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Creating Brandon Sanderson’s The Way Of Kings Leatherbound Edition [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

The Way Of Kings leatherbound edition is coming, and here’s what the team had to say about its creation.

Earlier this month, the long-awaited The Way of Kings Kickstarter hit the web. The goal for author Brandon Sanderson and his team at Dragonsteel Entertainment was simple: raise $250,000 for the tenth anniversary leatherbound edition of the thousand-page tome. Surprisingly — though perhaps not entirely surprising, in retrospect — they reached that goal just a few minutes after the Kickstarter’s launch.

And it didn’t stop there.

We are 15 days into The Way of Kings leatherbound edition Kickstarter, and it’s already the highest-funded publishing effort from the service. As of this writing, it’s made over $5.6 million. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on behind the scenes at Dragonsteel Entertainment amid this massively successful campaign. Luckily, the team was kind enough to spare some time to answer my questions about some of the ins and outs behind the publishing effort.

The team I was in touch with at Dragonsteel were Adam Horne, Kara Stewart, and Isaac Stewart.

Adam Horne is their head of publicity and marketing, but he also does things as varied as helping keep track of Brandon’s schedule to filming and editing videos and live-streams.

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Kara Stewart plans their release events, runs our online store, and manages their booth at conventions, among many other things.

Isaac Stewart is the art director, but he also designs the leatherbound books, creates maps and symbols, and generally bites off more than he can chew.

While the email came directly from Isaac, I will be attributing the responses to DE, or Dragonsteel Entertainment.

Amid our interview, we discuss the new artwork in The Way of Kings leatherbound edition, as well as some of the perks that come with being a backer.

Photo Credit: Dragonsteel Entertainment

So, this thing was funded in three minutes and broke $2 million in under 40 minutes. I’m sure you were all expecting to hit your $250k goal, but was there a figure you were thinking about internally as the real “stretch” goal for you guys?

We’ve been making these leatherbound books for five years now, so we knew there were readers already collecting Brandon’s other Cosmere books in this format. With the Stormlight Archive being maybe his most popular series, we thought there would be a bit more demand for it as a leatherbound book, but we were floored by the response when the campaign started. We hoped we could sell several thousand copies over the course of a four-week campaign. Our expectations were exceeded in the first hour!

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So you’ve been putting out leatherbound editions of Brandon’s books for five years. But The Way of Kings is substantially larger than most books. Did you know right from the get-go that you’d need to split it in two, or was it something you had to test out beforehand? Was there anyone one your team thinking they really wanted to try to get it done as one book?

We knew from the beginning this was going to be split into two volumes. For the sake of covering our bases, I did briefly discuss a one-volume edition with our printing rep after seeing a leatherbound edition of Les Miserables; however, its paper was onion-skin thin, and its type was best read with a magnifying glass. We quickly discarded the idea in favor of a better overall reading experience.

Given your experience with the other leatherbound editions, was it fairly simple to jump into the process of creating this book? From what I can tell, you put a lot of thought into the materials, color, and paper used for this edition. Was there anything substantial that changed between Warbreaker’s release last year and what you hope to accomplish with The Way of Kings leatherbound edition this year?

Thanks for noticing the thought we put into each aspect of the book! We’ve had experience doing leatherbound books before, and every now and then we print our own little hardcovers. Peter—our editorial director—and I both had professional experience in book design and printing before coming to Dragonsteel, so designing a book is old hat, but the magnitude of planning a book this big, and adding more than a dozen illustrations to the twenty-plus that were already there, was a huge undertaking. We wisely hired an amazing freelance copyfitter/designer who was a lifesaver in implementing the initial layouts once Peter and I settled on design and fonts.

You’ll notice that we vary from the original design of the hardcover books a bit while trying to maintain a resonance with the original designs. Part of that is because there are all these moving pieces involved with a Stormlight book. At the beginning of most chapters there’s a chapter arch, then the character viewpoint icon, then there’s often an epigraph, then a dropcap, and then we start into the actual text of the chapter. With elements like those stacked on top of each other, we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel so much. Rather, we polished the wheel we already had and gave it newer, more robust hubcaps.

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The Warbreaker design was intentionally a proving ground for The Way of Kings design. We wanted to test out interspersing color illustrations throughout the book with a bit of a shorter gallery at the beginning. We tested a different texture and sheen of leather. We tried out two-color art in the form of Jian Guo’s beautiful drop caps. Each of these were design elements that we wanted to get right on Warbreaker so we would have the experience to launch us into The Way of Kings.

Photo Credit: Dragonsteel Entertainment

You have a lot of amazing artists producing work for the book. How did you go about selecting these artists? Did you know them all personally and their familiarity with the series, were you just fans of their work? And how did you decide which scenes would be drawn and by whom?

