a Sanderson book in the first year of release is somewhere around 800k, while the lower end of people who will show up for one is around 50k. That’s why I say I knew the potential was there. If the 30,000 people from the original Kickstarter showed up and bought the lowest tier, we’d be right around a million for the Kickstarter. We knew it would likely be bigger, but how much bigger?
Modern media consumption is, for better or worse, very platform-specific. People don’t like to be moved from one platform to another–and I get it. The convenience of having your media collection all in one place, of already having your credit card info stored, of not having to do much besides click a button (or grab something at the bookstore where you’re already visiting) is huge. The question wasn’t if people would want to read these books. It was this: Would they be willing to move from their comfortable platform to Kickstarter? Would we be able to even make them aware of these books?
How many of those potential 250k–800k people who normally buy a Sanderson book in the first year could be convinced instead to move and preorder it through Kickstarter? Our guesses, it turned out, were way low. But at the same time, it is interesting that (not disregarding our huge success, which I’m not at all complaining about) even this huge Kickstarter breaking all records is only grabbing a fraction of my normal audience. So maybe you can see why we knew we had potential, but were conservative in our estimates. We didn’t know what to expect, but assuming that we’d do a fraction of what a Stormlight book did in the same space (even if it was a reprint) was at least a reasonable baseline.
Note that if you want to consider a really daunting fact, realize that if all 800k first-year Stormlight readers showed up (these are the ones willing to buy the hardcover or the more expensive ebook, since the prices don’t drop to mass-market levels until after the first year) to buy these books on Kickstarter… Well, our current average spend per backer is over $200. So we’d be talking about a Kickstarter of $150 million plus, in that pie-in-the-sky case.
No, we’re not going to try to do that by releasing a mainline Stormlight novel in first run on Kickstarter. The reason why has to do with the next questions.
Is This the End of Traditional Publishing For You? Is That Why You Kickstarted These Books?
I know some of you know the answer to this, having read the sound bites I’ve put into various news media interviews I’ve done recently. But if you’ll humor me, I want to go into more depth. To do that, first let me tell you a story. (Totally unexpected, I know.)
In 2010, Macmillan (the parent company of Tor Books) got into some finicky contract negotiations with Amazon. The publishers felt that Amazon was selling ebooks at rock-bottom prices to move Kindles–something they wanted to do to dominate the market and control the reading platform. During negotiations, Amazon–to put pressure on Macmillan and try to starve them out–stopped selling any Macmillan books. (Except for used copies through the extended marketplace.)
This was within Amazon’s power; as a retailer, they can decide what they want to sell and what they don’t. They used a common, if cutthroat, strategy here. They had a flood of money during that time they actively didn’t want to turn a profit at the end of the year. They knew that if they sold ebooks at a loss, Nook and Kobo would have to do likewise–and they weren’t flush with cash they literally needed to burn.
I don’t like that mindset, using our pieces of art as the thing sold rock-bottom. But it’s not like the publishers have been angels in their treatment of Amazon. The two have had a rocky relationship for basically forever. Plus, the publishers have historically been backward-thinking about electronic mediums (see my next point).
The point here is that this event twelve years ago taught me something. Amazon turning off the ability to buy books didn’t really hurt me in the long run. (Amazon, notably, picked the month of the year with the lowest book sales to do this.) But it did really hurt the careers of some newer authors who were releasing that month. And it told me just how fragile my career was. And it’s only gotten more fragile in the years since.
Judging how much market share Amazon has is famously difficult, as people keep sales figures close to their chest. But many estimates put Amazon at around 80% of the ebook market, 90% of the audiobook market (they own Audible), and 65% of the print book market. (You’ll sometimes see much lower guesses for ebooks, but I can tell you that at least for me, 80% is low. It’s probably closer to 85%.)
So how many of those 800k copies of Rhythm of War did Amazon sell? Probably around 650,000 copies–maybe more. Somewhere around 80%, by my more conservative of estimations. And in my most popular format, audio, they completely dominate the market.
