Bookmaking is Hard
January 17, 2016 7:44 AM   Subscribe

How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published In Only Three Months? With dedicated labor, long hours, and a highly-focused publishing machine, that's how.
posted by ChrisR (83 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published In Only Three Months?

Very easily.
posted by Fizz at 7:59 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


How the editing process could be shortened for The Winds of Winter:

George R. R. Martin is an editor himself, and has stated multiple times on his Not A Blog online journal that he incorporates and executes both structural and line edits while writing the initial draft of any given A Song of Ice and Fire manuscript.
As an author, I don't buy it. I don't know any writer who doesn't "incorporate and execute . . . structural . . . edits" as they write. But that doesn't eliminate the need for substantive structural editing if we're going to have good, cohesive books at the end.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:02 AM on January 17, 2016 [52 favorites]


I'm a bit skeptical of that last, as well. I'm not a writer, but I do cause the appearance of text as part of my day job, and it's really easy to get too close to one's output.

I assume part of the editor's job is to be an eye from outside of the author's head, ensuring that the book that is written doesn't have story beats that depend on things that haven't been written down.
posted by ChrisR at 8:10 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


That was a fascinating and lengthy article that outlines all the facets of book publishing that I had never really thought about before. I'm glad I took the time to read the whole thing. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 8:16 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I assume part of the editor's job is to be an eye from outside of the author's head, ensuring that the book that is written doesn't have story beats that depend on things that haven't been written down.

That is exactly their job. We need editors for perspective. No one's immune from that.

(Also there are many editors who also work as authors. As far as I know, they are normally edited just as much as any other author.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 AM on January 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


This pretty much confirms my suspicion that, once an author makes enough money for their publisher, their editor either doesn't dare or doesn't care to actually edit their work. IE: why the last few books of the Harry Potter series were such a mess in both big and little ways.
posted by muddgirl at 8:24 AM on January 17, 2016 [36 favorites]


Not to be too snarky, but I thought that part of the reason why later volumes of ASoIaF and Harry Potter, to name two examples get so long is because the author has started ignoring the editor. GRRM is just speeding up the process.
posted by quaking fajita at 8:24 AM on January 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


muddgirl: "their editor either doesn't dare or doesn't care to actually edit their work."

See also: David Eddings
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 AM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've spoken to editors about this. There's a real fear that a powerful author will just take their books elsewhere if an editor pushes too much. And the book will sell either way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:28 AM on January 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


I wrote that a bit poorly and placed the blame on editors who of course don't have final say in what's published.
posted by muddgirl at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Stephen King laughs at your "editors".
posted by wintermind at 8:39 AM on January 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


George R. R. Martin is an editor himself, and has stated multiple times on his Not A Blog online journal that he incorporates and executes both structural and line edits while writing the initial draft of any given A Song of Ice and Fire manuscript.

As has been said, I suspect this is a hand-waving way of saying "The editor makes sure things are spelled correctly and pushes it on through because they wouldn't dare do else."
posted by schroedinger at 8:48 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Stephen King laughs at your "editors".
posted by wintermind at 11:39 AM on January 17 [+] [!]


Eponysterical?
posted by Fizz at 8:49 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Heinlein/Lucas Syndrome: After a while, a Grand Master of the field simply becomes uneditable. No one would dare tell GRRM "No, this is stupid," which naturally shortens the editing process.
posted by Etrigan at 8:57 AM on January 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


The lack of editing of the later Ice and Fire books is a huge, huge problem. And the idea that GRRM's publisher is happy to skip editing entirely "because he's an editor himself" is why the next book will probably be even worse than the previous ones. I'd rather have a good book in a year rather than a mediocre book in three months. Unlikely to happen though.

The books would be significantly improved by a friendly structural editor who could give GRRM an outside view of the plot structure, encourage him to trim it down and structure it better. Or more unkindly, force him to keep to some discipline so you don't end up having to clumsily split one novel order into two 800 page books.

