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27 February 2009 @ 01:03 pm
This is not a zero-sum game.  

Man, the whole topic of discussion regarding books being late (where GRRM is the flagship of reader bitterness) just won’t go away. So having resisted for several days, I can’t resist anymore, although I trust I’ll be preaching to the choir. Nor, mind you, do I have anything very profound to say, except books, despite a writer’s best intentions, don’t always behave. This job isn’t a science, and when a book is late I’m pretty sure there is nobody on the earth who wants it *finished* more than the writer does.

Really. Even the slavering drooling screaming fanboys who are beating their heads against the walls waiting for that book to hit the shelves, do not want it done as badly as the writer does. Not *nearly* as badly. It is not a millstone hanging around *their* necks; it is merely something to shout about. They may be living with the *results* of characters not behaving, story arcs doing unexpected things, entire plotlines requiring revision or deleting, but they’re not living with the struggle of actually trying to make all of that *work*. Readers are not the ones having a sobbing breakdown in the middle of the sixth rewrite of the novel because they’re exhausted by writing and throwing away and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and are still unsure if they’ve gotten it right*.

I honestly can’t help wondering what all the people who are so upset over GRRM (and others’) ‘broken promises’ about delivery dates for books would be doing if this was 15 years ago and nobody had instant access to 1. hundreds or thousands of other people also wanting the next book, and 2. the author himself. I’m sure a few of the particularly rabid ones would write real physical letters wailing about the lack of book five, but mostly I imagine they’d be doing what I always did (and frankly still do): going to the bookstore, looking around hopefully, saying, “Well, darn,” and buying something else, until the wonderful day when OH MY GOD THERE IT IS! when they can seize it and tear home and read in six or twelve hours what it took two hundred or three hundred or fifteen hundred hours to *write*.

I mean, really. THE PRETENDER’S CROWN, at 171,000 words, is the longest and most complex book I’ve ever written. If you pared it down to the absolute shortest time I could have spent working on it, it would be about 220 hours, and it was realistically more in the 300 hour range. That’s 8 weeks of 40 hour weeks, assuming it worked that way, which it really spectacularly does not. It’s excrutiatingly unlikely that it’s going to take anybody that long to read. This is not a zero-sum game. Every author out there is doing his best to get you a book that’s worth reading as fast as he possibly can, and there is, at best, a timeline in which you *hope* you’re going to get that done.

For example: anybody who reads this blog knows I write fast. Anybody who reads this blog also knows that right now I’m rewriting words 50-60,000 on my current novel for the third time. You may also know, or perhaps not quite realize, that I’ll be turning this book in late. Only a couple of weeks late–it’s due Friday, and will be in by mid-March, but what you probably don’t actually know is that I haven’t turned a book in on time in the past two years. I’ve only been *doing* this job for four. The first and most spectacularly late of them was six months, which wasn’t enough to screw up the publishing schedule, but it was certainly enough to screw up turning several more books in on time. And then this one, well, you read me wailing about it here. I didn’t have the story right, and I had to go back and fix it. That makes it late. And I’m only trying to write a 90,000 word book that’s the first of a duology with two point of view characters, here, not the fifth in a series of books that individually probably clock in around a quarter of a million words, and which have literally more viewpoint characters than I could name without keeping a spreadsheet.

We do our best. GRRM is doing his best. He’s not lying when he says “I think the book will be done by the end of the year.” He’s hoping. I realize that for ‘hope’ is not generally considered a good business plan, but it makes up for a large part of this job’s structure.

And now I’m going to stop ranting and go finish my chapter. Or, well, gosh, I hope so. :p

*This was me, not GRRM. Just for the record.

(x-posted from the essential kit)
Current Mood: irateirate
Laura Anne Gilman: meerkat coffeesuricattus on February 27th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)

I only handed a book in late once (and I was in the middle of a heart-wrenching divorce) but the current one (Pack of Lies) looks like it's going to be balky and I've alerted the troops already. Hate hate HATE being late, for all the reasons you mention, and more. Also, by the time we're finally done with the balky late book, we are so TIRED of it we want to cry.

M'editor talked about sending Flesh & Fire to GRRM for possible blurbing, and my first thought was "I don't want to be the target of fan ire, if they find out he's reading my manuscript instead of working on his own..."
Autopopeautopope on February 27th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)

I think I hit burn-out last month, 80% of the way through book #6 of a series. Luckily a sensible friend said "throw it at your editor and ask his advice", which I proceeded to do. (I'm now waiting on the advice.) But digging on alone for months on end is just about the most draining, tiring job I've ever had.
Cally Beckeldestmuse on February 27th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
The only time I've ever been bitter and angry about an author being late/etc on a manuscript was when the publiblication date of the final book in a trilogy, after the 2nd book ended in a cliffhanger, kept getting pushed back, and back, and back... until I finally googled it and found that even though amazon listed it as due out any month, the author stated that she had pretty much no intention of writing it.