This is deeply unsettling.
Now, it’s hard to blame Amazon for this, at least not entirely. I absolutely blame them for their terrible treatment of workers. And yes, they’ve engaged in some predatory practices, as I talked about above. But I honestly think that the bigger factor is that they’re just really good at selling things. Kindle has the best user experience, and was the innovation that finally broke open the ebook market. Audible championed the credit model and finally brought audiobooks to a reasonable price point. (Old people like me will remember the days of $70–$80 Wheel of Time audiobooks.) Amazon’s delivery speed is incredible. Their stock, near-infinite.
Beyond that, I have friends at Amazon. I like the people at Amazon. I’ve worked with them on many things, and the people there have universally been excellent. Book lovers, passionate about their jobs, and really easy to get along with.
Still, their market share should terrify authors. Innovation is strangled by market dominance. And the problem with loss leading (like Amazon did over the years) is that eventually you have to start making profit. And then the squeeze comes. Indie authors are feeling this right now. Amazon created the indie book market, quite literally. Before it, indie publishing was an enormously expensive and risky affair. One of my neighbors when I was growing up was a journalist who decided to try to indie-publish a book, and he ended up with the proverbial garage full of tens of thousands of copies he was unable to sell.
The ebook revolution, spearheaded by Amazon paying a whopping 70% royalty to indie authors who published on their platform, was huge. (For reference, traditional publishing currently pays 17.5% on those same ebooks.) This, mixed with authors having far more power to choose what they want to do with said books–including walking away whenever they want–created an extremely author-friendly boom that has legitimately done great things. Smaller voices have a much better chance, the New York gatekeepers have lost some of their control, and there’s a feeling of democratization to publishing that has never existed before.
At least there used to be.
You see, since Amazon controls a huge chunk of the market, this gives them a lot of control. For example, to get the good royalty, indie authors are forced to sell their ebooks under a maximum price chosen by Amazon. (And that maximum price hasn’t changed in the last twelve years, despite inflation.) The bigger problem, however, is how Amazon changed its advertising game–targeting indie authors with a kind of “advertise to sell” model.
You see, Amazon wasn’t making as much as it needed/wanted to from those books–in part because it insisted on keeping the prices low to maintain market share. In part because it had promised kindle buyers this was their perk: cheap ebooks. But it didn’t want to change its famous 70% royalty. Otherwise it would look bad to indie authors.
So instead, it changed its recommendation algorithm and its page layout. It moved organically recommended books down, and added advertisement slots across most book pages (particularly popular ones). These slots were available for indie authors to buy.
If you go to the Way of Kings page on Amazon, you will find twelve advertisements between the top of the page and the reviews section. Nine of these are for indie authors trying to sell their books to fans of the Stormlight Archive. The other three are ads for non-book Amazon products. This is better than it once was when Amazon first implemented this “feature” five or six years ago. I once counted even more advertisements, and you had to go all the way to the bottom to find the traditional “books related to this one” list. (This is the organically generated recommended books list, where other titles rated highly by readers of the book’s author could be found.)
These days, according to some of my indie author friends, you have to spend a great deal to sell on Amazon. Not everyone’s experience is the same, but I hear this time and time again. To make it as an indie author, you need to shell out for expensive advertising on the very website selling your books. I have indie author friends who are spending a good portion of their income on these advertisements–and if they don’t, their sales vanish. Amazon has effectively created a tax where indie authors pay back a chunk of that glorious 70% royalty to Amazon. (And this is for the authors lucky enough to be allowed to buy those advertising spots, and therefore have the chance at selling.)
This might seem good. Publishers spend to get their books in front of people, so it’s good for indie authors to have the same chance. Except I think this system–as it stands now–takes power away from writers. In the old days before this system, the primary way that you sold books on Amazon was by having people read them and like them. If fans of the Stormlight Archive read your book (even in small numbers) and left good reviews, then your book showed up for free on my page. Amazon might claim that it would be hard for indie authors to compete with traditional authors this way. But if they really cared, then on the Stormlight page they could make a section titled something like “Independent authors liked by fans of the Stormlight Archive” and help them that way.