They'd also be improved greatly by better line editing. The specific example that sticks with me is the prologue for Feast for Crows, where the phrase "fearsomely strong cider" appears four times in the same chapter. That sloppiness was in the beginning of the book! It stuck out so clumsily I had to wonder if someone was playing a joke on the reader.
posted by Nelson at 9:03 AM on January 17, 2016 [39 favorites]


You mean people actually stop to read the endless descriptions of feasts and heraldry in those books?
posted by arto at 9:08 AM on January 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: Fearsomely strong cider.
posted by w0mbat at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Well given the trend the series has taken, the last 5 books of asoiaf will be one long feast!
posted by Carillon at 9:25 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


(Rereading my comment, appreciating the irony of a poorly edited rant about the need for editors. Sorry.)
posted by Nelson at 9:33 AM on January 17, 2016


"Author just edits themself" = "We skip editing entirely", yes. I don't know if it's a reasonable fear that the authors will just say "screw you", or an unreasonable fear (or sometimes one, sometimes the other), or a lot of pressure from above, but I'd bet on the last.
posted by jeather at 9:43 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


George R. R. Martin is an editor himself, and has stated multiple times on his Not A Blog online journal that he incorporates and executes both structural and line edits while writing the initial draft of any given A Song of Ice and Fire manuscript.

Words are wind.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:44 AM on January 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


The article lays it out as a linear step-by-step process (step 1, step 2...), and then is forced to point out that many of these things can be done in parallel by other people, and lots of them are irrelevant (marketing it does not need, a cover that's already done), or are optional (multiple passes of rewrites). Really, the only things on the critical path here are re-writing and then printing. if you are not going to spend any time re-writing (dodgy but possible), I'm thinking you could do it in a week (or however long a printing factory takes to turn a PDF into the first truckload of books).
posted by w0mbat at 9:49 AM on January 17, 2016


I know of at least one writer (Iain Banks) whose editor persuaded him to not publish a couple of his manuscripts early in his career as they were just not good enough. I imagine that's much harder to do once the writer has been become a currency printing machine.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have reached the point where I honestly believe GRRM should just announce that he's a multimillionaire, doesn't give a fuck, the story is over and he will sue the hell out of anybody writing anything in that world.

People don't deserve an ending anymore.

Alternatively, publish a short where a meteor hits Esteros and everybody dies. He could even have each paragraph being a different character point of view on "Meteor hits planets, character dies from tons of X hitting them."

Except Tyrion. He gets eaten by a dragon. The following paragraph is from the point of view of the dragon. "digest digest digest digest digest digest digest digest burp digest digest digest digest digest digest shit ahhh."
posted by eriko at 10:00 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Really, the only things on the critical path here are re-writing and then printing. if you are not going to spend any time re-writing (dodgy but possible), I'm thinking you could do it in a week (or however long a printing factory takes to turn a PDF into the first truckload of books).

I assume copy-editing alone (which, hopefully, someone is doing regardless of the actual editing process) easily takes at least a week or so.

Or more unkindly, force him to keep to some discipline so you don't end up having to clumsily split one novel order into two 800 page books

There are two types of ASoIaF readers -- those who read Wheel of Time and those who didn't. Ten years ago, everyone insisted that Martin (unlike Jordan) had discipline and wasn't going to slog down the same way that WoT did. (These days, when I say the same thing, half the people ask "What's the Wheel of Time?") I just stand back and laugh.

Come to think of it, maybe the lack of progress on Gerrold's Chtorr series has been a blessing in disguise. If there's anything worse than not reading anything, it's reading 800 pages and still not reading anything.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:02 AM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The economics of printing presses are similar in concept to airplanes: if they’re not moving then they’re not making money.

Yup. The same business model that enables companies like VistaPrint to supply your small business with collateral so quick and cheap is the same model that enables book publishers to turn-around a new title so quickly. That, and, the publishers source a ton of the printing to China, where rooms of the newest high-capacity, high-speed digital offset presses roar-away 24/7.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:02 AM on January 17, 2016


Regarding covers:

I may have missed a caveat in the article, but this stuff about covers leans very heavily toward "this is how we treat a rock star author we want to keep happy." Tons of authors get very little input regarding their covers. The publisher will ask what they want, sure, and then will go on and do whatever the hell they think best. I haven't read any Dresden Files yet, but my understanding is that the character specifically hates hats...and yet he's wearing a cowboy-ish hat on every damn cover.

It's not uncommon for publishers to have a file full of already-purchased art that they can use for whatever. (I'd be stunned if they didn't already have a whole bunch of options GRRM could just choose from if he were so inclined.) Take note of how many covers on the shelves aren't really illustrations or photos of anything in the story, but rather something abstract.

I've learned a lot of this while working with an industry pro for my indie-pub book covers. My artist (I'd drop his name, but that feels like self-promotion by proxy) is super happy to work with indies, because it cuts out a lot of the middle men. I tell him what I think I want, he explains what I really want because he has a much better sense of what works visually. On the flipside, there's no marketing voice to point out, "Yeah, for sci-fi, you may really sell much better with a generic spaceship than a character illustration, even if said illustration is really kick ass." Everything's a trade-off.

