Brandon Sanderson and his team at Dragonsteel Entertainment just changed the game for authors and content creators in 2022. In less than 24 hours, Sanderson’s Kickstarter project reached over $15.5 million with 59,000+ backers. The surprise YouTube video announcement, “It’s Time to Come Clean – Brandon Sanderson“, about the upcoming release of four novels and a 12-month subscription box could shift how people think about promoting a book release or future product launch.
The initial reaction could signal long-term ramifications within the book publishing industry. Could it mirror the impact of Beyonce’s surprise album release in 2013 or revolutionize self-publishing in parallel to Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her music? Regardless of any future impacts, Sanderson’s book launch campaign is worth talking about as a case study in excellent marketing. This article explores the combination of things that made this campaign an immediate promotional success.
Why is this campaign significant?
Brandon Sanderson is a New York Times best-selling author of epic fantasy and science-fiction books. His most notable works include the Mistborn series, Stormlight Archive series, and completing the final three books in the Wheel of Time book series after the passing of Robert Jordan. He has sold over 21 million copies of his books, placing him among the top authors in his genres.
Sanderson chose not to go through a traditional book publishing house for these four new novels. Instead, he decided to push his staff at Dragonsteel Entertainment to build a new, direct channel for connecting with his growing audience.
This new campaign is forward-thinking and fits perfectly with these new books from a business perspective, especially when you reflect on the massive trend in the publishing industry towards Ebooks and audiobooks. These digital formats account for ~80% of sales through popular Amazon properties (including Kindle & Audible).
The immediate success of the new Kickstarter campaign shows that Sanderson was correct to at least try out this new marketing route. The launch of this new Kickstarter campaign firmly puts it as the fastest Kickstarter project to hit $5 million and $10 million raised, doing so in less than 3.5 hours and 8 hours, respectively. Its current total raised in just 24 hours is enough to put it in the Top 10 highest-funded Kickstarter projects of all time!
How did this new launch campaign work?
When we look at this marketing campaign from a broad overview, Daniel Greene, a popular YouTube book reviewer, puts it best in this quote from his reaction video:
“Sanderson and his team have proven themselves to really be on the pulse of how to promote… how to push literature in 2022.” – Daniel Greene (Youtuber)
Sanderson’s promotional launch combines various marketing techniques to capture attention and drive sales. First, the campaign mobilized an active online community that Sanderson had built around his work. Then, the announcement video got traction and became a viral hit, reaching #1 on YouTube’s Trending page within 5 hours. Finally, the campaign utilized an existing platform, Kickstarter, in a fresh way to trigger immediate action.
We will explore each of these campaign features in more detail below.
Brandon Sanderson has grown a supportive fan community around his work for almost two decades. His books have even built an interconnected universe called “The Cosmere,” drawing loyal readers into the next standalone or series of books.
Yet, from a marketing perspective, what is truly remarkable is the intentional work Sanderson and his team at Dragonsteel Entertainment put into engaging with and supporting this community across multiple platforms.
One of the crucial points addressed in the announcement video is that over the last few years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanderson had been traveling up to 120 days a year on book tours and attending conventions/conferences. Sanderson’s involvement and his approachability at these events made it possible for readers to feel a direct connection to the work, laying the foundation for his active community.
When Sanderson’s travel stopped due to the pandemic, his writing output increased in secret, but publicly, his engagement with his community through digital platforms also increased.
Sanderson and his team have heavily invested in creating quality YouTube content, especially over the last two years, growing the Brandon Sanderson YouTube channel to over 300,000 subscribers. Sanderson’s team regularly puts out professional quality and edited videos on the channel. The content ranges from creative writing lectures at BYU, live signing videos, a regularly recorded podcast, short updates, and reviews.
Sanderson is accessible and regularly comments or answers questions within his Reddit communities. In addition to the small /r/Sanderson community moderated by Sanderson’s team, he also has public communities revolving around his work at /r/BrandonSanderson, /r/Cosmere, /r/Stormlight_Archive, /r/Mistborn, /r/cremposting, and /r/ImaginaryCosmere. Through these communities, Sanderson can engage with over 470,000 Reddit members actively subscribed to following and discussing his works.
In addition to these primary community-building channels, Sanderson also has a presence on other social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and author-specific websites like Goodreads.
All of this work has built an active, engaged, and loyal audience primed to react when Sanderson recently posted his engaging twist video to announce the release of four secret books and a 12-month subscription box.