The truth is that while the people at Amazon are wonderful, Amazon itself doesn’t care about the indie authors as much as it claims. If it did, it would let them raise their prices with inflation, and would promote them for free like it once did. And we shouldn’t expect Amazon to be benevolent. It is a corporation. Indeed, this is exactly what we should expect Amazon to do in a system where it has a near-monopoly. It lacks competition, and so where are these authors going to go? There’s no other game in town. So, now it’s time for Amazon to cut into what they’re being paid. (With Audible, the move was more transparent. Audible just dropped the royalty they’d been paying indie authors from 60% to 40%.)
This is a long-winded way of saying what many of you probably already knew. Monopolies (or if you insist on being technical, near-monopolies and monopsonies like Amazon) are bad for everyone. I insist this is bad for Amazon. They could collapse this very market they created, and squeeze too much on both the publishers and the authors. They could stagnate to the point that their user experience is bad, and we lose readers to other forms of media.
Regardless, this has been bothering me for over a decade. I feel that the current system has a gun to my head. Heck, all that has to happen is for someone at Amazon read this blog post or see my Kickstarter and decide they just want to make an example out of me. Poof. 85% of my sales gone. And while some people might go to another vendor to get my books, the painful truth is that many would not. Time and time again, studies of contemporary tech media consumption have shown that the person who controls the platform is the one who controls the market. And users like their platforms. I mean, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I still haven’t gotten around to playing Starcraft 2, despite loving the first one, because I just am so used to Steam (where Starcraft 2 isn’t available) that I haven’t overcome the inertia to go buy it.
That said, even if Amazon weren’t a dominant force, there are some problems with traditional publishing that I’ve been fighting for years. This is another reason for the Kickstarter.
So, You’re Leaving Traditional Publishing? You Still Haven’t Answered That Question.
I’m not leaving traditional publishing. I like both of my publishers quite a bit. I have no plans to move Stormlight or Mistborn from Tor–and I foresee many more years of working with them on those novels and others. I have no plans of stopping my YA line with Delacorte Press (part of Penguin Random House). Both of my publishers have bent over backwards to accommodate my sometimes odd demands and my unconventional vision of how I want to approach publishing. They’re good people, and I’m pleased with the job they’ve been doing.
That said, I have some problems with traditional publishing as a whole.
For one, their ebook and audiobook royalties are too low. I’ve already bored you with math, so I won’t go into this one here. The short version is this: publishers have benefited more from ebooks (making more money from them as a percentage over print books) than authors have. Publishers took the opportunity of a new format as a way of shaking things up and getting a better deal out of authors than they’d historically had.
I try to listen to my audience. One thing I’ve heard for years is that readers want to get an ebook with a print book, bundled together. And I think this is an extremely reasonable request. The cost to create an ebook once you have the print book is negligible. Just some basic formatting work. (This is different from an audiobook, which costs a lot more to host, and needs the paying of a narrator and additional work to put the whole thing together.) Hollywood often gives you a digital download of a film when you buy the DVD. Why can’t we get digital copies of books with print ones?
I spent years trying to make this happen. I spent long phone calls with John Sargent, then CEO of Macmillan, arguing with him about what I considered his backward view of ebooks. (He only recently left, so maybe things can change now.) He felt that bundling an ebook with a print book would devalue the ebook. I argued that it’s the text, not the format, that people are paying for. An ebook is worthless–it’s the text that is worth something.
In books, we are lucky in some ways, compared to music, video games, and film. Physical books are showpieces. (Calm down, game owners. I know you like your physical collections of old media too.) But in general, the public considers physical books to be more collectible than other physical mediums. They want to own books, display them, feel them.