Again, though: not arguing that this cover art stuff may be how they treat a big name author, but it's not how the whole industry operates.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:03 AM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


...because a publishing house stands to make three years profit, the sooner they get it out?
posted by lumpenprole at 10:03 AM on January 17, 2016


Etrigan: Heinlein/Lucas Syndrome: After a while, a Grand Master of the field simply becomes uneditable. No one would dare tell GRRM "No, this is stupid," which naturally shortens the editing process.

Nope. This isn't why it happens at all. Source: I used to be edited at Ace by Ginjer Buchanan, one of Heinlein's last editors. (She quit in 2014 when she turned 70.)

The truth of the matter is that editors don't get paid to edit. At least, not directly: they're in the business of managing acquisition, production, and marketing workflow, and editing is just a small part of the job. Furthermore, it's a part of the job that has negative returns in terms of profit. A well-written book shouldn't need editing. Editing is a necessary corrective when the book isn't ready to publish commercially.

Note that I said "isn't ready to be published commercially", not "isn't a good book". Heinlein in his latter years could have turned in Baboon Fart Story and they'd have rolled the presses and turned a profit. Why risk pissing off the golden goose when you can sell its eggs as they are, even if they're a bit whiffy and covered in birdshit?

People like me and Scalzi submit to editing because (a) we're sane business-people, and (b) we don't have delusions of omniscience and (c) at the point when Heinlein wasn't getting edited he'd been turning in manuscripts for almost half a century (longer than we youngsters have been alive). George ... George published his first novel forty years ago, and I'm willing to bet that AGoT is outlined to within an inch of its life and his editor has read the detailed outline and offered their feedback before he writes each book.

There are other twists that the Tor.com article doesn't talk about. For example, by the time Ginjer became my acquiring editor, she'd pretty much burned out. (Thirty years on the game will do that to anyone.) So she farmed out the edits to my literary agent. My agent is a former senior editor herself, so the job was taken care of: but you won't find publishers talking about that side of the business because (a) agents are external to their perception of the author/publisher relationship, and (b) they'd mostly prefer to pretend agents don't exist (because the agent/publisher relationship is mostly adversarial—the agent's job is to look after their authors interests, and this includes putting the squeeze on the publisher). Nor does the article mention that a lot of authors (me, for example) have closed circles of beta-test readers who kick the tires and offer extensive feedback before the MS is even finished, much less placed under an editor's nose.
posted by cstross at 10:06 AM on January 17, 2016 [63 favorites]


The publisher will ask what they want, sure

Will they?!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


On the plus side, non-sarcastically, the part where cover artists are often given excerpts but not full novels to work with totally explains how the (American paperback, 2000 edition) covers of the Ash: A Secret History books are both fairly accurate representations of specific scenes from the books and prove the artist never read the novel's first paragraph.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:12 AM on January 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


The publisher will ask what they want, sure

Will they?!


...they at least give you some form where they ask about what you'd like to see on a cover & then never read said form, right?

I mean damn, even the military will ask you where you'd like to be stationed before doing whatever they want with you regardless of your wishes.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:13 AM on January 17, 2016


I was surprised to see that the article forgot to include the proofreader, who comes after the typesetter in the process. The article mentions independent reviewers, but only in the context of beta-readers. Proofreading and beta-reading are not the same thing.
posted by talitha_kumi at 10:16 AM on January 17, 2016


(Rereading my comment, appreciating the irony of a poorly edited rant about the need for editors. Sorry.)

I presumed that your poor self-editing was a powerful and artfully constructed illustration of the very point you were making.
posted by howfar at 10:16 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


In my experience, the smaller the press the more input they give the author into their dust jackets.

(Until the author becomes so enormously huge that the publisher doesn't want to piss them off.)

See also: "Why did you pick such an awful cover for your new book?".
posted by cstross at 10:16 AM on January 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


My next book comes out in May. The initial cover featured an old timey baseball player in a St. Louis uniform. I'm a Red Sox fan and tend to look at the Cardinals as the Yankees of the Midwest. So naturally I asked for a different uniform, hell, change the lettering, obscure it somehow because all the people who know I'm a Red Sox fan are going to give me endless crap over a St. Louis player on the cover of the book.

Did they change it? Nope. Damn St. Louis jersey is still there. *sigh*
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:17 AM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


.they at least give you some form where they ask about what you'd like to see on a cover & then never read said form, right?

Nope. It was more a "Here's your cover! We love it, hope you do, too!"
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:20 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


See also: "Why did you pick such an awful cover for your new book?"

