Wednesday 4 January 2017

Go on, do it again!

Releasing a new book is a nervy business. Will it be loved or loathed? Or worse, ignored...

When it's a first book the set of worries are somewhat different. Will anyone care? Will you be able to make a living at this? Will the people who have gambled on you make their money back?

Once you've had a successful book there are new worries. What will my readers think of this one? The more successful the first book/s the brighter that spotlight, the more palpable the tension.

I have been lucky enough to have had my trilogies written before the first book hit the shelves. This has meant I haven't ever been in the position of writing the next book while readers react to the first, or while they look my way and start tapping their feet and checking their watches.

When Red Sister comes out in April I won't have anyone who has been waiting for it for years or who has strong opinions about what will or should happen between the two covers. I won't have to write Grey Sister while the internet forums reverberate with whispers and then howls of "Hurry up!"

So I have considerable sympathy for the incredibly successful authors of two books that are high on my "waiting for" list.

Sure, they have their millions of dollars and their legions of adoring fans to console them and they don't really need my sympathy, but I know what I would be feeling in their place.

Writing is a private business. You do it in your own head. It drops from your brain into a file via the  medium of a keyboard. Sure, after you finish you share it and then you would like people to read it in their thousands. But you don't want them standing at your shoulder when you type.

More than that though ... if you do something special ... in writing terms a book that captures the imagination of millions ... on a small scale it's like shooting a basket ball through the hoop from the  centre line ... and an audience gathers ... "Do it again!" they say. Suddenly it's a lot harder.

George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss have both written books that have set them squarely in the spotlight's glare. A vast number of people *love* what they have written so far. The story that each has crafted has become part of popular culture. They have almost inadvertently taken on the responsibility for satisfying the demands of their readers' imaginations, and they're now having to do it with everyone "watching".

If you look at the ire which some fans hurl their way for the length of the wait for the next book it makes you wonder what their outcry might be if when the book does eventually show it fails to satisfy. If the characters take different paths from those the readers want or expect...

I guess JK Rowling experienced the same thing, but her readers were not (in the main) grownups with loud internet-driven voices. She didn't meet them en masse at conventions or in the spaces were she hung out.

And as the wait stretches out it seems it must ratchet up the tension in every aspect of this reader-author relationship. It increases the numbers waiting, the expectation, the impatience, the intensity.

It bears remembering that Martin and Rothfuss haven't published books (in the series that get all the focus) for longer than I've been in print. It's been a fair chunk of both their lives since they have had to offer up for re-inspection the characters to which they are tied in the public mind. Long enough for a man and woman to meet, fall in love, conceive a child, birth that child, have another, and another, send the first to school, then the second...

If it were me, and I had a story out there that was held in such high regard and whose next installment was so eagerly anticipated, and for which I would be so publicly held to account ... I think I'd be terrified, honestly. Writing brings many rewards but in such circumstances I think I would be tormented by a, perhaps misplaced, sense of responsibility and guilt. Another part of me would want to buy a yacht, sail off, and forget it all.

I have absolutely no insight into the particular circumstances or challenges either author is facing. I know every writer has a different experience. I've loved their work so far and I'm resolved to wait without complaint for the next installment. There are many fine authors to keep me entertained in the mean time. All I can say is that while I envy their success I also know that I don't envy the pressure I would feel in their shoes.

Even putting Red Sister onto the shelves is making me nervous and I hope I'm never in the position of having to write when people are waiting on me to finish.


  1. Very well written Mark, and yes I think it would be very daunting to be in their shoes. Still looking forward to the next Song of Ice and Fire....and Red Sister

  2. Oh the joy of the sequel, or threequel or whatever it is in the case of Game of Thrones. If both authors wait long enough, people will get bored of waiting - that said, I am still waiting for the conclusion of the wonderful Sue Grafton Alphabet Series (well over 20 years now but she does write a new book once a year) so maybe that's not true at all!
    They are a victim of their own success and what they need to remember is that when they first started writing their books they had a vision in mind as to how they would finished them - they can't lose sight of that, no matter what people want, otherwise the book is no longer true to the author's intention and that will ruin it (need I mention the end of Harry Potter, which I hope was done to please fans because it was pants and nauseating). I'm no Patrick Rothfuss fan, and I only started reading George RR Martin because I thought the series was a four book set only, but I can appreciate the obsessive nature of some fans. They just have to appreciate that it's actually not 'their' book, it belongs to the author.
    P.S. Good luck with Red Sister - you're putting the other two to shame with your ability to actually write consistently.

  3. Rothfuss is his own worst enemy. He's too antagonistic with his fans. People would be willing to cut him more slack if he didn't act like an ass half the time to his fans.

    I'll read his book, but I won't buy it till its in the bargain bin and I won't read anything else he writes till all the books are published.

    I'll happily spend my money on authors I can count on that don't rant at their fans

  4. This is my third wait for a GrrM. Difference this time is I also have 10 others. The genre has a slew of new writers that the wait is bearable.

  5. The wait is not unbearable. How do I know this? Because most of the fans are not complaining. If they were, the internet would break. Cut them some slack. Some writers work fast, some writers produce books worthy of leather-bound first editions that become treasured family heirlooms; but very few writers do both. While fans really appreciate those few, that shouldn't change our love for a particular story. A slow writer (I use the word slow very loosely) is a meticulous writer. Since we already know how good Rothfuss and GRRM are, why are we complaining? We will get great books from them. They will do their best. I personally think that trying to rush them for the sake of our own temporary enjoyment is foolish. In twenty years, we will have read their books and they will stick with us. We won't care that we waited a long time. In fact, we may actually appreciate it. Try to feel that now. They are pouring their lives in to entertaining us. Let's not be too hasty to judge them for not being too hasty. I, for one, would love to hear that both books are out and ready for me to buy. Until then, I hope these authors just write the books the best they can.

    And I'll add, let's use the time spent waiting to find other good authors to read. If we've read everything current by our favorites (Like Mr. Lawrence) then we should search for newbies who need the support. It's great for everyone, fans and authors alike.