One hallmark of my career has been to make those showpiece print editions as desirable as possible. Lavish art. Solid construction. Extras such as foiling and the like. I’ve been arguing about this with publishers for years too. My view is this: bundle the ebook with a nice print edition, and many of them will buy that edition. We’ll not only have a happy reader more likely to buy from us in the future, but we will also make a little more money in the long run. We won’t devalue the ebook. We’ll create an audience who wants to own and display our books–as long as they don’t have to sacrifice the convenience of reading the ebook when they want.
My kickstarter has proven this. 52% of people, when given the option of a free ebook with their print copy, have chosen to get the print copy. Compare this to the 25% or 17% of my recent New York publisher releases. The fans have done this even though these books (by nature of the fact that we’re commissioning a lot of artwork for them and are paying for the expensive cover treatment and construction) cost more than a lot of hardcovers.
Bundle the ebook with the print book, and of course more people will buy the print book.
This isn’t even getting into DRM, which is a practice that punishes only those who want to do what is right by supporting the release, rather than pirating. There hasn’t been as much talk of this lately, but I haven’t forgotten. I think people should be able to move their ebooks between devices, and store them locally in case their chosen platform vanishes. (To their credit, Tor Books has released DRM-free ebooks. That is not the case at my other publishers.)
Collectively, however, I feel that the publishing industry is backwards-thinking about ebooks. They should be finding a way to include an ebook for every print book sold, especially the hardcovers and trade paperbacks. (I can understand better not doing it on the small “pocket-sized” mass market paperbacks, which tend to have very low margins.) I think they should be paying a higher royalty, and should be looking for answers other than DRM. (User convenience, over time, has proven to be a bigger factor in preventing piracy than anything else. Beyond that, I mean… Look at me. My audience is a smart, tech-savvy group. And they buy Stormlight books, even though they are DRM-free and undoubtedly among the quickest on the market to show up to be pirated.) People want to support authors. They get excited by doing so.
My next point proves this as well. For years, I’ve talked to publishers until I’m blue in the face about providing a premium product for those who want to buy it. A step above the hardcover.
I don’t know how many of you remember when the Lord of the Rings Special Editions first launched, but they came with bookends. The DVDs…you could buy an edition that had cool bookends. Those things were, as the kids say (used to say?), dope.
For years I’ve been trying to get publishers to understand what the video game industry learned long ago: provide a larger spectrum of price points, and let people choose what they want. I think we, in books, are in an even better position. The ballooning cost of video games means that they can’t often sell games as cheap (in digital) as we can sell books.
I believe strongly in the existence of a low-priced ebook and a low-priced audiobook, along with a nice hardcover above that, and a really nice merchandise bundle above that. Bookstores are struggling. I guarantee if we could figure out how to make it work logistically, they’d love to be able to sell a really nice bundle for books that includes swag. I mean, Barnes and Nobles are one-third toy stores already.
One of my biggest regrets with the Kickstarter is cutting bookstores out. That’s part of why this will only be one of my tools going forward, not my primary one. I want bookstores to stick around. I believe that a browsing experience (and at the best bookstores, a hand-selling experience) is vital for keeping a good environment for up-and-coming authors to be discovered. It helps mid-list authors a great deal as well. People walking along and looking for something new to buy helps them find new authors organically, and I believe my career was (in part) made by booksellers hand-selling my books and by people browsing for new authors. Things that are much harder to do digitally.
Beyond that, the bookstores are the only hedge we have against Amazon right now. We lose that, and things get really bad. This is another big reason why I’m not going to be kickstarting the next Stormlight book, despite what is happening here. I will use kickstarter more in the future, obviously. (We’ll be doing Stormlight miniatures later this year, and then the Words of Radiance leatherbound next year.) I’ll likely even find some other first-run books to Kickstart in the future. (I really would like to someday do a collection of picture books based on “The Dog and the Dragon,” “Wandersail,” and “The Girl Who Looked Up.”)