Yeah, my artist regularly does a "Bad Book Covers" panel at conventions. It's cringe-inducing and hilarious. The thing is, sometimes a really bad cover still does the job, because it gets your attention.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:25 AM on January 17, 2016


George published his first novel forty years ago, and I'm willing to bet that AGoT is outlined to within an inch of its life and his editor has read the detailed outline and offered their feedback before he writes each book.

Are you sure? I remember stumbling across the initial proposal for the first book and he said he doesn't generally outline.

I don't know. There are a lot of writers that are seen as Old Masters but whose books frankly feel like sprawling messes a lot of the time. I haven't read Martin, so I don't have a dog in that particular fight, but I think editors-who-don't-edit is more of a bummer to me, as both a reader and a writer, than anything else. I use beta readers, outline, and have had two really excellent editorial agents. A good editor has still made my books so much better as a cohesive piece of art.

I've been doing some ghostwriting and the pace for those books is intense (about two months from outline to publication). I can see how it would work for a certain type of plot-driven, super duper tropey book. But there's no time to figure out complex character motivation or worldbuilding, at either the writing or the editorial stage. I've also been watching a lot of my YA cohort deal with the pressure of a book a year schedule. So many writers would just love more time! Let their books breathe a little. But the economic pressures of being a working writer (and the particularities of having a readership who ages out in 4 years) makes that impossible. As a reader though, it's gotten to the point where I can usually tell which books sold on proposal and were pushed out quickly. There are so many good books that feel like they could be great books but aren't, quite.

Probably doesn't matter to the bottom line of publishing, unfortunately.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:38 AM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Also, I feel like this little section of the article needs to be called out:

...they’ll join forces with the Sales department to convince an unorthodox retail outlet (Victoria’s Secret) to package a specific book...that would pair well with that store’s product (lingerie) and appeal to a segment of that store’s captured audience (women buying products that are predominantly for male appeasement).

As much as I would love to believe that any girlfriend I've ever had has gone into lingerie stores specifically with my best interests at the forefront of her mind...seriously, Tor?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:51 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


That was obviously written by someone who doesn't hit up the VS 5 for $25 cotton panties sale. WEDGIES BEGONE.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hi all, I'm the author of the article and just wanted to chime in with a couple of explanations. There is a LOT about the book production process that is fascinating, and which I researched, but didn't have room to write about.

I was surprised to see that the article forgot to include the proofreader, who comes after the typesetter in the process. The article mentions independent reviewers, but only in the context of beta-readers. Proofreading and beta-reading are not the same thing.

I originally had a section on ebook production that included proofreading and which got really into the technical details. But the article was already a 10,000+ word monster, and lost focus around that point, so I cut it out. What I essentially needed to communicate was that production on the type is a time-consuming process that readers don't typically consider. Discussing the overall act of typesetting got this across in a way that both my editor and I were happy with. (I also cut out a portion that discussed the overseas industry of typesetting houses. Interesting, but it distracted from the main point of the article.)

I may have missed a caveat in the article, but this stuff about covers leans very heavily toward "this is how we treat a rock star author we want to keep happy." Tons of authors get very little input regarding their covers.

This is very true. In fact, a couple of the art directors and editors I spoke with said I should emphasize this further, so as not to give that impression.

It's not uncommon for publishers to have a file full of already-purchased art that they can use for whatever. (I'd be stunned if they didn't already have a whole bunch of options GRRM could just choose from if he were so inclined.) Take note of how many covers on the shelves aren't really illustrations or photos of anything in the story, but rather something abstract.

Also very true. Cover designers and artists in both the print and online industries have standing accounts with photo houses like Getty so they can grab pre-shot material to place. If a book cover features a person, then it's very likely that the artist hired a model, then painted the cover over the photo of that model. This is something I point to in the section that discusses Larry Rostant and the design standardization that the series was given post Feast For Crows.

Nor does the article mention that a lot of authors (me, for example) have closed circles of beta-test readers who kick the tires and offer extensive feedback before the MS is even finished, much less placed under an editor's nose.

I mention this in a latter section, and it's something I wanted to expand upon as this practice has matured over the course of the last century from friends-of-the-author to writer's groups to a burgeoning commercial industry, and I find that fascinating. Ultimately, writing about it would have been a circuitous tangent.

As much as I would love to believe that any girlfriend I've ever had has gone into lingerie stores specifically with my best interests at the forefront of her mind...seriously, Tor?

