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General Reddit 2015 ()
#1 Copy

MisterEight

I really wish there was a book sales equivalent to box office mojo. Would be super interesting to compare the numbers more in depth between super popular authors like yourself and less known/new authors.

Brandon Sanderson

There is, actually. It's called bookscan, and is generally only available to insiders. (But if you can find someone with access, you can track books back for two decades of sales info.)

Problem is, it doesn't track ebooks. (Because Amazon doesn't release them.) I wish this info were more public too, personally. But I can try to guess a kind of rough estimate, based on what I've seen. (This is for first year ebook/hardcover combined, and only applies to fiction books, and not those by a celebrity.)

On the chopping block: 5k (This is a book that did modestly well, but is probably overall losing money for the publisher. Some would keep publishing an author at this level, depending on expectations of growth, award recognition, or niche interest.)

Solid seller: 5k-10k (This is a book most publishers will always be pleased with, and will continue to pay a decent advance for. This author may not make a healthy living on their book unless they can do more than one a year, but will probably always have a writing career.)

High midlister: 10k-20k (This is an author who is well known in their genre, is a dependable seller, and has a dedicated--but small-fanbase. If you can find a writer with a number of books on the shelf, but they don't chart often on the NYT list with new books, they are probably in this category.)

Genre Bestseller: 20k-50k (This is a book that charts on the bestseller lists without hitting the #1 spot. Authors who hit this consistently set trends in the industry, are well known in their genres, and are pulling low six figure advances. Breaking out of this level and into the next takes serious luck, even in a field which already requires a lot of luck.)

Dominant Genre Bestseller: 50k-300k (These are the books that hit #1 on the bestseller list. Authors who do this consistently with each new book are generally at the top of their field, and are probably what you consider "super popular" in your post. But they--we, as this is where I am--are small potatoes compared to the next levels.)

Breakout Bestseller: 300k-1mil (These are books that "break out" of their genre, or are the top of larger genres, like thrillers. Teen books with a lot of momentum can hit here too. Books in this category sell in airports or walmarts to the general public for months, as opposed to those in the category below, which sell really, really well for one week--but only because fans buy their books week one, rather than waiting. I've outsold Dan Brown and John Grisham...for one week. The next week, they trounced me.)

Movie Books: 1-5mil (These are books from one of the other categories that have a film come out recently. Also, the tail end of the breakout bestsellers and the beginnings of phenomenon books. It gets really blurry in here as we're dealing with such large swaths of numbers. Game of Thrones books are in here, I believe. Note that they basically jumped over the category between, which often happens in sf/f when you get a film or tv show.)

Phenomenon books: 5-20+mil (These are books that somehow SUPER break the mold, for reasons nobody really understands. DaVinci Code. Harry Potter. Twilight.)

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#2 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I always like to read something that is unpublished. So that is something new that you get only by coming to my signings or going to the internet where people will have inevitably posted it online already. *laughter* It's really exclusive for like the first signing that I do and then after that everybody on the 17th Shard, which is the fan website, are like *hilarious "oooh" sound*

Argent

So you should read something else?

Brandon Sanderson

No... I have to be very careful about what I read because the publisher has certain deals about exclusivity on new releases. Like for instance I can't read any more from the new Mistborn books because Apple has an exclusive release of new material on that and things like that. It's just part of the deals that we do and so-- I also have to make sure that it's not making big spoilers for other books. I have to make sure that it's not containing errors that are glaring continuity errors and things like that. So we are going to read from a novella called Perfect State. This is a novella that I wrote oh about two years ago now and I didn't really L-- get it done. Like I wrote it and then there was something wrong with it and I wasn't sure what it was. I actually finished it a couple months ago. I finally figured out what it was that was wrong.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

How has the fantasy publishing industry changed with the global popularity of *audio obscured*

Brandon Sanderson

It has changed, but really what we're seeing is what happened in the States in the seventies, the States and the UK following Tolkien, is now happening in a lot of countries that it hadn't happened in before. Which is cool. But it's not just Game of Thrones, since the Lord of the Rings movies, it's Harry Potter. The last ten years are wakening fantasy. See the thing about fantasy is we don't find fantasy doing well in developing countries. It's kind of the thing where if you are going to be reading about knights and wizards, you are not going to be somebody who's struggling for your bread each day. You know what I mean?