I think that's poor form and even less professional. But missed deadlines happen. Even authors can over-estimate their abilities and under-estimate issues that will crop up.
kitmizkit on February 27th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
At a guess, the book you were waiting for is the third of Melanie Rawn's Exiles trilogy. If so, I have the very vague impression that something fairly devastating happened in the process of that trilogy, and every ball in the world got dropped. I ended up with the idea that things had been so bad around that time she simply didn't want to have to go back anywhere near even the writing she did then....
Cally Beckeldestmuse on February 27th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
You are correct.

You probably know more about the situation than I do, but from the googling around and reading of the fanclubs and websites and forums, the impression that I got was more along the lines of she hated reading her own writing and the world was too complex for her to write cohesively in the world relying on memory. I remember one of the comments on the forums around that time being along the lines of "The readers would have to do all of the research."

I'm willing to believe personal issues making it painful for her to write the third book, but I still think it's unprofessional.

If it hadn't been a cliffhanger I probably wouldn't be so bitter, but the first book hadn't been a cliffhanger... and if the series hadn't been so brilliant up until that point. And unfortunately, I've never been a big fan of her other series so I don't even have that comfort.
kitmizkit on February 27th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Could be I'm wrong, too. I met her once in passing and the disaster thing was kind of the impression I got, though. And I /can/ see where a complex world like that would be very difficult to go back to even there weren't potentially unpleasant associations.

Anyway, I happen to share your dismay over that particular series, because it was wonderful, and I would really like to have read the last book, too. Moop. :)
Kevenn: Kole Create Icon By Kevennkevenn on February 27th, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
As I learned trying to get my last cover that I did in on time - art takes time, especially if it's going to be good. You can't always make a dealine, but the important thing is that it's good when it finally gets released.

Good luck! :D
dancinghorse: angryUFOdancinghorse on February 27th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five years ago, they were screaming in the fanzines and at the cons.

Ask the old hands about The Last Dangerous Visions sometime--but bring a spit shield and earplugs.
hegemony hedgehogagrimony on February 27th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
I rarely ever read GRRM's press (or his blog or other blogs about his writing or whatever) precisely because I know it will always be 17 years between books and I don't feel the need to torture myself with the hope cycle 'It's almost done! No it's not! Yes it is! No it's not!'. It happens. I recognize that writing is not a science and sometimes you think you've got it and you're steaming along and a penny on the track derails you.

On the other hand, I worry, because he's not exactly a spring chicken and I would like to read the whole series before it has to be written by ghost writers. :) Which is not to imply that he /owes/ me anything, or anything of the sort. Just... I really enjoy the series and I'm dubious that another writer could do it equal justice.

P.S. I don't /really/ think he's going to drop dead at any second. He's younger than my dad!

Edited at 2009-02-27 03:33 pm (UTC)
kitmizkit on February 27th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Well, on the positive side, 1. I don't think ASoIaF is going to be as long as the Wheel of Time series, and 2. GRRM has not, thank God, been diagnosed with an improbably rare form of blood cancer. I think he'll finish the series. :)
hegemony hedgehogagrimony on February 27th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
Hee! True!

Luckily, I never read the Wheel of Time series, so I can be unscathed by that experience. :)
ghibbitudeghibbitude on February 27th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
WoT would have been great if his editor was as grueling as yours. I don't need 50 pages of flower prose about a field of grass.
irishkateirishkate on February 27th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
I was taken aback by this so much I went and wrote the man a message of support. Letters to him suggesting his 'fans' think he is old and infirm and therefore might 'pull a Robert Jordan' seem at best tasteless (I won't even mention what I think they are at worst). The man is only 60. And Mr Jordan didn't exactly die on purpose. I think if this attitude remains the poor guy should just announce he will write no more of that series.

It has happened to me that an author - still living- has a four book series of which book four has never been written and likely will never be. I am bummed. So I rarely read series unless they are finished or each book is a complete story.

Writers don't get paid til they hand in the book. They have to live with it until they DO hand it in.

Gah - such people should not be called fans.
kitmizkit on February 27th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
Well, they certainly fall firmly into the "fanatic" meaning of "fan"...
16:9 1.78:1 OAR: Ryusixteenbynine on February 27th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)
I am reminded of François Truffaut's line from Day for Night: "Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive."
ruford42 on February 27th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)
Talking about unrealistic expectations of fans awaiting on books...When exactly can we expect TPC and WD? :) Joking aside, at one point you were talking about the idea of going back to repitch the Inheritor's Cycle as something longer than a trilogy to the publisher. I'm sort of curious if the story was spread out across a longer series -- if we wouldn't only see more detail of this nifty world, but possibly make things easier on you as being able to encapsulate smaller story arcs within each volume...and thus, you know...more frequent release dates? :)

Haven't read any of the GRRM press either, so I just know I'm still waiting for the next installment in Fire & Ice because I wanna know what happens at the wall dammit! There's also the little added emotional tension where we lost James Rigney aka Robert Jordan not so long ago and recall lots of concern fly up after that about other beloved series perhaps not reaching a conclusion before the author passes. Granted, I realize it's silly to be concerned with someone's work moreso than their life, but as the fanboys the work is usually the only part of the author's life we've ever encountered -- except maybe for conventions...which...I'm crossing my fingers that my van which just came out of the repair shop will last long enough for me to venture out to SheVaCon this weekend to see if I might sneak off with an autograph or two..