Well, seriously me, yes, and you're right to call it out. It was requested that I cut this, but I wanted to keep it in because it demonstrates how blunt, sexist attitudes can propagate when marketing is forced to just "get the job done" in a shortened timeframe, as opposed to having the time to craft more considered, nuanced marketing and publicity efforts. Please note that I say "and appeal to a segment of that store’s captured audience." I am not foolish enough to insist that VS' entire captured audience are men wanting to objectify women.
posted by greenland at 11:00 AM on January 17, 2016 [31 favorites]


George published his first novel forty years ago, and I'm willing to bet that AGoT is outlined to within an inch of its life and his editor has read the detailed outline and offered their feedback before he writes each book.

Well he knows how it's going to end... that was part of the deal with HBO for the television series. And if there was ever a very detailed outline (rather than a loose one)... well he's definitely deviated from it. Part of the problem with the last two books is that he wanted to have a large time jump between books four and five (to allow the dragons and younger characters to grow and mature) and he started book four with that intention but found he could not handle writing it without doing a lot of backstory / flashbacks etc to cover the time gap.

Off and on over the weekend, by coincidence, I've been reading a summary of the series for a thing. It's actually quite shocking to go from the first three books were something significant, usually some sort of action happens every chapter to later when half the chapters seem to be character goes from A to B or character thinks about something or character reads some history.

Also I know that when he started, at least, he wrote the first chapter with no idea what was going on, discovering the story as he went.

As an aside I'm not sure if the heraldry / food descriptions increase in the later books but it sure seems like it. Then again a quick search reveals there's only the sixty odd uses of the term 'boiled leather' when it seemed like about ten times that when I was reading it
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:26 AM on January 17, 2016


How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published In Only Three Months?

The winds generated by the riffling of tens of thousands of stacks of currency will cause ANY endeavor to move much faster than thought possible.
posted by TDavis at 11:57 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]



Etrigan: Heinlein/Lucas Syndrome: After a while, a Grand Master of the field simply becomes uneditable. No one would dare tell GRRM "No, this is stupid," which naturally shortens the editing process.

cstross: Nope. This isn't why it happens at all. Source: I used to be edited at Ace by Ginjer Buchanan, one of Heinlein's last editors. (She quit in 2014 when she turned 70.)

Then you say this:
Heinlein in his latter years could have turned in Baboon Fart Story and they'd have rolled the presses and turned a profit. Why risk pissing off the golden goose when you can sell its eggs as they are, even if they're a bit whiffy and covered in birdshit?


which sounds pretty much like what Etrigan said...
No one wants to risk pissing them off and it sells well anyway, so you get larger and larger books that nothing gets cut from.
posted by Iax at 12:20 PM on January 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Iax: not exactly; the mechanism by which the end result happens is different. Rather than the publisher not wanting to piss off the author, the publisher can't be bothered doing something that isn't profitable.

You're (virtually) never too big to be fired by your publisher; I know of at least one NYTimes #1 bestselling author who go dumped because they [REDACTED], which convinced their editorial director that they were too much of a pain to work with despite the money rolling in. Said author is still published (someone else picked them up), but said editorial director didn't get fired either.
posted by cstross at 12:31 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I assume it would still be a thoughtfully edited Baboon Fart Story.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:31 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Tons of authors get very little input regarding their covers. The publisher will ask what they want, sure, and then will go on and do whatever the hell they think best.

Ditto titles.

But you knew that. (They were probably right in my case. No big deal. I re-purposed the original title as the descriptive for Part Four.)
posted by BWA at 12:49 PM on January 17, 2016


How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published In Only Three Months?

It's nothing but "Hodor" repeated five hundred thousand times.
posted by RakDaddy at 12:56 PM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The winds generated by the riffling of tens of thousands of stacks of currency will cause ANY endeavor to move much faster than thought possible.


It is known.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:04 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


As an author, I don't buy it. I don't know any writer who doesn't "incorporate and execute . . . structural . . . edits" as they write. But that doesn't eliminate the need for substantive structural editing if we're going to have good, cohesive books at the end.

Wordy wordy wordy word. I'm an author and an editor. Of course I edit as I write, and after I finish a manuscript. I still get revision letters.
posted by headspace at 1:45 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, just randomfax: pushing out a book like this is called crashing a book. You can read a little more about the process here.
posted by headspace at 1:51 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]




There are two types of ASoIaF readers -- those who read Wheel of Time and those who didn't. Ten years ago, everyone insisted that Martin (unlike Jordan) had discipline and wasn't going to slog down the same way that WoT did.

I thought Martin Jordaned it in book four and I gave up and haven't bothered reading book five yet.
posted by markr at 2:19 PM on January 17, 2016


I'm willing to bet that AGoT is outlined to within an inch of its life and his editor has read the detailed outline and offered their feedback before he writes each book.

