Hard to believe, I know, but The Blade Itself was first published in the UK on May 4th 2006, ten years ago today.
To put it in context, (and a context I have some trouble getting my head around) The Blade Itself has now been out as long as A Game of Thrones had been out when The Blade Itself first came out. Ten years. Makes one reflect on all that has happened since…
For a debut, it certainly did well out of the gate, but at the time it felt pretty unspectacular compared to my hopes of sweeping down a marble staircase with a dirty martini to instant rapturous approval from the public. Casting my mind back, I wasn’t prepared for the way that, after the first little flurry of generally pretty good reviews and attention, once the book was published it seemed to drop into a pit of silence. I’d scour the internet hourly back then, hoovering up every mention, revelling in every kind word, obsessing over every criticism. But the series built steadily, particularly once it found a US publisher a year after coming out in the UK, and each new book drove interest in the first. It’s only just coming out now in some territories – I think Simplified Chinese may have been the most recent, and these days The First Law is published in close to 30 languages.
I guess you could say I’ve been a published author for 10 years, although honestly I’m only just getting comfortable with describing myself as a ‘writer’, and ‘author’ still feels somehow presumptuous. In fact you could probably say that I’ve been a writer since 2001, as that was when I started experimenting with the book that would become The Blade Itself, and a professional writer since 2005, as that was when I signed my first deal with Gollancz. Still, though it meant I could take my writing much more seriously than I had been doing, my first advance was far from life-changing, and I was still working as a TV editor when I wrote Before They are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings, and even Best Served Cold. It wasn’t until maybe 2010 I could reasonably describe myself as a full-time writer, and I was still doing the odd editing job for a year or two after that.
In the 10 years, I’ve published 10 books (if we’re counting a collection of short stories which just creeps into the period by a week or two), though I’ve actually written a bit slower than a book a year. The fastest were the Shattered Sea books at maybe 10 months a piece, the slowest Red Country and Best Served Cold which took maybe 20 months each. Evened out over the whole period – the average pushed down considerably by the time I’ve spent planning, revising and editing and therefore not writing new words – it seems I write about 10,000 words a month.
I’ve sold, in all territories and all formats – and you’ll have to forgive the inaccuracy because you’d be amazed how difficult it is to get hard data on these things – somewhere in the region of 3-4 million books. Most of those are in English, and I probably sell very roughly the same amount of books in the UK market as the US. UK numbers include Australia and a lot of English editions sold across Europe, but the US market is still considerably bigger, so perhaps unsurprisingly that makes me much more successful at home than across the pond. My last five hardcovers have made the UK top five, only one has troubled the US bestseller list, and that crept on to the extended list somewhere around no. 25.
It’s been quite a ten years to be in publishing – the landscape of the industry has transformed since 2006, probably more than in any other decade since the printing press came in. It seems hard to believe now, but when Pyr bought US rights in the First Law in 2007 they actually weren’t interested in the e-book rights. These days e-book is half the game, at least in some territories and for some types of fiction, and audiobook has become vastly more important too. When I signed my first deal with Gollancz, self-publishing – with the necessity to print and warehouse your own copies and somehow rep them to individual bookstores – was close to unthinkable. These days it’s an increasingly popular and effective route to market. When I was first involved in discussions about sales the great fear was that the terrifying colossus of Waterstones – which had just gobbled up Ottakars in the UK – would come to monopolise bookselling, and publishers were doing all they could to help out plucky little niche sellers like Amazon. Now Amazon are challenging not just brick and mortar bookstores but the whole paradigm of traditional publishing.
In spite of the upheavals, though, I feel optimistic. Upheaval can mean vibrancy, and innovation, and new opportunity. It seems as if paper books are finding an equilibrium with e-books that leaves room for both, and my own feeling is that traditional and self-publishing will do the same, keeping publishers on their toes and opening up new options for writers. In the end, whatever the medium and method of publication, there’ll always be a hunger for good writing. Writers will always need the guidance and support of good editors and agents, as well as art, design, marketing, publicity, and all the processes that connect a reader to a book they enjoy. Writing can be a solitary business, but no one can do everything themselves. If there’s one thing I’m thankful for over the last ten years it’s the people I’ve worked with, especially the editors who’ve championed and improved my books: Lou Anders at Pyr, Devi Pillai at Orbit, Tricia Narwani at Del Rey, Jane Johnson, Nick Lake and Natasha Bardon at Harper Collins, and lastly but by no means leastly, Gillian Redfearn, who bought The Blade Itself as an assistant editor at Gollancz, has been my partner in crimes against fantasy fiction for the whole ten years, and now runs the imprint.