Many of the artists are individuals we’ve worked with before. It’s always good to have a few you know you can rely on to deliver amazing work. Then we shake this up a little by adding artists we haven’t worked with before. A lot of these are people who are already creating fan art at a professional level. Something about their work catches my eye, and I contact them and ask them if they’d like to be part of the leatherbound.

As far as choosing scenes to illustrate, I often ask the artists if there’s a scene from the book that they’d particularly like to illustrate. From there, I choose key scenes, or I look for elements we haven’t seen illustrated before. For example, Dalinar is often painted as a warrior or a stoic leader. We wanted to show a different side of him, so Miranda Meeks painted this beautiful rendition of Navani taking him completely off guard at one of King Elhokar’s feasts. It’s a beautiful painting that shows a side of Dalinar we don’t often see portrayed, and Miranda illustrated it perfectly.

One of the key goodies included in the Kickstarter is the Bridge Four poster. With this being “official” from you guys, I’m sure this will be a reference point for a lot of people in terms of these characters’ overall looks going forward. Was there any real back and forth between you guys and artist Zack Stella on how each of the characters was drawn? How much thought was put into how ethnically diverse the gang looked?

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While the poster is official, I want to point out that it’s still an interpretation and shouldn’t be viewed as strictly canonical. There are so many different right ways to paint these characters, in other words, and this is just one way. That said, Zack did an amazing job. He’s a fantastic artist and an all-around good guy, and we just love what he did. There was a lot of back and forth. Brandon and I pouring over Zack’s sketches and then suggesting changes. Several of the characters in Bridge Four are based on people in Brandon’s writing group or old college friends, and those characters’ looks are loosely based on those friends. We discussed characters’ ethnicities every step of the way, and I would say that this is where most of the revisions were made over the course of the project. Still, we’ve received a lot of fan feedback since then and are committed to pushing this aspect even further in future portrayals of the characters.

Photo Credit: Dragonsteel Entertainment

Did Brandon need convincing to release The Way of Kings Prime? Whose idea was that and (besides a copy edit) how much work was needed to put into the novel before its ebook release?

This was Brandon’s idea from the beginning, so we didn’t need to convince him. We put a lot of work into this book to make it look nice and also for it to be a good reading experience, even though it’s a book that never got revised in the exacting way Brandon’s published, canonical books do nowadays. Our copyfitter 

Kristy Gilbert at Looseleaf Editorial & Production designed and copyfit the book with our feedback, and we’re very happy with how it turned out. Peter Ahlstrom, our editorial director, did his usual precision job of putting together the ebook, so even at that stage a lot of work was done to make this a nice edition for the fans.

Apart from the actual The Way of Kings leatherbound edition book, which particular perk has you most excited?

The challenge coins, particularly the Wit/Witless one.

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What was the most challenging aspect of putting together the Way of Kings leatherbound edition Kickstarter? Did the team at Kickstarter give any specific advice that you ran with?

The team at Kickstarter has been amazing! We just love the people we’ve been working with over there. Early on, they suggested that we change the project image from a mock-up of the leatherbound book to an illustration, so we decided to go with the original Michael Whelan illustration from the hardcover. It’s a beautiful piece that, even in thumbnail, would catch the eye of those both familiar and unfamiliar with it. 

The most challenging part of putting together the Kickstarter? Probably making the decisions and then distilling such a complex project into something that’s easily understandable. Even then, once the campaign went live, we’ve been running into things and suggestions we hadn’t even considered in the lead up to the campaign. We’re learning as we go, and we hope the fans will give us the benefit of the doubt as we learn and grow with the platform.

Photo Credit: Dragonsteel Entertainment

The leatherbound Words of Radiance probably won’t be having any Kickstarter for around four years. What do you think you learned most from this go-around that you’ll apply next time?

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We’re likely going to run a Kickstarter for Words of Radiance in 2023, but don’t take this as an official announcement for that! We still have a lot of compiling and learning ahead of us before we make the official decision, but we’ve learned so much that we’ll probably do a lot of things differently next time around.

For example, for the next Kickstarter we’re looking into ways to simplify shipping, reduce the costs for international shipping, and also into ways to streamline and simplify the rewards tiers.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about the Kickstarter or leatherbound edition of The Way of Kings?

The main thing we would like people to know is just how humbled we are by their vote of confidence in us. We’re grateful for their support. Our readers are the ones who make it possible for us to do what we love, and we don’t take that lightly. They inspire us to make the best books we can.

If you have yet to the already-funded Kickstarter for The Way of Kings leatherbound edition, feel free to do so HERE!

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