He has described his process closer to what fearfulsymmetry theorizes. He has a general idea and then sits down and wings it.

It is not surprising there's more time between each book. You can get yourself tripped up and demoralized all sorts of ways when you do that.
posted by schroedinger at 2:19 PM on January 17, 2016


Back in the good old days writers had vices like gambling and had to crank out the books in order to avoid getting their legs broken by debt collectors. I weep for modern literature.
posted by um at 3:34 PM on January 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Martin shouldnt write the whole thing. He's far more useful as the face of the brand. Get him to write an outline and a few key scenes. Then hire a team of writers who can mimic his style to flesh it out. Write most of it in paralel and let Martin do edits as they come in. Relying on one guy to write every word is a recipe for failure.
posted by humanfont at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published In Only Three Months?

That only rationale to do this for WoW is to beat the sixth season of the show. Which is silly, because the book was totally going to lose, bit it this season or next.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:53 PM on January 17, 2016


I thought Martin Jordaned it in book four and I gave up and haven't bothered reading book five yet.
posted by markr


Book four (Feast for Crows) is totally Jordaned. Half of it should've been cut, particularly Brienne's endless and just utterly pointless slog along the east coast (one of the few areas where I agree with the show runners' deviations: basically skipping all of that).

Book five (Dance with Dragons) dials that back maybe 50%, relative to book three (Storm of Swords), it's not a return to form but it's definitely a significant course correction. Part of that's because book five is focused on the more interesting characters/storylines*, but it's pretty clear (IMO, natch) that Martin was making a deliberate effort to reign in past excesses.

That said, the second half of Storm of Swords is a lot like the end of the third season of the Wire - climax after climax as we watch storylines resolve in deeply satisfying ways that reward our attention. It's probably my favorite few hundred pages in fantasy literature, and I don't think we'll see its equal anytime soon in either the series or fantasy as a whole.

*Frog Prince excepted. Jesus, WTF?
posted by Ryvar at 4:03 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's actually quite shocking to go from the first three books were something significant, usually some sort of action happens every chapter to later when half the chapters seem to be character goes from A to B or character thinks about something or character reads some history.

This is exactly why I don't understand people who think the last two books are just as good as the first three. The first set of ASoIaF books were long, yes, (though Thrones is significantly shorter) but they moved. Things happened at a good clip. The story flowed.

That doesn't happen in the latter books. The story has completely stagnated. The amount of plot movement is a fraction of that in the first couple of books despite the number of pages having expanded.

Martin needs to be edited. Badly. The last two books should have had 500 pages chopped off. Each. And, sadly, he's too big a rock star for that to happen.

David Weber is similar in this respect; lots and lots and lots of pages of story where nothing happens except a bunch of people sitting around thinking exposition at the reader or talking to eachother about stuff which is completely unnecessary. Martin is ten times the author, obviously, but the problem is the same.
posted by Justinian at 4:09 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Book five (Dance with Dragons) dials that back maybe 50%, relative to book three (Storm of Swords), it's not a return to form but it's definitely a significant course correction.

The only reason I'm remotely tempted to agree are the Theon chapters which are superb. But then the Tyrion and Dany chapters want to make be stab myself in the head with a fork to spare myself the pain. The amount of effort you have to expend to make Tyrion boring is staggering. But Martin managed it.
posted by Justinian at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ahh, fuck. You had to remind me. Yeah, okay. Still a lot better (slash less terrible) than book four.
posted by Ryvar at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2016


MetaFilter: Fearsomely strong cider.
posted by fairmettle at 5:02 PM on January 17, 2016


GRRM has fallen under the misconception that he needs to document events that happened, rather than telling a story. Like George Lucas before him, he's become convinced that there exists a canonical version of events in his fictional world, and that his job is to document those events. This is absurd. Westeros doesn't exist. Essos doesn't exist. The Narrow Sea doesn't exist. The entire world he's writing about doesn't exist. It can't exist; like all fictional worlds it is not internally consistent and cannot be made internally consistent. Instead of trying to document the impossible, he should just tell a fucking story.

In the first book he was telling a story, a story about a noble (in two senses of the word) idiot playing detective in a city where playing detective gets you killed. In the second book he started documenting a world, and the tedium started to set in. Fortunately, the third book told a new story, this time about the noble idiot's idiot son mistaking military skill for political skill and mistaking meaning well for doing right... but then the fourth book went back to world-documentation, and the fifth book was more of the same.

