Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy author who nets tens of millions of dollars in book sales every year, which puts him in the same book-selling league as George R.R. Martin. However, his financial success has not really translated into a similar mainstream visibility outside of his specific fanbase—until this week. The tech magazine Wired published a cynical profile about Sanderson yesterday, and the author’s fans are pissed. Things got so heated that Sanderson had to take to Reddit to tell his community to back off.
Sanderson is best known as the writer of The Stormlight Archive, The Reckoners, and Mistborn series—all of which take place in his original fictional universe, called the Cosmere. His books have extensive magic systems in them, and he’s known as the inventor of the concepts of “hard” and “soft” magic. He has also written the final books of the fantasy epic series The Wheel of Time, picking up after Robert Jordan passed away in 2007.
The Wired profile
Despite extensive successes and credentials, Wired editor Jason Kehe did not seem impressed by Sanderson as an author or as an individual. His profile makes some attempts to explain Sanderson’s worldbuilding prowess using his Mormon background, but struggles to connect with Sanderson’s personal life experiences, even though Kehe went to Utah to learn more about the author and the people he surrounded himself with.
As a result, the article is not very flattering. “At the sentence level, [Sanderson] is no great gift to English prose,” Kehe writes. “He writes, by one metric, at a sixth-grade reading level.” It’s definitely not a description that fans are used to seeing from a multi-million dollar selling author who penned decades worth of books.
Neither is Kehe impressed by the personal life that the bestselling author lives, or the manner in which he holds himself. “To my mind, I still haven’t gotten anything real from Sanderson, anything true. I’m not the first person he has toured around his lair to politely gawk at his treasures and trophies and his hallway of custom stained-glass renditions of his favorite books,” he writes. “Sanderson has lived so much of his life and fame openly, self-promotionally. It’s a major reason for his success.”
“I find Sanderson depressingly, story-killingly lame,” Kehe wrote, days before he met the author’s family or his fans. “He sits across from me in an empty restaurant, kind of lordly and sure of his insights, in a graphic T-shirt and ill-fitting blazer, which he says he wears because it makes him look professorial. It doesn’t. He isn’t. Unless the word means only: believing everything you say is worth saying. Sanderson talks a lot, but almost none of it is usable, quotable.”
At the end of the piece, Kehe describes Sanderson as a god. Not because of his literary prowess, but because the author had created worlds that had enthralled so many readers over the course of decades. “If Sanderson is a writer, that is all he is doing. He is living his fantasy of godhead on Earth,” he writes. Kehe seemed to struggle to see any humility in a man who had a literary empire within his grasp. Kehe was a visitor from a distant land (San Francisco), and he took the velvet gloves off when he had to leave a review of his travels.
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Fantasy fans reacted on Twitter
The internet responded loudly. “[The article writer] is nasty, jealous, catty, and uncharitable to someone who delivers value to millions of fans, and never has a bad word to say about anyone,” tweeted one author named Travis Corcoran. “I imagine he’s pissed that Sanderson isn’t nearly as good at ’constructing sentences’ as he is ... and yet makes $20M/yr while the Wired editor makes, I dunno, $60k?” Several other people cited Sanderson’s kind personality and financial success as reasons why the profile should never have been published.
Even Activision Blizzard’s poster-in-chief weighed in. “The sneering tone. The gratuitous meanness of insulting a man in front of his family after he has invited you into his home. The bullying cheap shots at people you consider nerds,” tweeted Lulu Cheng Meservey. “Fantasy writing is valuable, being prolific isn’t a bad thing, people can like different things from you, and nerds are the best.”
“My basic feeling has always been: We write stories, and then they belong to readers,” wrote Kehe in an email to Kotaku. “Readers get the last word.”
Brandon Sanderson’s response
Look, nobody is coming for the human rights of fantasy nerds. And a writer who makes several million dollars a year off his own IP isn’t going to be toppled by some mean article. Even Sanderson himself thinks so. He wrote a Reddit thread today pleading for his fans to keep calm. He agreed that his life wasn’t very exciting for a profile, and that his ordinary and trauma-free life “is kind of boring, from an outsider’s perspective.” While he appreciated that his fans were willing to defend him, he wanted them to let Kehe be. He felt that the profile was not an attack on the community, and that the Wired editor had been honest about his opinions. Kotaku reached out for a comment, but did not receive one by the time of publication.
“[Kehe] should not be attacked for sharing his feelings,” Sanderson wrote. “If we attack people for doing so, we make the world a worse place, because fewer people will be willing to be their authentic selves.”