Brandon Sanderson Dishes on Publishing

It has been a busy and wonderful month here at To finish off our Publishing Month of Madness, Brandon Sanderson was kind enough to agree to take some time out of his crazy schedule for a short question and answer style blog post.

Here it is in all its glory.

Joshua Essoe: It used to be that producing a book a year was sufficient, even productive, but now it seems if you’re not getting at least two or three books out there every year to feed the cavernous maw of impatient e-readers, you’re too slow and the tide will just pass you by. What do you think of the difference between e-books and traditional publishing?

Brandon Sanderson: Authors are doing some interesting things in e-books. One thing you’re noticing is that in e-books-probably for pricing reasons-the books are growing shorter and coming out faster. It’s moving closer to a much older model, where you would release serialized editions of books that were more like episodes rather than an entire novel. Some of the market is going that way. I think it’s just a different model; I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be the only model. It’s just a new and interesting thing that e-books are doing.

JE: Is there a pressure that has developed from traditional publishers for their authors to be pushed towards more production? When should an author consider self-publishing instead of trying to land a book deal in NY? Should one self-publish while trying to land that book deal and use potential sales numbers as part of the pitch?

BS: I don’t feel that there has been any push from New York to publish books at any different speed at all. In fact, one of the main reasons to publish with New York as opposed to self-publishing is if you are an author who doesn’t write at least one book a year. If we’re to take The Way of Kings as an example, there’s no way that I’m going to be producing 400,000-word epic fantasies as fast as a lot of the self-published writers can put out books. There’s no way that anyone could have made that book at that speed. It’s a book that takes a year, maybe eighteen months to write. So for long epic fantasies, New York certainly has some things going for it.

One of the reasons that it’s really good to publish fast and short when you’re doing self-publishing is that you don’t have any sort of marketing push behind you. You don’t have bookstore shelf presence, which is one of the major forms of marketing-people seeing your book there on the shelves. Word of mouth is always the most important thing, but it becomes even more important for the self-published writer. Publishing quickly and getting a lot of books out helps to get your name in more places in the market and helps to push some of that momentum through. That seems to be the key way to make it as a self-published writer.

When would I self-publish versus New York-publish? I would not abandon either model. Self-publishing has proved itself so viable recently that if I were a new writer, I would be looking at doing both at the same time. Maybe taking the longer, more epic-style books to New York and doing the faster-paced, more thriller-style books online, and seeing what works best.

So the expansion of the e-book market gives you more places to go. That said, if you’re not a particularly fast writer, self-publishing is going to be a very hard route for you because everything I’ve seen-granted, I’m not an expert on this; there are places to go other than me for expertise-shows that being able to produce quickly is a key factor in being a successful self-published author in this market.

JE: How long does it take to be forgotten in this fickle book market, and what should an author be doing to prevent it?

BS: It depends on your method. What you’re getting at here is the balance between promotion and just writing the next book. That’s a balance authors have had to work with for decades, if not centuries-the idea being that promoting your book keeps it in people’s minds. Right now you can do that through engaging blog posts, being on Twitter, going to conventions, doing book signings, and all of these things. They take time. If they take so much time that you’re not writing your next book, then the question becomes are they worth it?

Do you want all your eggs in one basket? Do you want to write one book and then spend the whole year promoting it, trying to get it to take off, or do you want to, in that time, write three books and try to get one of the three to take off? I don’t think there’s any right answer; they’re both valid ways to go. You could end up writing that one book and, with your promotion, turn it into a big success that builds a name for you. Or you could be in hindsight wasting your time promoting it when it never ends up taking off.

So you have to find the right balance for yourself. Part of the question that I would ask myself is, are you an engaging blogger? Can you write interesting things on a topic and build a platform that is not just about “Buy my book!”? Would it be something interesting and fun for people to read, and can you leverage that to make people interested in your writing? If you can, then blogging would certainly be helpful to you.

Guest Bio: Brandon Sanderson writes epic fantasy novels for Tor Books.  He is the author of Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy, Warbreaker, and his newest grand epic, starting with The Way of Kings. He was also chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, the final book of which, A Memory of Light, is due out in January 2013. Find out more about Brandon at


About Joshua Essoe

Born to writers, I've always written and edited, but only after the economy flopped and blessed me with so much delightfully unpaid free-time did I re-dedicate myself. I've been editing for twenty years in various forms. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had by going over a story and fine-tuning it, whether it's mine or someone else's. Joshua Simon interviewed me for his blog as the last post in a string of interesting articles about the writing process and self-publishing. If you are curious about more of my history, what I write, or the perfect activity, please check it out:

5 responses on “Brandon Sanderson Dishes on Publishing

  1. Michael Sullivan

    It’s so refreshing to see discussions recognizing that there is value in both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Several years ago we would never see a major New York Times Bestselling Author say,

    “Self-publishing has proved itself so viable recently that if I were a new writer, I would be looking at doing both at the same time. Maybe taking the longer, more epic-style books to New York and doing the faster-paced, more thriller-style books online, and seeing what works best.”

    I started out in self-publishing and then sold my Riyria Revelations to Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). I’m so tired of hearing that either option is “the only way.”

    I also agree with Brandon that I’m not seeing pressure from traditional publishing to get books out faster from us authors. The vary nature of their business (producing seasonal catalogs of books for future publishing schedules means that they can’t turn on a dime like you can with self-publishing and seeing 12 – 15 months from submission to release is not unusual.

    To me, one of the factors is to use self-publishing to schedule books between the big houses releases. To me this type of hybrid approach should meet several needs:

    * the readers can get books every 6 – 9 months instead of every 12 – 18.
    * authors get nice subsidiary income with high earning self-published books
    * titles from traditional publishers receive an injection of new sales when a self-published book gets some notice and the reader goes “looking for more.”

    This is the approach that I’m attempting to do navigate. We’ll see if it ends up working out or not.

  2. RD Meyer

    Michael – I agree with you. The tricky part is trying to thread the needle. Plus, those who claim there’s is “the only way” limit themselves, and it will catch up to them in the end.

  3. Ken E Baker

    I like the approach of a serialized novel – used to read them as a kid. I think they worked very well for the fantasy genre – used to get them released every two weeks, graphics and all and I loved them!

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