GRRM likely despises the world of A Song of Ice and Fire now, and for good reason; taking up residence in a fictional world never ends well for the person who tries it.

A few years ago he should have torn up all his notes (except for one post-it reading "R+L=J") and banged out a story (any story) titled The Winds of Winter, and then he should have torn up any notes he made for TWOW (aside from that one post-it) and banged out a story (again, any story) titled A Dream of Spring.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:32 PM on January 17, 2016 [48 favorites]


I like that. He's writing a documentary rather than telling a story. I'm going to steal reference that.
posted by Justinian at 6:04 PM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Um, I'm afraid you used the nefarious X-Ray microfiche subplot in Season 17, sir"

"Smithers! What about that tavern man, nick?"

"Moe"

"Excellent, we can finally use the John Deere"
posted by clavdivs at 7:20 PM on January 17, 2016


You Can't Tip a Buick: "GRRM has fallen under the misconception that he needs to document events that happened, rather than telling a story. Like George Lucas before him, he's become convinced that there exists a canonical version of events in his fictional world, and that his job is to document those events. "

Well-put, and I've had a similar thought. At a certain point he started writing the HISTORY of Westeros instead of just an epic story set in Westeros, and when it drags, it drags for the same reason the French Revolution does. (Too many characters and too much back-and-forthing and too many details that don't advance the narrative but you have to explain how all the minor characters get beheaded!) History doesn't have a clean plotline so it drags.

On the flip side, there is a huuuuuuuuuuge market for "history of worlds that never existed." People LOVE this stuff. It's not like he's doing something inherently wrong or unmarketable. It's just not resulting in plot-advancing books as fast as some others might like.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:22 PM on January 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yeah, some of us love the fuck out of documentary-style "what happens to every character" books.

However, as one of those original WoT readers who thought Martin would never do it to us, I'll be in a corner weeping silently.
posted by corb at 8:13 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


A lot of the time when I was reading AFFC/ADWD I felt like I was reading a fictional travelogue. Martin really got into exploring the many new settings in his big fictional world, and not all of it was bad (I enjoyed Tyrion's trip down the Rhoyne, but once he met Jorah it was all drudgery.) Maybe creating The World of Ice and Fire helped him get it out of his system and TWOW will flow like the earlier books. But probably not.
posted by homunculus at 10:05 PM on January 17, 2016


Martin occupies the same shelf, value-wise, as King, Rice, Rowling, and a small handful of other writers. They're writers of books that will be purchased by hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of people regardless of quality.

Given that, why would a publisher waste money on something like editing for structure or content, which adds no noticeable value to the product?

Copy editing at least prevents embarrassment, but anything so subtle or "literary" as story structure, pacing, or characterization seems have no no effect on sales of people like Martin, and thus can be ignored.
posted by suelac at 10:40 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Write most of it in paralel and let Martin do edits as they come in. Relying on one guy to write every word is a recipe for failure.

It's like Uber for Esteros.
posted by maxwelton at 11:29 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Given that, why would a publisher waste money on something like editing for structure or content, which adds no noticeable value to the product?

I think Martin still cares deeply about the quality of what he is writing. He is in no way a hack. His problem isn't that he has given up caring about the quality but that he has been so buried in this work for twenty years and is so overwhelmed by the story that he doesn't seem to be able to separate the silver from the dross any longer.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 AM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: Fearsomely strong cider.
posted by fairmettle at 4:47 AM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read the first three or four books, then just sort of petered out and now don't even remember where I left it. I grew weary of a) all the violence against women, children (and men), mostly children and b) having to slog through dozens of chapters just waiting for the plot to advance more than 5 cm each time (see: Daenerys).
posted by signal at 5:21 AM on January 18, 2016


I think actually some of it is all our fault. Or, if not our fault exactly, the problem of the Most Obsessive Fan + The Internet.

One of the things that was pretty great was the way that he would put mysteries into his books, with clues scattered throughout. As a solo reader, or even a reader encountering a few people via BBS, you could not possibly put together everything. There would always be new things to surprise you.

But now there's an extensive fan community who analyzes the books down to the eye color and hair color of the characters. We are all examining the text so closely that the slightest mistake is visible and over analyzed just in case it's not actually a mistake. He has to maintain a database of his thousands of characters just to make sure he's not accidentally fucking something up.

And I can't imagine that's much fun - especially without payoffs like readers discovering surprises on their own. With almost every twist spoiled by some theory somewhere, I could see where it makes it less of a joy to write, and starts feeling like you're retreading someone else's story instead of your own fun one.