Anyway, this is starting to feel more like an obituary than a celebration. With luck and a fair wind I’ll be exasperating editors, disappointing readers, and poisoning the genre for decades to come. Happy Birthday to The Blade Itself. Many happy returns, say I…
76 comments so far
Awesome stuff. Congrats on having been a success. Now please live a hundred years and write a shitload more books. I will be displeased otherwise.
Happy Birthday to “author” Joe Abercrombie, a citizen of the city of ideas
You’re very popular in Poland, also 🙂 great writer, thanks for Your books and emotions 🙂
Congrats Joe hope there are many more decades to come
Sand dan Glokta is one of my favourite characters ever… A brilliant creation!
Congratulations on 10 years! I still remember buying The Blade Itself based on a small review in the video game magazine EDGE, they said it was great so I trusted them and I’m glad I did.
Keep up the good work, please!
Keep it up. You’re my absolute favorite.
As far as publishing is concerned, the old latin saying ‘Times change, and we change with them’ has never been more apposite: but quality always sells. Looking forward to your next 10 books…
What a decade it has been…
To think that I had come across your work quite by chance. Having been a bit bored at Uni after finishing a reading pile I wandered idly into Borders (there were Borders back then!) and perused the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section.
There, among all the posturing warriors with giant swords and innumerable dragons, orcs and dragon-orcs, was a simple, but alluring parchment cover of The Blade Itself. Aaaaah.
10 more years and 10 more books please. Minimum.
Congratulations Joe! Discovered The Blade Itself in Key West 5 years ago and your books have accompanied me on every vacation since! Great work and here’s to another 10!!
I remember going along to a pub near the British Museum a few years ago to meet-up with fellow devotees of GRRM’s ASoIaF (organised by Wert I think, who’s also turned out to be an excellent player in the fantasy field…). You were there and made a very strong impression. I’d vaguely heard of your books but hadn’t read any at that stage. Obviously I was inspired to try “The Blade Itself” – but who could have thought it would turn to be SO good, and you were indeed the very fine writer you claimed to be?
Fast forward a few years and you were actually interviewing GRRM on TV!
I’ve met you a few times since then at various signings and have all your hardbacks, even the Sub Press ones, though audio is my preferred book delivery-method (wanted to write “Bethod”…)..
GRRM is getting a bit of bad press recently but I think he’s a fabulous writer (I loved books 4 and 5). Almost unbelievably I think you’re up there with him at the top of the fantasy pile – this is a good opportunity to say thanks for hours of enjoyment, particularly helping on the journeys into work every day! Looking forward to further great things from you in the years ahead.
Only listen these days to audio books. Do they feature in revenues or are they too small a part of the market to figure? Or do they suffer from dying from a thousand cuts, as they have extra costs, studio time, distributors, voice acting etc?
By the way, Mr A, thank you for hundreds of hours of listening pleasure.
My biggest inspiration.
Audiobooks aren’t a huge part of the overall revenue but they definitely feature – with downloads and the proliferation of smartphones they’ve gone from a niche product more or less aimed at long distance truckers and those who for one reason or another can’t read to a mainstream product. Audiobooks are particularly strong for me – partly because of Steven Pacey’s excellent readings, I’m sure.
Looking forward to you being a very troublesome teenager!!
Joe – out of interest, what landed you the deal with Gollancz; was it the finished manuscript for TBI, or did you have other unpublished work you submitted that convinced them to sign you?
Grats Joe and thanks for all the books. Only sad think about this is that you write “only” 10000 words in a month and I read that in less than a hour. So once again I am stuck with waiting for another book. I really appreciate your dedication compared to GRRM and Rothfuss who seem to write 1 word in a month and keep their fans waiting.
Congratulations Joe. Have fread pretty much ll your stuff I believe except the short stories. Just finishing the Shattered Sea series. Would struggle to say which I prefer between the First Law and Shattered Sea but have introduced friends and family to both series and theose with intelligence and humour love them too. The others? They’re dead to me. Good luck in the future. I shall try and join you in some fantasy writing once I’ve finished my MA and when I finally realise I need to get out of teaching before I take an axe to someone or something. Thank you very much for hours of fun and wonder.
Congratulations Joe. Have read pretty much all your stuff I believe except the short stories. Just finishing the Shattered Sea series. Would struggle to say which I prefer between the First Law and Shattered Sea but have introduced friends and family to both series and those with intelligence and humour love them too. The others? They’re dead to me. Good luck in the future. I shall try and join you in some fantasy writing once I’ve finished my MA and when I finally realise I need to get out of teaching before I take an axe to someone or something. Thank you very much for many hours of fun and wonder.