But I also really think traditional publishing is ignoring opportunities. I’ve talked to them a lot about what I wanted to do with bundling merchandise with books in a way that lets readers choose what they want. And lo and behold we have this Kickstarter, again lending me some weight. 24% of people at the time of writing this chose to get physical swag with their books–without even knowing what’s in the boxes! (It will be awesome, I promise.)
This is huge. I know it would be even bigger if we could get them to Europe, Canada, and Australia without insane shipping prices. (We’re working on this, I promise. It’s more tricky than we thought it would be, but we will figure it out. We’ve got some friends who’ve made it work better, and we’re getting advice for them. I hope to have this worked out for the Words of Radiance leatherbound.)
Now, let me be clear on some things. I’ve said that I both believe in low-priced ebooks, but also am annoyed that indie authors can’t price higher. That’s because I think these things aren’t mutually exclusive. I think that options for authors are good. I think most ebooks are fine (even preferable) at the $10 price point (or below) that Amazon has mandated. But not all books are created equal. If an indie author wants to write a 400,000-word epic like The Way of Kings, they can’t charge more for it than the 100,000-word book that most authors are releasing. So they either have to take a big hit in earnings, after spending four times as long on this book, or they have to split it apart–and interrupt the flow of the pacing.
So the option to choose is important. And I do think fans should look at things like length and art inclusions when determining whether an ebook is overpriced or not. (Although Amazon still charges the authors for the size of their ebooks when downloaded. Usually this charge is miniscule–but adding a lot of art can drive this price up to really relevant levels.)
My final point on this one, I promise, is that I think a variety of price points for books (each with good value, mind you) benefits everyone. If we look at ten hypothetical fans, and the way traditional publishing has approached presenting them with goods, we basically get two price points. We get what I’ll call middle-expensive ($35) and we get what I’ll call middle-cheap ($15).
Of those ten fans, two might not be able to afford either edition. Of the remaining eight, four might choose the middle-expensive (in this case, the hardcover or more expensive ebook during the hardcover run.) Four might choose the middle-cheap (paperback, or ebook after price drop to match.) We have earned $200.
If we were just to create four options instead, however, we much better serve fan desires. We create a cheap option as the ebook at $10, or the pocket paperback for the same price. We could keep a middle-cheap version as a nice, oversized paperback ($15). We could keep a middle-expensive version as a hardcover ($35). And we could create an expensive version as the leatherbound or merchandise edition ($100).
What we find in economics is that some people (say one of the ten) will want the really expensive option. Let’s say one of the four in the hardcover category moves to buying a cheap option, as we’re now releasing it simultaneously–so they don’t have to choose between buying an expensive product they don’t really want and getting the book a year later. We assume maybe two in the paperback category move to buying the cheap option, because they always just wanted a disposable copy, and will just buy the cheapest option available. But two in that category take the $15 nicer paperback as they do want something nice for their shelf, just not the more expensive hardcover. Then the two people who couldn’t afford it before move in to buy, now, the cheap edition.
Our final distribution is this:
$100: One fan
$35: Two Fans
$15: Two Fans
$5: 5 fans
How much do we make? $225. We make more money, and magically do it by making more of the fans happy. Those who weren’t able to buy books now can. Those who were buying editions they didn’t really want now have the editions they do want. And the fan who really wanted to buy in and get something cool for their shelf–well they’ve got a product that they like more as well.
We’re seeing this happen right now in the Kickstarter. I don’t have to charge $15 or $16 for my ebooks, as Tor often does even for my shorter novels at release. I can offer a variety of price points. (I can’t do paperbacks yet, as that’s too much for my people to distribute. But I can do an audiobook for that middle price point, and across my various kickstarters, I can offer leatherbounds and/or swag bundles at the higher price points for those who want them.)
With this distribution model instead of the more rigid one used by New York forever, I can give everyone an experience closer to what they want. Everyone is happier. Fewer people (ideally no people) have to buy an edition they don’t want in order to read the book sooner–and I actually make a little more. This is what I think traditional publishing should be doing.
TLDR: Why Kickstart This Project?