And I think part of the problem too is that initially, he was writing books that could never appear on television - with enormous battles and crazy special effects, and he didn't have to worry about a cast of thousands. Now the show exists despite original intentions, and it does have to worry about these things, which I imagine is some pressure not to have all the deep bits of plot handled by outlier characters who the show doesn't have existing. Which also takes some of the fun of writing about new people away.
posted by corb at 6:36 AM on January 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


> "... taking up residence in a fictional world never ends well for the person who tries it."

Posting from Narnia does screw up my timestamps.
posted by kyrademon at 6:36 AM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is exactly why I don't understand people who think the last two books are just as good as the first three. The first set of ASoIaF books were long, yes, (though Thrones is significantly shorter) but they moved. Things happened at a good clip. The story flowed.

That doesn't happen in the latter books. The story has completely stagnated. The amount of plot movement is a fraction of that in the first couple of books despite the number of pages having expanded.


I enjoyed reading the last two books, and I suspect part of the reason was because I binged read the whole series from the first book to the latest within a short period of time. By the time I was done with ASoS, I was feeling really overwhelmed with all the happenings. So AFFC was actually kind of relaxing with the slower pace; I got a chance to explore the world a bit while absorbing all the bad stuff that had happened one after another in the previous books.

That said I can understand how it was probably really disappointing for people who had been waiting years for the next book and were all ready for more action.
posted by destrius at 7:42 AM on January 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


This pretty much confirms my suspicion that, once an author makes enough money for their publisher, their editor either doesn't dare or doesn't care to actually edit their work.

The effect isn't confined to novels either. It's pretty common for brilliant creative people to do their best work early in their career when they were still new enough that they had people to answer to that could tell them, "No."

The Star Wars movies that Lucas had total, unquestioning control over were terrible compared to the ones that he didn't. Plenty of bands have a couple of great early albums and then kind of go off the rails. If I had had more coffee this morning, I could probably think up some other examples.

Point is, stuff usually turns out better in any medium if the main creative person has someone else with the power to tell them when they've taken things too far and/or in a weird direction and that role's authority often erodes as the artist attains more and more success.

I suspect that artists who have been able to maintain consistency in their work either got really good at editing themselves or recognized that whoever occupied that editor-type role was a vital part of their success so they continued listening to them.
posted by VTX at 7:42 AM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Half of it should've been cut, particularly Brienne's endless and just utterly pointless slog along the east coast

Nooooooo! Brienne is still my favorite character and I absolutely loved the days I got to spend with her adventuring! MORE DAYS of Brienne adventuring, please! ALL OF THE DAYS of Brienne adventuring. (without all of that misogyny and rape threats, though. Podrick can stay.)

> But now there's an extensive fan community who analyzes the books down to the eye color and hair color of the characters.

Come on, now. (Spoilers? only for a VERY minor character) That red-haired bar lady that Arya accidentally runs into was obviously her illegitimate cousin. It doesn't take a damn BBS of geniuses to realize that. GRRM wasn't all that sneaky by making her hair red. (purposefully glossing over the R+L=J business, here)

Big plot drivers are cool, but my favorite part of GRRM's books are the world building and the minor characters, really.
posted by jillithd at 11:57 AM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Fearsomely strong cider.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:32 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Which is to say, fan edited films are thing. Do any fans take the time to pare down novels? I know, there's fanworks, but I'm talking about streamlining original works, not creating new stories in the same (or similar) universe. Or might this happen after the first Phantom Editor rises up and makes a 400 page version of an 800 page novel, kicking off a new movement?
posted by filthy light thief at 6:34 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Big plot drivers are cool, but my favorite part of GRRM's books are the world building and the minor characters, really.

How many years until HBO cashes in on an expanded cinematic universe for GoT, like Disney expanding the Star Wars cinematic universe with a new film every year until at least 2020, if not beyond.

As you pointed out, it's a significantly large world with lots of hinted back stories, between tales and side characters who are seen at a glance only. This would be ridiculously easy to do, and by focusing on different aspects of the world it wouldn't be as bad as another bloated GRRM novel.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:40 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Half of it should've been cut, particularly Brienne's endless and just utterly pointless slog along the east coast

It was tedious, but not pointless. For one thing it highlighted the plight of the smallfolk in the wake of the War of Five Kings, something which got short shrift in Brienne's (and the Sparrows') story lines in season 5. And Brienne was wasted in the show last season. Frankly I would have preferred a slimmed down version of hers and Pod's AFFC stroll if it had included Septon Meribald and his speech on war delivered word for word by a good actor. But hey, maybe we'll get that in season 6.
posted by homunculus at 10:16 PM on January 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


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