PS I should read and edit before pressing submit. I do with my MA stuff believe me.
First discovered your books via the audiobook of The Blade Itself, tried it because Steven Pacey was reading it. Been hooked since then, fabulous characters, great stories and brutal realism. I recommend your books to all my friends
Joe Abercrombie, Daniel Abraham, and Brian Staveley–my triumvirate of amazing writers.
Joe, it’s humble of you to still feel a little awkward about calling yourself a writer/author – the mark of humility is one I’ll always admire – but not only do you strongly desrve both of those labels, you’re also (in my opinion) among the best authors whose words ever graced the pages they were printed on. More so, as a fledgling writer myself, I consider you one of my most influetial… influences. (I should have tried harder with that last sentence.) Not for want of sounding too much like a brown-noser, but your approach to epic/dark fantasy has really revitalised the genre from the stale behemoth is was in danger of becoming. Keep up the great work.
Congratulations from Brasil, Mister Abercrombie!
Thanks for the gift of the best Inquisitor of all time!
Thank you for the reply. Loved Stephen Pacey’s outstanding readings/acting. But also enjoying Ben Elliot reading Shattered Sea. Less character, more story.
Thanks for the kind words, folks.
Finished manuscript of TBI (though we worked on it a lot thereafter), plus a draft of half of Before They are Hanged and an outline for the rest of the the trilogy.
Ye gods. Time has certainly flown. I’ve enjoyed every single one of your books, Joe.
That seems a prodigious outflow though – I had a 12 months to write my 14000 word dissertation this year: the thought of cranking out 10000 a month is enough to reduce me to a jelly.
I live in a northern state and happened to come across your first book in Canada long before it found a US publisher. I loved it and immediately started an email correspondence with you. You were, of course, charming and insulting and very fun. I knew I’d found my new favorite author. Thanks for 10 great years of mediocre fiction (kidding!) and here’s to many more. Just about ready to crack open Sharp Ends!
I found your work shortly after losing the late, great David Gemmell. You are a worthy successor. Thank you for your writing.
Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie… Say he’s a master tulip gardener.
Congrats on the decade of decadence!
The First Law series is my all time favorite series of books, period.
I listen to the audiobooks as well, and have listened to them multiple times. (I’m an illustrator/graphic designer, who sits at a computer for 8 hours every day, so the audiobook format works wonders for me – plus Steven Pacey is ace)
I loved the way that Sharp Ends weaved it’s way chronologically through the series, intertwining events with events from the main series of books!
Anyway, congrats! ..and I for one, thank the dead that you’re working on the next trilogy, can’t wait!
Happy ten-year anniversary! I found The Blade Itself on a reading list a couple years back and since then your books have consistently kept me up past a reasonable bedtime. Best wishes for the next ten years and beyond.
Gratz! Though you’ve been upstaged by Star Wars today.
You’ll soon be catching Martin on my most read/listened to chart. Tolkien had quite a big head start though.
When are we going to get a quality First Law TV show? They need to get cracking if they are to fill the gap that Game of Thrones is going to leave.
A nice bit of Shev & Javre would fill the gap perfectly
10 years! I had no idea. Only started reading the First Law about a year ago. Haven’t read Sharp Ends yet even though I popped in to Manchester to pick me up a signed copy! If its half as good as The Blade Itself I’m in for anothrr treat!
Although I love the shit out of TBI, I actually think it’s your worst book. And I mean that as the highest compliment! 🙂
Your writing has improved immeasurably since then. Even your “less renowned” titles such as Best Served Cold are much better paced and written in my opinion. Not to belittle A Blade Itself I just think that it doesn’t deserve its popular title of being the “quintessential grimdark novel” when compared to your other work.
By the way I just started reading Sharp Ends and I am again reminded as to why you are my favourite writer. Thank you for your brilliant work and proliferation! I can’t wait for your next novel in the First Law universe.
– A long time fan
I really enjoy your books and recommend them all my friends. I started to write myself some years ago but stopped after I read the blade itself. Realized my writing was crap Please please please continue!
Greetings from Sweden
Please keep it up and THANK YOU for sharing your work with us. Looking forward to more.
Happy anniversary, Joe! Just think – you’re next 10 year anniversary is in 2026. Sounds a seriously futuristic date, doesn’t it? 🙂
Happy anniversary, Joe! Just think – your next 10 year anniversary is in 2026. Sounds a seriously futuristic date, doesn’t it?
Yes, yes! Congratulations, etc., etc… Now: when is the next one due? 🙂
Even nicer books!