For many reasons.
First, I want to give my team experience with direct fulfillment of a frontlist (meaning new, not a reprint) book. This is to build an infrastructure and experience to make it so that if something catastrophic did happen (traditional publishing collapses, Amazon delists my books, etc.) we have the knowledge to handle this ourselves. That takes the gun away from my head.
Second, I wanted to prove some things to my publishers in New York. We should be bundling ebooks with the print editions. We should be offering merchandise bundles on new hardcovers. We shouldn’t be afraid of DRM-free ebooks. I think one of the best things we could do to help independent bookstores would be to find a way to include an ebook code inside hardcovers. (For a DRM-free ebook, able to be read on any major device.) Obviously, we have to overcome the hurdle of those being taken by people browsing the books, but other industries have solved this. We can too.
Third, I want to try to help create an alternative to Amazon for independent authors. Platform is king in our current world, and persuading people to migrate is hard. Every new person who signs up for Kickstarter to buy this bundle is one who might hop over to browse other publishing projects. Or at the very least is one who is now familiar with the platform–so that when another author says, “Hey, I’m Kickstarting this book” they already have an account and are more likely to back it.
(As a note, I recognize that some feel I have received undue attention for this kickstarter–or that I’ve sucked the air out of the room for other projects. It’s possible that you’re right. However, my gut tells me the opposite is true. That a rising tide raises all boats. I feel the best thing I can do for other authors right now is persuade more readers to look into getting books direct from writers. Bringing a hundred thousand more people to kickstarter, many of whom have never brought from the website before, is–I think–going to achieve more for authors in the long run than most other things I could have done with my time. Publishing these books through my traditional channels certainly wouldn’t have changed anything for anyone.)
I don’t know if Kickstarter is the perfect solution to the problems I’ve outlined in this post. It has its own issues. I mean, the top ten projects I managed to leapfrog over this week includes at least one notable disaster that didn’t end up fulfilling. (Along with some other tragic stories. Video game Kickstarters seem particularly rife with these problems.) Kickstarter is a bad venue for people who don’t have an existing fan base or some other way to get attention. If you are a brand-new author, you are unlikely to have success convincing people to Kickstart a book without some kind of really good hook. It’s therefore a bad place to launch new talent. (Something that, for all their flaws, both Amazon indie and traditional publishing can do far better.)
Beyond that, doing a Kickstarter that delivers physical media like I am is beyond the abilities of most authors, even ones of my equivalent sales in the publishing world. I have a large fulfillment team I’ve built over years to send people our leatherbound books and merchandise. I have in-house editorial, publicity, and art teams–I even have an HR director now. Most people don’t become authors so they can have an HR director, I can tell you that. I recommend you have a look at John Scalzi’s explanation of this point; he’s a smart man, and explains it very well.
But suffice it to say this: I likely have the largest support team of any novelist in the world. And even we are going to have to work hard and level up to fulfill all these orders.
At the same time, I do think it’s good to have more options. And if Kickstarter became a way to help indie authors deliver ebooks and audiobooks (the latter having a pretty big start-up cost for a lot of indie writers) digitally without having to be part of the Amazon system…well, I’m all for that. Again, not because I hate Amazon. Amazon has been net positive for the book world and has created a great deal of opportunity for authors. I’m glad Amazon exists, and I’m going to continue to work with them. But we also need more options. Even having one more place to realistically self-publish would be wonderful.
This is a step I could take. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for years. I’m certainly not the first to try it–not even the first bestselling fantasy novelist. (Michael J. Sullivan has been using Kickstarter for almost a decade now to indie publish books. He’s an excellent writer, and recently had a very successful Kickstarter of his own that deserves attention.)
I don’t think this is the death knell of traditional publishing (as some have claimed) or even the singular event that will change everything. But I do think I’ve proven some things, and this might help me and others pry the door open for future changes.
The goal was to prove something to myself, to my team, and to my publishers. We’ve done that handily.
And storms. We still have two weeks remaining.