Interesting analysis of Sanderson's Kickstarter campaign in one of the FB groups I belong to. It was written by Monica Leonelle (author of Prosperous Creation - Make Art and Make Money at the Same Time) . . . a book I should probably read.
"Thoughts on why Brandon Sanderson’s second Kickstarter did (at least) 4.5x better than his first one...
At the time of this writing, Sanderson’s project hovers around $32.6 million with 7 days left to go. Will it reach $40.8 million and double the second largest campaign to date? We will find out at the end of March.
In the meantime, I wrote a post that I’m copying here… Not in full, but close. I wanted to share some insights around what Russell Nohelty
and I think made this project raise so much more funding than the last and only other project Sanderson has run on the platform to date. That project, called The Way of Kings 10th Anniversary Leatherbound Edition, raised a “measly” $6,788,517—a figure that, at the time, was the biggest Publishing category project in history at Kickstarter.
Brandon Sanderson’s current campaign took the author community—and then the world—by storm when it hit Kickstarter at the beginning of March 2022 and quickly because the most funded Kickstarter project to date. The previous record was a little under $20.4 million, which Sanderson’s Four Secret Novels project surpassed in its first three days on the platform.
Sanderson has been building his platform for 20+ years. He is a popular traditionally published fantasy author. He is business savvy and has made a lot of smart career moves (finishing another popular author’s series, for example). He is an incredible, prolific writer and fantastic worldbuilder. He is a great guy and fun to meet at cons. He is generous to other authors and shares and teaches. The list goes on and on and on. How can other authors compete with this in terms of funding and backer counts on Kickstarter?
We thought it would be helpful to reframe the question: how has Sanderson beaten the last version of Sanderson in a measly two years or less?
His last campaign launched and funded in mid-2020. His current campaign launched and funded in early 2022. Let’s be clear: he is not funding at 4.5x more this time around because he’s a nice guy and writes good books and has built an audience.
And this is where the gold is for other authors trying to learn from his campaigns.
You won’t be Brandon Sanderson anytime soon—and he deserves every bit of his incredible success on both campaigns. But you can still learn from him around what he did differently between his first and second campaigns to get an even better result. Significantly better!
So what did he do differently? Two words: campaign design.
I suspect Sanderson could 6x or 7x his previous campaign with the Four Secret Novels project. He did six things differently in his second campaign that are paying off in orders of magnitude around his funding and backer goals.
And, most importantly, any author can apply these six things to their own campaigns and see their funding amount double, triple, even 5–7x their previous campaigns. Or, they can optimize these pieces from the beginning and see how high they can go.
#1: More Books in a Campaign
The first secret is an easy one: he’s selling more books in this campaign than he was selling in his first one. If you are only running a Kickstarter project every year or two, then you can bundle more books together in the campaign. This is different from creators who run a single book with a campaign a month, as this will ultimately get you more money total (but with more work).
Sanderson ran his second campaign on 4 books + 8 swag boxes. He ran his first campaign on a single book + novella.
You can also increase your total funding by increasing the value of each book or item on offer. If you run your campaign on ebooks or audiobooks, those digital products are not going to cost as much per book. If you run it on a special edition hardcover, that’s a higher-ticket item, which means your funding will be higher, too.
Of course, with more items, you have more costs in product and distribution as well, so make sure you’re looking at both revenue and profit as you design your campaign.
The four books in Sanderson’s current campaign are brand new and exclusive, while the book in the first campaign had already been published for ten years. Sanderson also added some exclusivity to his first campaign by bringing in a new novella so that fans could still back, even if they didn’t want a special edition hardcover—but 4 new books > 1 new novella, and it shows!
Without question, brand new books that are going to be exclusive to Kickstarter for a period are always going to perform better than books already available.
Put another way, you will never compete with a retailer on printing and shipping costs. Amazon can print and ship or send digital downloads faster and cheaper than you as a solo author can, so exercise the one major advantage you do have, which is control over your intellectual property.
#3: More Diverse Tiers
Sanderson has more on offer in the new campaign and has tiers for ebook, audiobook, and premium hardcover. At his volume, he’s easily able to get an offset print on his hardcovers, which keeps the costs low for those. The other two formats are digital. Because the focus of the campaigns is on “new and exclusive,” backers can choose the format they are most excited about.
On the previous campaign, the focus was on a specific format (leatherbound) and did not offer the book in other formats (presumably because ebook, audiobook, hardcover, and paperback were already available through his traditional publisher). He did offer a few formats on the new novella, though audiobook was notably absent, even though it’s the highest-margin book format (digital, so no/low print and delivery costs, and priced higher as audiobooks are generally at $9.99 or above).