Questioner

People in developing countries read more aspirational--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. So you see for instance as countries transition out of that you see a lot of fantasy and things. For instance it happened in Japan in the seventies. It happened in the US even earlier. It's happening now in Brazil and Taiwan. Those are two of the places where it is just appearing. India, it's just starting in India. Mainland China hasn't quite caught on yet but there's hints that it is going to happen. But it has been in Europe for quite a while.

Questioner

So do you have translations of your books in Portuguese?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I'm in 26 languages, or something like that. But you can kind of use that as a map for the places that read-- you know. Like the only South American country is Brazil, I don't have any other distribution in South America. Not a single country in Africa, except South Africa, the UK editions. None of those. Japan, China, Korea? Yes. Europe? Almost everybody in Europe.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#4 Copy

Questioner

How long did your editors want Words of Radiance to be?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, my editor just wants it to be the right length. My publisher is the one who wants things shorter. So, my editor, he's just interested in story. But the publisher, he's interested in money. And the shorter the book is, the more money it makes him. It's really weird, it's kind of interesting. For instance, supermarket pockets, like, the little racks that hold paperbacks, they can hold a certain number of books. My books, they can often only hold one of. And that means if it sells, that pocket is empty, which the supermarket hates. They don't want empty pockets, they want the shelf space used. They'd rather stack four books in there. So, the publisher in turn says, "Brandon, can't you cut these books down shorter?" I'm like. "Well, Tom... no. Other books are short, you have lots of short books of mine to sell," but... yeah. It's not one of them. We just have to give up on the pocket thing, and then the booksellers are like... here, let me [visually illustrate it]. If you've got a book like this [small book], and you sell it for eight dollars, and Way of Kings is this [big] and you sell it for nine dollars, which one does the bookstore want on their shelf more? Well, the truth is, they want the one that sells the most copies, so they're okay with it. But the smaller book will generally... well, it's a matter of them having sixteen dollars worth of stuff to sell or nine dollars worth of stuff to sell.

So, the publisher really does like things shorter. But it's kind of a pushback between him and me, where I'm like, "My fans also like good value-to-money." I'm just saying, good value-to-money, that's something they're, like, "Look, we'll go buy the hardcover, even though it's thirty-five dollars, because instead of buying a twenty-five dollar hardcover by somebody else that's one-fourth as long, we buy a thirty-five dollar hardcover of Brandon's and we get our money's worth. The audiobook people love that. Like, Audible and things, they're like... you know. Because it's one credit, it's the same price for their listeners, but it's three times as long.

FAQFriday 2017 ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

When all of the contest judges, beta readers, and writer's groups say that your work is ready, but all of the agents say it's just not right for them, how do you find out what would make it right for them?

Brandon Sanderson

Sometimes, you can't.

One thing you have to be ready for is that even the best piece of writing will have people who don't like it. this is the nature of art--because human beings are different, we simply like different things. It doesn't have to have a value judgement attached to it. There is no "fixing" a painting so that everyone loves it. By fixing it, you would sometimes just make it so that different people love it.

That isn't to say that skill level is flat, and art can't be improved. I'm just saying that sometimes, you just can't change a piece in a way that will make a specific person like it--at least, not without changing it into a completely different piece of art.

If your honest feedback from contest judges and early readers is all great, and if you feel that the stories you've been submitting are ready, then you should keep going and keep submitting. And keep writing. Elantris was rejected several times, as were many famous books. Sometimes, what the agents need to see is that you can be consistent.

But beyond that, if you keep writing and submitting, one of several things will happen.

1) You'll eventually find an agent or editor who loves your fiction as much as all these other people.

2) You'll grow as a writer and realize that the book you've been submitting, though enjoyable to many people, were still flawed in big ways and can be revised (with your new skill) to make them work better for an audience who doesn't know you.