Many Exclamation Marks!!!
I hope you will return to the “Shattered Sea Series” during the next ten years. Looking forward to the next “First Law Trilogy”.
Hurry up 😉
Greetings from Germany
Congratulations! My daughter told me about your First Law series, and I’ve been hooked on your books ever since. I love your characters. You get in their heads and beautifully show us how alive they are. You are an inspiration. Thanks so much for sharing your gifts with the world!
Wishing you ninety more years of happy depredation through fantasy 🙂
Fledgling though you may be, you are already an inspiration to further generations of fantasy authors trying to blow people’s minds. Well-earned success!
Praise be to those who take the chances.
Congratulations Joe. I am from India and a huge fan of your work. I have read all your books(just started with Sharp ends)
. Any plans for a TV or movie deal because I think the first law trilogy should be the next big thing after game of thrones. Anyways, Looking forward to your next books. Keep up the great work and thank you for all the books
When I said to a friend – “Actually Joe Abercrombie is pretty big in America and UK” He responded “duh, he is the single worth thing in the whole fucking genre” HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, BLADE ITSELF
I just read The First Law Trilogy this year. An I the only one who fell in love with Sand dan Glokta? Thanks Mr. Abercrombie for a rip roaring adventure!
Congrats on the ten-year anniversary of a great book. Here’s hoping for many more.
Ten years, eh?
Well done, that man!
I first came across ‘Blade Itself’ as a library book about Christmastime ’06. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t at the top of the best-sellers either. Tried to help by buying a reading copy and a collectable copy (they weren’t expensive back then).
Here’s to the next ten years! Cheers!
I have read 9 of your books. I have your latest book of shorts waiting at the library for me. I can’t wait. I put you in with David Gemmell as one of my favorite authors.
Thank you for 10 awesome books. Cheers for 10 more! (and cheers for Steven Pacey as well: you two together is pleasure for my mind and my ears… keep keeping me sane!)
America saves the day again. (That was the point, right?)
Anyway Joe. You’re one of my favorites. I just bought Sharp Ends. Keep on truckin’.
[…] Quelle: JoeAbercrombie.com […]
Very cool to hear your stats and all about your journey thus far. I had “finished” and shelved my first manuscript when I first stumbled upon an excerpt from The Blade Itself, and I don’t even remember where I found it. I didn’t purchase the book then. But weeks later it still haunted me, to the point that I hunted it down and bought it and the rest of the trilogy. Logan’s voice (well, his first. Then all the others) did more than just hook me. It inspired me to dust off my manuscript and rewrite it entirely, with gritty, third-person intimacy in mind.
I’ll be the first to say I missed the standard I was aiming for, but I’m ok with that. I have more books to write and more time to refine my craft. It is always during the final stages of my drafting process that I pick up your books to glean some of that perfect voice and gripping action.
Thanks for your grim, dark contributions to literature. If you make your way to this side of the pond, maybe to the dirty south, I’ll buy whatever you’re selling to thank you in person. Perhaps the shitshow that is DragonCon would welcome you. I can’t promise you’ll love Georgia heat or the Atlanta traffic but I’ll buy you a beer if you make it.
It’s amazing that it’s been 10 years since we were first introduced to Glokta, Jezal and the first of the magi. Having just finished Sharp Ends I can’t wait to see where you take us next. I for one hope the Union puts Murcatto in her place, preferably in the ground next to her brother!
The idea of a man like Glokta running the Union and the somewhat new and improved Jezal has been something I eagerly hope you will take us back to in the next 10 years.
Thank you for so many wonderful books.
What are your hopes and expectations for the next ten years?
I stumbled upon The Blade Itself by accident and really enjoyed the trilogy. I like Best Served Cold, although not as much. I’m writing this though, because I’m about 50 pages from the end of The Heroes and it has been one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read. It’s truly great work and I just wanted to thank you for it.
I’m very much looking forward to getting into Red Country next.
While looking around for something to read while GRRM goes eating around the world I stumbled over your books and was blown away! You’re a phenomenal writer.
Any chance there will be movies or a TV series? Please consider Gerard Butler for Logen Ninefingers and Gary Oldman as Sand dan Glokta! I’d envisioned Alan Rickman but he had the audacity to up and die on me (RIP)!
I hope you’ll eventually do a follow-up on the fate of Logen.
Logen Ninefingers is a wonderful creation and one who aged far too quickly in your novels. A reprise please, Joe. My only complaint about “Red Country” is that your best character is consigned to history. Or is he?