That having been said, I do pretty much like you mentioned in grabbing other authors while waiting for new releases. Between the work of Mercedes Lackey and yourself in Urban Shaman, Thunderbird Falls and Winter Moon -- I've pretty much gone to gleefully grabbing up any books I spy with the Luna logo...Which led me to Laura Ann Gilman's Retriever series and lots of other nifitiness and in Jordan's case, it introduced me to Brandon Sanderson and now I'm actually torn over which I want to see next -- a followup to one of his own works or Memory of Light :)

Oh well, these days I'm trying to curb my book habit and save up for a nice wedding...Which will mean less trips to the book store and more trips to the public library. Alas, this change of spending habits was almost enough to make me rethink this whole matrimony endeavour..but my fiancee has once again demonstrated how she's the right one for me -- since for Valentines this year, she tracked down all three volumes of the Strongbox Chronicles for me...Which I'm guessing will help hold me for another week. Yipeee!!!

kit: inheritorsmizkit on February 27th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
Talking about unrealistic expectations of fans awaiting on books...When exactly can we expect TPC and WD? :)

April 28th and August 25th, respectively. :)

you were talking about the idea of going back to repitch the Inheritor's Cycle as something longer than a trilogy to the publisher. I'm sort of curious if the story was spread out across a longer series -- if we wouldn't only see more detail of this nifty world, but possibly make things easier on you as being able to encapsulate smaller story arcs within each volume...and thus, you know...more frequent release dates? :)

Ooh, interesting question. We still haven't made a decision on how long that series will be, but I'm guessing 5 books, assuming I get to keep writing it. A couple of things happened to make it longer:

- THE QUEEN'S BASTARD, as pitched, would have been about 235,000 words long, which was very nearly twice the size my editor would have liked it to be. We ended up making some revisions to the story and cutting it in a different place, so the point I think of as the *end* of TQB is nearly a hundred thousand words into TPC. As it turned out, cutting it where we did was incredibly good and important, because the story needed some point of view shifts to be told properly, and having a new book to do that in worked really nicely.

- I began working on the synopsis for the third and theoretically (although I was already pretty sure it would not be actually) final book in the series. The first three or four paragraphs of the synopsis could potentially be the prologue for book three.

They could also be a very solid book of their own. The more I struggled with the synopsis, the more I realized that part of the reason I *was* struggling was because in my heart of hearts, I really want that third book to be the story outlined as the prologue. So that's kind of what I think will happen, if sales justify continuing the series (I sure hope they do).

It will not, however, mean more frequent release dates. :) This is the last year I am writing more than two contracted books; I've been writing about 3.5 a year on average for the last four years, and I'm worn out. Next year TRUTHSEEKER and WAYFINDER (or books with different titles but which I am currently calling TRUTHSEEKER and WAYFINDER) will be out, as well as the fifth Walker Papers, and from there on out it will be one Walker Papers a year until the series is finished (in 2013, assuming all goes well) and one Inheritors' Cycle (assuming they buy more) and then one something-else from Del Rey after that series is done. If more books come out I'll be writing them on spec and sell them after they're done. :)

Gosh, this is a blog post of its own!

since for Valentines this year, she tracked down all three volumes of the Strongbox Chronicles for me...

Oh, cool! I hope you like them! Those were fun to write. :)
Kari Sperringla_marquise_de_ on February 27th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
What you said, really. The things that have been said to and about Mr Martin are rude, disrespectful and unhelpful.
Lady Doomlithera on February 27th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)

While I understand the frustration of waiting for books, I think that there are a lot of people who somehow feel entitled to these works. That I just don't understand. People write what they write as they write it. While I would /love/ for every writer I read to have a new book out every three months, not everyone is L.E. Modesitt Jr. and nor should they even try to be.

That said, m'dear, any thing I can do to help, lemme know. *grins*
Andrea Blytheblythe025 on February 27th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Great post!
jeniferjjeniferj on February 28th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
BIG HUG! Sounds like you need one. We love what you do, whatever you do, however fast you do it. :-D
Miss May: btvs xander englishvalancymay on March 2nd, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
My poor roommate, who just finished his first novel (in stores soon!), had to deal with a frequent out-of-town visitor taunting him constantly to write faster because he (the visitor) wanted rylock to finish the book so he (the writer) could get back to preparing for the larp chronicle he's running.
kitmizkit on March 3rd, 2009 09:27 am (UTC)
*laughs* Poor guy! *laughs* :)
Kes Yocumkesmun on March 4th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC)
I was amused by David Eddings in an interview he gave some time ago. He said that at this point, he's doing one book at a time, especially after he proved to himself that he could do it with Redemption of Althalus. Of course, he's 76 or 77 or so now, and actually managed to burn down his studio/office last year... He was apparently working on a car and threw a match into a puddle of gas or something to see if it basically "still worked". Was kinda shame-faced about the whole thing. *snrk*