3) You'll realize that your stories have an audience, and the agents are just not getting it. (All too often, they miss excellent writers.) You'll self-publish to great success.

I can't say which of these is the future of any individual story, and I can't say if it's a legitimate flaw that professionals are seeing in your writing or not.

I can say: keep writing, be patient. If you want to traditional publish, keep submitting. Agents can be timid. If they don't pick hits, they don't eat.

But do write for you, first, and don't let yourself be pushed into trying to be someone else, writing-wise.

Fantasy Faction Q&A ()
#6 Copy

Overlord

Now that you are self publishing - has it given you a new found respect for those who have been self publishing from the beginning? I mean, now you are no doubt speaking with printers, typesetters, cover artists, reviewers, convention organisers. I guess you are having to market your own titles as well (although you've always been a great author for self promotion). Also, has the amount of work surprised you?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I get to cheat. I've done well enough that I have a full-time assistant with a lot of experience in desktop publishing. So, I can hand him the book, and he can take it to design town. That said, we on the more traditional track have had to do some eating of our words in recent years. Once upon a time there was a large stigma to self-publishing, and we all kind of got infected by it. So when it became viable as a real, serious alternative for authors, we had trouble getting rid of our biases.

I wouldn't say the amount of work has surprised me, as I've paid attention to those self-publishing. I teach a writing and publishing class, and I've found that as publishing changes, I've had to keep my eyes on what it takes to publish reasonably on your own. I also know how much work goes into publishing a book on the publisher's end, and had no illusions about how much work it would take us.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#7 Copy

Clippership14

Also just some technical questions—did you get noticed from JABberwocky from a cold-query or did you have connections?

Brandon Sanderson

Originally, I queried. I got turned down. I then met Joshua at the Nebula awards and he told me to query again. That time, he liked the query and read sample chapters—then rejected those, but told me to submit to him what I wrote next. That happened a number of times, each book getting a rejection—but stronger encouragement that I was getting closer.

Fantasy Faction Q&A ()
#8 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

The obvious question is probably, "Why isn't your New York publisher doing these?" Well, to be honest, these books aren't right for Tor. They're just too short, in my opinion, for a traditional bookstore release. (Though I originally did do one of them with Tor.com.) I wanted to release nice collector's edition print versions and cheap ebooks at the same time. It's not something that is profitable for a large publisher, and so is better suited to doing myself. (EDIT--Note, with Legion and The Emperor's Soul, I'm working with very talented small presses for the print editions and am self publishing the ebooks. I don't want to take credit for what Subpress and Tachyon are doing, as they've been fantastic to work with. I love the Tachyon cover.)

I'm not sure if this means I officially get to join the indie writers, or if I'm already too far entrenched in my place to ever be considered indie. However, considering the company, it seems like a great place to be. I'm a firm believer that both indie publishing and big-six publishing will have a place in the future of books, and that both serve very useful roles. Seems like this is one of the best times in the history of publishing to be a writer, with more opportunity for more people and more voices.

FAQFriday 2017 ()
#9 Copy

Questioner

If a fantasy book had an unhappy ending, would that affect how it was received by publishers and readers?

Brandon Sanderson

This is an interesting question to be asking! I'm going to preface this by saying a couple things.

First, there is a difference between UNHAPPY and UNSATISFYING. These are two completely different things. For example: many classic tragedies are enitre stories with momentum pushing toward the tragic. A modern fantasy example would be some of George R. R. martin's work, where the books often have tragic endings, with the protagonists losing or dying. (Granted, his series isn't done yet, so there's no way to know yet if the final ending will be tragic or triumphant.)

These books are still satisfying, however. The tone of these stories implies that tragic events will occur--and sadness is a powerful emotion. Stories exist, in part, to explore emotion. If the Story is built well, and handled expertly, the reader will be SATISFIED with the ending even if it's tragic. You will feel, "This is where the story was supposed to go. Even if I don't like what happened, it's beautiful in its tragic nature."

