When he was hired as a night receptionist at the Best Western CottonTree, a hotel in Provo, Utah (an American college town near Salt Lake City), Brandon Sanderson (Nebraska, 47 years old) told his boss that he planned to spend all those nights writing while he waited at the counter. His boss shrugged and said he could do whatever he wanted as long as he served customers. At least, he told her, he wouldn't doze in one of the armchairs like his predecessor. The future creator of the Cosmere – a literary universe of millionaire and global reach, the largest in terms of epic fantasy since J. R. R. Tolkien set his Middle-earth – wrote seven novels on that counter in the time he spent studying first, biochemistry, and then English at Bringham Young University, where he now teaches.
Game of Thrones in Middle-earth
That biochemistry wasn't his thing he discovered in Seoul, Korea, where he left as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because, like Orson Scott Card and Stephenie Meyer, another pair of classics of the fantastic, Sanderson is a Mormon. Something that, however, has had little impact on his status as a bestseller, since, as almost a slave to his own condition as a writer – he treats himself as a kind of worker in a factory that bears his name – Sanderson does nothing but write and talk about writing – he is the host of a writing podcast. Writing Excuses, twice nominated for the Hugo Award—sidesteps any controversial possibility. Of course, despite his enormous popularity, there is not much movement in his social networks, and that he shares with his readers every (literary) step he takes.
Since he writes tirelessly – never less than 3,000 words a day, a small barbarity – and maintains at the same time more than one project, on his website he has installed progress markers that indicate, by the way, how complete the novel in question is. Right now there are four on the way. Two are finished and the other two, the fifth installment of The Storm File saga and a new one, Skyward Legacy, are 52% and 25% written, respectively (at the time of writing). On Twitter there is even a bot that monitors the progress of those progress bars. Among the two that appear as finished, is the draft of his fourth secret novel, the last of his side project, what makes him known as a "hybrid" writer and that allowed him to raise a whopping 41 million dollars on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
Those 41 million marked a new record of collection in this type of platforms, although they did not pose any type of threat to the publishing sector. That is, Sanderson planned to self-publish those four secret books, but it was not the first time he did it. As his editor in Spain, Marta Rossich, of Nova, says, "there is a respect for his status as a hybrid author – an author who is published and self-published – in his American publisher, Tor". And that's because he knows it's not any kind of maneuver. The same publisher releases those same titles months after Sanderson publishes them. What the writer wants are careful editions. He remembers his first readings, and the maps and everything that grew up around the universe that the novel was about, and he wants it to be perfect. And he can only make sure of it if he does it himself.
In Spain, these self-editions are published by the same imprint that is responsible for the rest of his novels, Nova. It is the same in the rest of the world. Sanderson published his first book, Elantris, in 2005, and there are now more than twenty in circulation. More than 30 million copies have been sold worldwide. In Spain, Rossich reports, more than 600,000. "It grows exponentially. In the last three years, the sales of his books have grown by 124%, and in the last three months that figure has doubled, "says the publisher, who considers it "a phenomenon of unknown dimensions", since his universe "does not even have a film adaptation yet". He doesn't have it because Sanderson is very demanding. When any of his books are adapted, he says, it has to be exactly how he and his readers expect. He is not in any hurry.
Cover of the novel 'The Final Empire', from Sanderson's second saga, 'Mistborn'. Nova Editorial
Meanwhile, its own workforce grows. Up to 64 people already work directly for Sanderson, in that self-industry with a single engine: his brain of an inveterate reader. An inveterate reader who fell in love with fantasy when he read Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane in high school. And that he then decided that he was going to subvert the narrative pattern defined by Joseph Campbell: the path of the hero. Sanderson considers that if fantasy is in any sense stagnant it is because of that pattern, and what he calls Campbell Syndrome. The way in which he gets rid of such a legendary corset is exposed in Creative Writing Course (Ediciones B), the manual that was taken out of the hat last year, and in which he details his writing process, just as he does in the classes he gives at the university, biographical pills included.
That youtubers like Alex El Capo, with almost two million followers, are recommending his books has broken the barrier even of those who may never have crossed with reading. "Among his readers there are many young people who are completely hooked who have started reading with his books," says Rossich. The last title published, The Frugal Wizard's Guide to Surviving in Middle Adult England – which was his secret novel number two – is a juvenile and has a lot of Terry Pratchett. Could you start reading it here? His followers, in many websites dedicated to Cosmere, advise starting with the second saga, Born of the mist, partly because the first book, The Final Empire, is self-conclusive, but leaves you wanting more. So you can open the door and decide when to close it.
It is his creative voracity that has placed Sanderson at the head on the podium of the fantastic. Let's not forget that George R. R. Martin, his main rival as far as Tolkien's successor is concerned, is out of the game – Winds of Winter, the novel that Game of Thrones must continue, is more than a decade late – and that Patrick Rothfuss, with whom he excelled at the same time, is today too many books away: The name of the wind was more acclaimed than the early Nebraska works, and its sequel as well, but there has been no further news of Kvothe, its protagonist, since 2011. Without looking back or wondering when anyone might dethrone him, Sanderson pledges to publish at least 19 more Cosmere titles — 19 to add to the 21 already published — and do so, he says, before he turns 70. Because what matters, remember, are the readers. And the readers, as his editor in Spain said, do not stop growing.
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