What can writers learn from Brandon Sanderson?
Brandon Sanderson was a big deal before he blew everyone away with the largest Kickstarter fundraiser ever. He’s been successfully writing fantasy and science fiction novels for the last 20 years, building up a loyal fanbase that, in hindsight, largely explains the successful of his Kickstarter project.
But what is it that makes him so popular amongst readers and, more importantly, is there something we can learn from him that can be applied to our own writing or careers? Those are exactly the questions that Ginger is attempting to answer in today’s blog, as he examines who Sanderson is and what elements of his writing lead to his incredible popularity.
Recently we published an episode of the Fully Booked podcast in which we spoke to Oriana Leckert, Head of Publishing for Kickstarter. As she outlined what opportunities Kickstarter offers self-published and independent authors, we repeatedly referenced the most famous Kickstarter success story – that of Brandon Sanderson and his $41.7 million fundraiser that promised the publication of four new novels.
Brandon’s success is definitely not typical (even though Kickstarter has raised over $200 million for publishing projects.) Part of the reason his Kickstarter campaign blew away all expectations was because he was an established author with a passionate fanbase.
But why do readers love Brandon Sanderson’s work so much? And what can we aspiring authors learn from his writing?
Who is Brandon Sanderson?
Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy and science fiction author best known for his Mistborn series – a high fantasy saga that has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. A multiple Hugo and Dragon Award winner, Sanderson has managed to create a passionate audience of readers by luring them into a fascinating, fictional universe of magic and fantasy known as Cosmere.
He might not be as recognizable a name as Lee Child or Stephen King – but readers who know him really love his work. The first book in the Mistborn series, The Final Empire, has 24,431 5-star ratings, with recommendations like “THE best fantasy book I’ve read so far” and “I’d recommend it without reservations.”
Sanderson is living proof that you don’t need to write a book that appeals to everybody. You’ve just got to write one that connects with a core readership.
Why do people love his writing?
Taking to Sanderson’s fans, it quickly becomes clear that there are a few elements that have contributed to the author’s success – and aspiring authors can learn a lot by studying them!
Worldbuilding: It goes without saying that one of Sanderson’s greatest strengths is his exceptional ability to create an intricate and immersive fictional world. His books are largely set in the fantasy realm of Cosmere, and it’s a place he’s crafted beautifully – with detailed and unique locations, each with their own histories and culture – plus a universal magic system and political structure that allow readers to fully immerse themselves in his stories.
Magic System: Speaking of which, Sanderson’s books are perhaps best known for the innovative and well-defined magic system. In Cosmere, magic is split into three distinct disciplines: Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy. All three magic systems are based on metals – and that’s just the first of rules and limitations Sanderson created which govern how magic works in each of his books, and add depth and consistency to his stories. His magic systems often become integral parts of the plot and character development.
Plotting and Structure: There are currently seven books in the Mistborn series, with many others on the way. In fact, Sanderson has suggested that he could fill 40 novels with the saga of Cosmere – and eager readers would buy each and every one of them! This is because Sanderson is a master of well-crafted and tightly plotted narratives. Each of his books can be read as stand-alone introductions to the Cosmere universe, and he carefully plans the story arcs of each one to ensure that the pacing is engaging and the plot twists are well-executed. Sanderson is an accomplished storyteller, especially skilled at building suspense, crafting intricate plots, and delivering satisfying resolutions.
Strong Characters: The Mistborn series covers two ‘eras’ and is filled with a huge cast of main and secondary characters. That might seem overwhelming to some – but Sanderson manages to avoid confusing people by creating multidimensional and relatable characters that are instantly distinct and memorable to readers. They’re also satisfying to read about, because each of his characters undergo significant development throughout his novels, and he often explores their motivations, flaws, and growth. Sanderson also portrays a diverse range of characters, representing various backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives.
Writing Style: Along with a cast of too-many characters, one of the common pitfalls of writing fantasy is a confusing or overly flowery writing style. Sanderson sidesteps that by writing in a style that’s clear, concise, and highly accessible to readers of all levels. He has the ability to explain complex concepts and ideas in a straightforward manner, making the books of his Mistborn series enjoyable for both experienced and novice readers. His prose is always engaging, and he effectively balances descriptive passages with action and dialogue; blending the strengths of his worldbuilding and characterization.
His Prolific Output and Consistency: The best advertisement for your old books is your new one, and Sanderson delivers on that through his productivity and consistent delivery of high-quality adventures set in the realm of Cosmere. His commitment to a regular publication schedule has earned him a dedicated fan base who can support him financially by buying each and every new book of his the moment it’s released.
Engagement with Fans: To keep those fans appraised of new and upcoming titles, Brandon Sanderson maintains a strong connection with his readers through his social media accounts, appearances at conventions, and his online presence as a guest on podcasts and panel discussions. He regularly interacts with fans, answers their questions, and regularly provides updates on his work. All this serves to foster a sense of community and transparency around his writing; and incredible support from his readers.
Brandon Sanderson has become successful by doing what he loves – but also by learning to do it better than almost any other modern fantasy writer. His commitment to his craft, his respect for his fans, and his incredible work ethic have helped earn him a place among the most respected authors of fantasy and science fiction – and as he continues to write and publish, that reputation only grows.
So consider what Sanderson has done better than other writers, and think about how you can apply that to your own writing and self-publishing. You have a fanbase no less passionate out there. You just have to write and publish enough books to finally reach them.