Many long form stories also tend to have a balance bittersweet ending. Some things are accomplished, some things are lost. As one might say on Roshar, it's not about the last page--it's about whether the journey there was worthwhile.

In response to your question, then, my instinct says that the sadness of the ending doesn't have a direct correlation with sales, goodreads rating, etc. Quality and deft ahndling of the material will certainly affect these things--but not specifically if the ending is happy or not. Publishers would certainly publish one with a sad ending. Note that if you take the bodies of work by some creators (Including both Shakespeare and Star Wars) the most popular and most successful installments WERE the ones with the sad endings.

(Note that I DO think certain readers are going to dislike an ending that is sad, while others are going to dislike an ending that is too neat and happy. Individual certainly will have opinions. I just think the balance, at the end, will probably be around the same.)

That said, you do focus on a "Bad" ending, equating it with sad. So in the interest of discussion, I'll call this a sad ending to an otherwise upbeat book--a twist of tone that happens right at the end, unexpectedly, leaving the reader frustrated. This would be an ending that completely defies genre conventions. The heroic adventure story where the hero unexpectedly dies at the end, or the Jane Austen style romance that ends with the love interest running off with some other woman.

There would be a subset of people who would just love this, but I think if the book doesn't give the proper tone promises at the start, it would create a less commercially viable work. I don't think this is a reason not to try something like that as a writer, but I do think you might have more trouble finding an audience.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#11 Copy

Questioner

I was wondering how you schedule all the books that you write. Do you have adhere to a solid schedule or is it more like you finish a book and go into one you are more excited to write?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, at this point in my career I have the ability to have a little more influence over that. I do try to keep to kind of a regular schedule. My publishers have learned I'll turn in what I'll turn in, and then they'll publish it. Because I am more productive if I can jump between things.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#12 Copy

Clippership14

What was the journey like when you first sought publication?

Brandon Sanderson

Long, frustrating, and difficult. I wrote 13 novels before I sold Elantris, which was my sixth. The big change for me happened when I managed to figure out how to revise. I always had good ideas and got better and better at storytelling. But it was the power of revision that finally got me published.

Clippership14

How long did it take?

Brandon Sanderson

About eight years of dedicated writing and being rejected.

Clippership14

I'd wager not long, considering how well written Elantris is. =)

Brandon Sanderson

You're too kind. But remember that it was my sixth book. The first ones were dreadful.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#14 Copy

Questioner

So it's one thing to write a book, how do you pitch a book then? What was the hardest pitch?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh pitches are hard. How do you pitch books, is what she's asking. So hard. You know what taught me to pitch books was standing in book stores. In my early days I would ask them, like I would do a signing at a Barnes and Noble and no one would come of course, because no one had ever heard of me. So it was really me standing behind a cart by the door, trying to shill my book to everyone who walked in the doors. Very used car salesman. "So, you like fantasy novels? You know anyone that likes fantasy novels? Have you heard of The Hobbit?" And so what I had to do it I had to come up with a two sentence way to tell people what my book was. And so if you have a book I would practice on just people-- you know, your acquaintances and say "Can i tell you about my book I just so I can practice", see if you can get it down to two or three sentences. And once you start doing that you'll get a feel for what things you can talk about in your book that made people say "Oh, that's cool" and what made their eyes glaze over. Usually stay away from a lot of names and background stuff, and point toward one great concept in your book, whether it's a character concept or what. When I pitched Mistborn I'm like "what if the hero who'd been prophesied to save the world failed?". Like what if Frodo had gotten to the end of Lord of the Rings and Sauron had said "thanks for bringing my ring back, I've been looking for that", and killed him and took over the world? You know, "what if", and that was how I started that one. 

Questioner

And was that how you pitched it to your publisher?

Brandon Sanderson

When I pitched the publishers I was not nearly as good at it as I am now and I just relied on my writing sample to get me through. My pitches were terrible, so don't-- It's very hard to learn but the only way to do it is to practice with people. That's good, that's going to take you further than anything.