The Kickstarter platform has built its Publishing category on print paperbacks. So while you can and should offer ebook, audiobook, hardcovers, and more, It’s helpful to have a $25 print paperback tier for your books, too.
Sanderson interestingly offered all four books as a package only. He did not offer the books individually, nor as paperbacks, either of which may have increased his fundraising even more by filling out the lower end tiers for people with budgets of $1, $5, $10, $20, and $25.
There are lots of reasons not to offer those options… they require more fulfillment, warehousing, and admin work and there’s a risk of cannibalizing higher tiers.
For newer authors, however, having lower-end reward tiers might be a useful way to get people in the door to your work so they become long-term readers.
Sanderson did marketing work on both campaigns, but his video announcing the Way of Kings campaign had 47k views, while his video announcing the Four Secret Novels has 1.3 million views. What was the difference?
Stronger hook — the project itself is a strong hook for the reasons mentioned above, but additionally, Sanderson put together a much better video announcing (and misdirecting) around the four secret books.
More showmanship — Sanderson announced the more recent campaign with a lengthy video that teased his secret (the title being, “It’s time to come clean”) and made a huge show of dropping printed out manuscripts on the table. He also encouraged readers to keep it a secret, directing fans to the Youtube video rather than the campaign. The secret didn’t last, but it was fun and easy to share anyway!
Pre-planned content — Sanderson clearly knew how he wanted this campaign to unfold, had an expectation of how well it could do (though likely didn’t expect it to do this well still!), and planned and scheduled some Dead Zone content ahead of time. (Some examples below.) Since he pre-planned a lot of the content, he was able to talk about and tease the upcoming content in his announcement video, which gave readers (and the press) lots of information about how the project could unfold. He also gave readers a reason to check back in with the project, which naturally increases its visibility and buzz.
#5: Unveilings Throughout the Campaign
Sanderson had some press around his project, which maintained interest and suspense for the first week of the campaign. But like all creators, he still hit a period which we call the Dead Zone of the campaign. If you’re curious what that is, it’s pretty similar to a muddling middle of a novel, actually—it’s a period of slow or no (or some days, even negative!) growth of your funding total for campaign. Luckily for Sanderson, his Dead Zone is still raising millions and millions of dollars… but that’s still orders of magnitude less than the launch period of his campaign, which raised over $24 million!
Sanderson’s second campaign raised the most during the first five days of the project, which is standard for a Kickstarter campaign. It then drops off quickly during the Dead Zone, with the project raising anywhere between $300k-$800k per day.
During the Dead Zone of this campaign, Sanderson planned quite a bit of his own marketing to keep momentum going through the project—as he should. He launched more marketing through his Youtube and social media channels, including:
— Thank yous and updates on the progress of the Kickstarter
— Sneak peeks and reveals of each of the secret novels (one per week)
— Weekly updates and podcasts where he no doubt mentioned the Kickstarter project success and letting people know about it
— A hilarious (and preplanned) spoof called “Do You Suffer From Brandofandonitis?”
— FAQ content dealing with the progress, press, and critique around his Kickstarter
While he did some of the same stuff during his previous campaign with his Live signings of the leatherbound book on Youtube, it wasn’t nearly as pre-planned or as organized. For his current campaign, there’s a clear and unfolding narrative full of trope-y things like secrets, unveilings, surprises (can we tell Sanderson writes fiction?), while in his previous campaign, he focused on celebration—totally appropriate for a 10 year anniversary edition, but not as sticky as secrets!
It’s really important for authors not to rest on their laurels during the Dead Zone, even if they are funded already. Sanderson keeps pushing his project, and all of that money (several million dollars in his case) is going to show up during the Last Days of the campaign (usually the 3–4 days leading up to the project ending). What I enjoy most about both campaigns is that the marketing narrative matches the theme of the campaign.
#6: Add-Ons Through Kickstarter
In Sanderson’s first campaign, he did not use Kickstarter add-ons for the project. This was not his fault, because Kickstarter didn’t release add-ons officially and to everyone until early 2021, months after his campaign ended. On his first campaign, he writes, “We’ll use BackerKit to facilitate add-ons, which will further the customizability of your pledge, allowing you to buy some of the rewards à la carte once the campaign is over. Even pledging $1 to the “make a pledge without a reward” tier will allow access to the add-on store.”
What this meant was that if you wanted something from Sanderson that was not in a reward tier, you had to back at $1 or more and then upgrade that pledge in the add-ons store through a third-party fulfillment company called BackerKit. That was probably more than a little confusing to his regular readers, and likely hurt conversion.
In the current campaign, he was able to use Kickstarter’s add-on feature, which means that backers can choose a reward level, then add on additional items to their pledge. All of this money shows up in the funding total.
Hope this is helpful and let us know if you have any questions!"