Engaging Viral Video
When your video hits #1 on YouTube’s Trending page and has over 400,000 views, you know you’ve done something right. The announcement video itself deserves a case study on marketing excellence. The script lives up to what you would imagine coming from the mind of an outstanding fantasy author. Sanderson sets up the book reveals with vague foreshadowing before layering on multiple twists and finishing with the details needed to convert views into sales. It manages to convey all the information required in a promotional sales video without sacrificing the personality or showmanship of Brandon Sanderson.
The initial traction for the video comes from his core audience as subscribers and early watchers reacted to the shocking twist format of the video. This video format and delivery style helped the video to earn a significant number of comments and an extremely high ratio of likes compared to the number of views within the first couple of hours. Sanderson also specifically asks people to share the video without ruining the surprise within the video. This common request rapidly mobilized his fanbase and active community to spread the word about the video and its associated Kickstarter campaign.
Kickstarter is a common avenue for many board games, video games, indie novels, and innovative products to raise money for their product launch. Yet, it is still unconventional for such a widely recognized author to publish and distribute their work in this way.
Some of the promotional benefits that probably led Sanderson to choose Kickstarter as a new channel for connecting directly with customers on this unique launch campaign include:
- Kickstarter offers a path to rapidly test the public’s response to a new product.
- A 30-day campaign provides an increased urgency that triggers faster purchasing decisions while also demonstrating product scarcity.
- The visibility of other orders provides significant social proof and engages the community.
- The homepage of Kickstarter featured the new campaign, which reaches a built-in audience that overlaps the target market for many fantasy or sci-fi authors.
- As a bonus, when your Kickstarter campaign breaks records, it also gains additional press coverage and article write-ups (just like this one!)
This campaign is the second time Sanderson and the Dragonsteel team have used Kickstarter as a direct book distribution channel. Their first attempt at using Kickstarter was for the 10th-anniversary leatherbound book release of The Way of Kings (the first book in the Stormlight Archive series), which was also a massive success, reaching $6.78m on 29,700 backers.
Can the success be replicated by other authors, publishers, and content creators?
Now that we understand some of the marketing activities that contributed to this product launch’s massive success, we must discuss if this is a one-time spectacle or if it can be repeated in the future.
Yes, I would argue that other creators can utilize many aspects of this successful campaign to improve the future launch of their books or products.
Sanderson has just provided a template for creating a new direct purchase channel for prominent authors without going through a traditional publisher. Moreover, it validates the idea that authors with an established audience are not restricted to the standard means of distribution.
This successful self-publishing campaign should push traditional content publishers to increase their resources to support prominent creators and large properties. In addition, this launch should be a wake-up call to publishers. It should open their eyes to the value of supporting fan communities and how these communities can be mobilized to drive sales.
Yet not all of the factors that made this campaign a record-breaking success will be accessible to self-publishing or early-career authors.
To launch a successful Kickstarter campaign of this scale, you need to have a way to reach your target audience. In this case study, Sanderson connected with his established audience through various channels, emphasizing YouTube, Reddit, and his existing readers. But those aren’t the only ways to reach an audience for a successful launch. Authors and marketers have built massive launches through email marketing, other social media channels, and more.
The announcement video also benefited greatly from many things that YouTube’s algorithm considers essential:
- The video was posted by an established channel (Sanderson’s YouTube channel has 300,000+ subscribers)
- The video is 15+ minutes long
- The video received excellent engagement
Unfortunately, creating a viral video cannot be consistently relied upon when designing a marketing campaign and is difficult to repeat with any amount of frequency. Instead, the takeaway for this YouTube video’s success should focus on the creativity that Sanderson put into the announcement video. Marketers, publishers, and authors should find unique ways to weave engaging stories into their videos and marketing materials.
Final thoughts on the successful launch campaign
Brandon Sanderson and his team at Dragonsteel Entertainment deserve to be applauded for their willingness to try something new with this marketing campaign. The success of their launch campaign is the result of the work that the entire team put in over the last two years.
Looking forward, I am excited to see how the Kickstarter sales will continue to trend over the next 29 days and to see the follow-up marketing pushes to keep the momentum going through the rest of the campaign. It will likely be years before we see if this launch has any long-term impact on future book launches or the general publishing industry. But given that this article was posted within 24 hours of Sanderson’s initial announcement video, it is evident that the initial launch is a successful example of how to promote the release of a new book in 2022.
About the Author
Sean Cope is the owner of Elevator SEO, a marketing agency that specializes in helping small businesses drive traffic to their websites through search engine optimization (SEO) and quality content writing services. Sean is not affiliated with Dragonsteel Entertainment or Brandon Sanderson in any way.