We take a break from our regularly scheduled blog posts to update you on this breaking news. Something that lets me talk about two of my favorite things – writing and business!
This remarkable something has been happening since March 1st and hasn’t received the press or acknowledgment it should. That’s a shame. Because while some may try to play off this event as a one-in-a-million event by an industry unicorn, it’s not. What’s happening is repeatable and business owners everywhere can learn from it.
On March 1, Brandon’s Kickstarter posted with a high goal – $1 Million. Within hours, it had broken records – Fastest to fund, most funded within 24 hours – and within days, the highest-funded Kickstarter EVER. So, what was it for? Some tech gadget. Nope. Jewelry? Nope. High fashion? Nope. Just four “quirky” books. Brandon wasn’t even telling us what the titles or in which of the many worlds he writes in the stories would take place! No reveals on the swag! No stretch goals! Just 4 books (at the lowest level) or the 4 books in hardcover without autographs and year of book-related presents from his publishing company (at the highest level). That’s it. That’s all we knew.
Twenty-three days into the Kickstarter and it’s over the 32 Million Dollar mark and seems on track to break the 40 Million dollar mark!
And yet, this isn’t being widely covered by the media.
Let me take you back a few steps.
I met Brandon about 15 years ago. He is one of the founders of Superstars Writing Seminar, a conference dedicated to teaching writers all about the business side of their profession. I’ve been fortunate to know Brandon and been able to hear him talk about his career and have watched the steps he’s taken with it. Even from the start of his writing career, Brandon knew he was a small business, and he built it accordingly. When he was honored to finish the Wheel of Time series after the death of Robert Jordon, he inherited a rich world, millions of
words by a master of the craft and his staff. A staff Brandon says he could never have finished Jordon’s epic without and praises every chance he gets.
Brandon also created his own publishing house, DragonSteel Entertainment, Before launching this particular, Kickstarter, Brandon had an earlier one where he was able to learn the ins and outs of the platform and how to deliver. Brandon’s success for this Kickstarter was set on a foundation he’d built for his business years ago.
What did Brandon do right?
1. Brandon built and supported his fan base (read this as customers) for decades.
If you ever had the pleasure of meeting Brandon… well, it’s a pleasure. He’s a many-time best-selling novelist. And he’s one of the humblest, most approachable people out there. Even if you’ve never met him in person, he’s spent thousands of hours on podcasts, YouTube videos, and conventions being accessible. Look him up. Really. Do it.
Not only is Brandon accessible but he also gives back to his fanbase. He’s given them free stuff, exclusive items, and premiere access. Want to listen to Brandon reading one of his novels? It’s out there. As part of the Kickstarter, he’s doing YouTube videos where he’s disclosing the titles of the books and reading the first 6 chapters. Those videos are clearly labeled as “SPOILERS” for those who don’t want to know, but if you’ve just heard about the crazy-successful Kickstarter and don’t know who Brandon is or what he writes, you can try a sample for free this way.
What have you done to say “thank you” to your customers? How do you give back to them? Are you approachable? Are you a pleasure to work with?
2. He writes amazing books (delivers a great product)
Okay, this one can be debated since not everyone is going to like the same type of book or the same writer. Brandon’s readers love his work. His novels have sold over 20 million copies. It’s hard to say how many people that translates to. Let’s presume that’s 1 million readers. Brandon only needed 25,000 people to purchase at the lowest level $40.00 to reach his goal. That’s only 2.5% of his likely readership – his “ride or die” fans. It’s not a surprise then that he hit that goal fairly easily especially when he had that many people support his prior Kickstarter. Realistically, you should be able to count on at least 10% of your client base re-purchasing from you. For Brandon, that’s probably 100,000 people. Approximately 139,000 people who have supported this Kickstarter at the time of this writing (March 23) likely represent a mix of his diehard fans plus those that have found him because of the Kickstarter.
Do at least 10% of your clients buy again (and realize this number should be much higher)? Will at least 10% of them try a new offering just because it’s YOUR offering?
If not, why not? What can you do to engage them and make them raving fans for your product? What can you do to make your products better?
3. Proven ability to deliver
Brandon has a reputation for delivering on his promises. His traditional publisher, Tor.com, and readers know we’ll get a novel when he says we will. YEAH! So, when Brandon says, as he did in this Kickstarter, that he wrote four novels in his “spare time” during the Pandemic, we believe him. Also, we know he’s a prodigious writer and if you take away all his distractions – like having to travel to conventions – and let him refocus that time on writing, it’s truly not a surprise that more novels were the result.
These questions are business owners should ask themselves based on the success of this Kickstarter are harder because the answers mean you have to be brutally honest with yourself.
Do you deliver for your clients? On-time? Every time? What delays are there in your systems?
Do you deliver an exceptional product every time? When you’ve underdelivered (and we all have from time to time) what have you done to address the problem, so it doesn’t happen again? What have you done to make it better for that client (even if they didn’t realize you underdelivered)?
4. Used a new delivery channel to increase his visibility
Before launching this Kickstarter, Brandon had a prior successful Kickstarter campaign for a premier edition of a backlist (already published) book (10th Anniversary Edition of The Way of Kings). That Kickstarter had a $250,000 goal and ultimately raised almost 7 Million Dollars. The prior Kickstarter was funded in 3 minutes! This one beat it. Kickstarter is not, generally, a book buying platform. Sure, I’ve had lots of indie publishing friends publish their novels there, but until now, it’s not been a place where a large mainstream novelist has offered a new book.
Using Kickstarter as a distribution model for a novel is brilliant. In addition to increasing his bottom line compared to what Brandon would have received from traditional publishing, Brandon just introduced himself and his works to a whole new customer base. Marketing + Sales = HUGE Win
Are you taking advantage of all possible delivery channels? Is it time to do a controlled test of a new delivery method?
5. Trust and Reputation
Part of the reason the Kickstarter was a success, unlike some other Kickstarter projects, is the product – the books – was already completed. The only risk here was that Brandon wouldn’t reach his $1,000,000 funding goal. If he did, we got 4 lovely books and a bunch of neat DragonSteel goodies. The initial wave of consumers knew Brandon wouldn’t cheap out on the goodies because we trust him.
Brandon has built his reputation over his career. While you might find people who complain about not liking his books or gripe that he is only famous because of the Wheel of Time books (ignoring he was already a name in the genre before being entrusted with that legacy) or even complain about the Kickstarter, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone saying that Brandon didn’t deliver or that he’s a jerk. Just the opposite.
Reputation is everything.
Are you genuine in your interactions? Do you know what your business reputation is? Does it reflect what you want it to do? Have you done everything possible to ensure your reputation is what you want and assists your business rather than harms it?
Some will say Brandon bottled lightning and his success is because he’s “Brandon Sanderson,” but the truth is everyone can learn from what Brandon’s done. Every writer can benefit from using Kickstarter now that readers know to look there. Every business owner can benefit from the example Brandon set with his own business. Being in a “creative” business doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore you’re in “business.” Business is business. These business tips are universal whether you are “creative,” provide “business attorney services,” sell a product, own a brick-and-mortar or deliver solely online.
For more insight and tips into the phenomenon that is the Four Secret Novels Kickstarter and how you can use the lessons from it, please also check out Kristine Kathryn Rush’s amazing post on this topic at kriswrites.com
You too can catch lightning in a bottle!
Speak again the ancient oaths: Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.
By the way, not that it would surprise any of my friends, my “official” Knights Radiant Order is Windrunner: I will Protect.