“Mr. Natural, What Does It All Mean?”
“It don’t mean shit.” -Mr. Natural
I just listened to a take on Brandon Sanderson’s MegaMillions kickstarter. Laura Zats and Erik Hane from the Print Run podcast discussed THE MEANING of Mr. Sanderson’s raising of $30+ million for some independently published books and other merch goodies. Zats and Hane agreed with Mr. Natural (see above), at least in terms of writers who have not spent a decade building their fictional worlds, fanbase, and publishing apparatus.
More interesting, though, is their take on all the terrible things that the publishing industry might do with the Sanderson phenomenon to further turn their artists into salespeople and influencers. Writing a great book is no longer enough and hasn’t been for some time, but I share their hope that a future “Sanderson Test” could be a bridge to far.
In her book, The Cynical Writer’s Guide To the Publishing Industry, Naomi Kanakia describes the asylum-esque atmosphere. Blockbusters get a lot of support. As to the rest of the catalogue, writing careers have been tanked over internal politics, the personal power of the editor promoting the work, and many other factors that have nothing to do with: (1) the quality of the work, or (2) how well it will sell.
I don’t agree with Mr. Natural; I think it does mean shit.
Sanderson’s work is as predictable as a Big Mac; solid, moderately satisfying and mostly lacking in flavor. It is also inoffensive and longwinded enough to feel like the whole Happy Meal.
Everyone else knew this. I’m late to the party, I know, and hopelessly romantic about the place of art and literature in our world, but Brandon Sanderson has given us incontrovertible proof that brand and marketing trump artistic merit every time. (Before you ask, no, I am not sixteen years old.) The democratization of the publishing industry over the last two decades has not resulted in a greater exchange of ideas or any real opportunity for new cultural voices to be heard. "We endourage writers of color and the LGBTQ community to submit, so that our consciences are clear. We just won't publish very many of them." Late-stage capitalismcomes to yet another venue. For all its changes, the publishing world does not change.
We have left behind: Read my book; it will change the world, and embraced: Buy my book, it’s a brand you can trust.