Wednesday 19 April 2023

Faith and blame.

I read a very angry blog post today wherein an author takes George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss to task for allegedly eroding the faith of readers in series. He describes them both as "apathetic sacks of shit with zero work ethic".

Before continuing, let me say that I am not here to critise Martin or Rothfuss. I know from my involvement in Wild Cards that GRRM keeps very busy and has many projects on the go. This blog post concerns the idea presented in the aforemention opinion piece, namely that a small number of high profile delays in series have harmed the prospects of many hardworking authors who sell far fewer books.

First let's look at a few of the usual suspects.

I've included Alan Garner's Tales of Alderley books there for fun. Nobody (to my knowledge) was expecting a third book after The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, but 49 years later we got Boneland!

Again - this post is not about the "whys" of these delays, just the consequences. There are many valid reasons for not writing a book. Most people go their whole lives without writing one. Mental health is a perfectly valid and understandable reason for not being able to finish a writing project, and I don't just mean the big headlines like DEPRESSION here - writing books is an entirely mental endeavor and relatively small issues can cause writers' block.

To claim that these authors are lazy or sacks of shit on the basis of these delays is clearly ridiculous.

What is true - and I've blogged about it myself - is that the "I'm not starting that until it's finished" attitude has become hardwired into a certain portion of the fantasy readership. I've had readers tell me that about my books on many occasions, despite me always finishing my trilogies before the first book hits the shelves, and despite producing this lot in the last 12 years:

and at no point falling below one book per year.

It is, among some readers, a meme / badge of honour / show of their own cleverness to tell an author trying to launch book 1 of a trilogy or series, "Yeah, I'm not starting that until they're all out."

However, I am far from convinced that all of this, or even a large portion of it, can be laid at the feet of a small number of high profile authors suffering (and yes, obviously it hurts them more than it hurts you personally) delays.

And here's why: Three important things have happened (or substantially ramped up) during the 12 years many have been waiting on Winds of Stone and/or Doors of Winter.

i) The sheer number of books being published each year has exploded.

Currently there are around 11,000 books published ... each fucking day!

Up to 90% of those are self-published. But even if you were to stick to traditional publishing (you shouldn't) that's well over a 1000 books a day. And a decent chunk of those are fantasy books. I won't read another 1,000 books even if I live into my 90s.

So, one of the main things I see people who are being bombarded with all this choice doing is finding reasons not to read a book. All manner of silly excuses are used to trim the field without putting any effort into the process. An unfinished series is a pretty handy reason. It doesn't have to be because GRRM is taking his time on WoW - it can be because given the choice of an unfinished series and a gazillion finished ones ... why not?

ii) Streaming services have exploded, and the content on them has multiplied almost without bound. You can fill your televisual needs entirely with complete series. A binge culture has been created. There has to be a god-like level of buzz for anyone to wait on a new episode each week these days. Most people just watch a different series and then when the whole of a new series is out - binge it in chunks of whatever size suits them.

This same mindset now reaches out into the book world. It's disappointing but hardly surprising. And again, it's unreasonable to lay this at George Martin's feet. It's easy to do that - sure - but the easy explanation doesn't have to be the right one.

iii) This is really just point i) & ii) wrapped together with all the other new diversions on offer to us these days, from Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other socials, to better more immersive video gaming, and everything else. It's hard to find time to read. There's much much more than you could ever read, so any plausible excuse is handy when it comes to cutting down those options.

In short: 

i) Authors who delay a book in a series, be it for 10 years, or 50, or forever, are not lazy sacks of shit.

ii) The high profile authors who have delayed may be cited in some cases as a reason for readers not picking up a newly published book 1 -- but I feel the reasons behind that reluctance are far deeper and considerably wider than two or three writers, however well known. Some portion of the reason (I do not say blame) may reside with them, but I think this would be happening even if book 3, 4, & 6 had turned up a year or two after their predecessors.

iii) It's easy to give the reason for this problem a face - someone to call an apathetic sack of shit. It's human nature to want a simple answer and a person to blame. But it's more complicated than that.

Readers - have faith in your writers, that faith will be overwhelmingly rewarded. And when it's not - the only thing that author has done is disappointed you, not tanked the entire publishing industry.



  1. Thank you for being a voice of sanity against this complaint. I noticed that in the first year of the Self-Published SF Competition a high percentage of the entries were part of a series. And to judge from the advice given by other pros on their blogs, that producing series are their marketing strategy. Also, many of the press releases I receive continue to tout the fact that these new books that are part of a series. I, too, have seen some readers say they will only start fully-published series, but I don't think the marketplace would look this way if that attitude was dominant.

  2. I now tend to only read completed series but for a different reason. I struggle to remember the finer details of the plot and the cast of hundreds of characters if it’s a year or two between books. Especially when those years are filled reading other books. I feel I’ve lost out sometimes with the third book of a trilogy when finer plot points pass me by. Having all books available allows me to get the most out of it in an efficient manner. No rereads necessary to recall what has happened. That said, nothing wrong with reading great books more than once.

  3. Since becoming disabled, I now read over 110 books per year and therefore can no longer read books in a series as they are published. I find I’ve forgotten large parts of the story. Life is too short and my TBR too long to allow for multiple rereads. So I now wait to read completed series. I have read the uncompleted series from both Rothfuss & Lynch as they predate my disability. I am eager to see these series completed should the Authors find themselves able to wrap them up. Authors failing to finish a series is annoying but doesn’t anger me. I am well aware that life can get in the way of one’s plans.

  4. To be honest, I can struggle to remain engaged or recapture interest in a character if i have to wait too long for the next installment. Mark, I really, really like your summaries to catch up with the key points in a story. All authors should be encouraged to do this in the book (or online). Anyway, love your books. Keep up the incredible work!!!

  5. I'm a middle grounder on this. I absolutely tend to wait until a series is finished to start reading it, but it has nothing to do with worrying it won't be completed. Like Mark says, he is incredibly consistent/reliable with his output and yet I am still not cracking his books open until his series' are done. But the big asterisk here is that i still buy the books as they come out, so me delaying my reading isn't hurting his sales. They just sit on the shelf for a bit before I get to them.

  6. I prefer to wait until a series is complete before I read it (except GOT couldn't wait any longer), simply because if I read book 1 and book 2 isn't out for another year, I will have no doubt read more than a dozen new books and forgotten almost all of the story when I go back to read book 2. This doesn't stop me buying the 1st ed hb though, preferably signed :-)

    1. That's why Tad puts summaries at the beginning of his works. More people should do that.

  7. I tend to (but not always) wait for series to be far along or completed. And this is because I don't have time to reread them to refresh my memory for each new release. Although I do like to do rereads occasionally to pick up on foreshadowing and what not.

    I wish more authors would include recaps at the beginning of each book. Then I would be less likely to wait.

  8. I can only speak for myself, but I love reading too much to ignore an interesting book just because the series is not finished. I bought your new book immediately, and have started dozens of unfinished series in the last few years. That being said, all of my hesitation when I do refrain or wait is because of Rothfuss and Martin.