Joe: If I may call you that. I was introduced to “The Blade Itself” a couple of months ago by my son. Amazing work to my way of thinking. Glokta could be a book all by himself I think. Your style is so straightforward (and funny) that I tend to think of Steinbeck in the 40’s. Simple declarative sentence and all that. I’m beginning the second and am very much enthused to listen each day (Steven Pacey is the best) Congratulations on your first ten. May the next decade be even more successful.
I remember hearing about you some time back by watching a video of you and GRRM interviewing one another. I can’t find it anywhere. Did you have your practicals remove it?
In any case, my SoIaF books are collecting dust in the closet and I’ve read through your slop many times through.
Here is to ten more years on you slaving away at the keys for what I’m sure is entirely for my benefit!
I am now in my late forties. I credit Martin’s ASOIAF as the series of books that rekindled my joy of reading. Something I had lost in my early twenties. I believe Martin lost focus after the third book and it has been difficult from a fan’s perspective to maintain excitement and passion for his work. When I discovered your books I was very impressed and obviously compared them to Martin’s series. After years of reading, re-reading and listening to both of your works, as well as many other authors, I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy your work the most. Your wit, humor, character development, and talent for completing a story in a concise manner are what sets you above the others and I continue to eagerly await the next book you are putting out. Congratulations on your success! It’s well deserved and thank you for all of the effort you put into creating these entertaining stories.
mate. peerless. that is you.ten more in the next ten, please Sir.
I have to say, I hope you’ve come to realize how loved your writing is. For years my favorite fantasy story has been Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. The First Law trilogy easily edged in and tied for my favorite. (I know they’re different formats, but you can’t segregate two great stories because of their origins.) ASoIaF is great but it feels a bit stiff in comparison. As much as I’m enjoying the works of Patrick Rothfuss, I’m disappointed that his books have gone to TV before yours (no offense meant to Patrick). I understand that your awesome literary landscapes may be difficult to bring to TV, so I’m hoping that HBO might use your universe to “fill the gap” once Game of Thrones reaches its conclusion. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!
I can’t believe it has ‘only’ been 10 years :-). Still love the books (Glotka & Murcatto are my all-time faves); please please please let there be a movie (or 3) coming up. Here’s praying.
“In the end, whatever the medium and method of publication, there’ll always be a hunger for good writing.”
Cheers, sir. You keep writing, and I’ll keep sending you my greenbacks.
[…] that many thousands of other writers and artists struggle with every day. I was reading that Joe Abercrombie kept his day job for a lot longer than you might have thought (and even then, picked up freelancing […]
Bremer dan Gorst is the single greatest character of all time, and that’s a certifiable fact.
Keep up the good work.
[…] that many thousands of other writers and artists struggle with every day. I was reading that Joe Abercrombie kept his day job for a lot longer than you might have thought (and even then, picked up freelancing […]
I must say the First Law trilogy is terribly under estimated. In my opinion – pretty much the best books i have read in my life. I hope for more and I wish u the recognition for it you deserve.
with best regards from Germany
Love the books and the gritty violence that they all have. Yet they all invite the reader to really look deeply into the characters. I await the next book all the while shuddering like a junkie awaiting my next fix.
Thanks for the stories, Joe. Been with you the whole 10 years. You write ’em, I buy ’em.
10 years, eh? Absolutely flown by. But I’ll tell you this, the books will still be as fresh, dramatic, darkly comic, and invigorating as the day that they were published.
And the characters! Wonderfully realised. I’ve read quite a few of the GRRM books but I could not warm to the characters, and found the books to be unrelentingly bleak. Joe Abercrombie, on the other hand, still has room for some humour to offset the darkensss.
And it is with this in mind, that the scenes that stand out for me are the comic ones. For instance, where Dogman et al – shorn of the leadership of Logan Ninefingers – are debating which way they should head. And the scene where Bayaz is taking a bath and gets interrupted. His reaction is purely brilliantly funny.
Anyway, I am rambling. Thanks for great times, Joe.
Just a quick note. I’m in the US,but I’ve bought your books through a UK website, because there has often been quite a delay between us/UK publishing dates. Others may have done the same
LAOK is truly a masterpiece to be mentioned along The greatest of Fantasy books there are. Having read it twice years ago I recently rediscovered the trilogy during long car rides by the voice of Steven Pacey. Unbelievably,I am now listening yet again.. the Story Just doesn’t loose its appeal..
What a master narrator he is! Wow.
“Predictions are very difficult, especially about the future”
“All prayers are finally answered….sometimes in words”
I can say, with all honesty, that no book I have ever read comes within spitting distance of The First Law. It is phenomenal. To say the least.
Every time I read your work I think to myself : “If only I can only be half as good as him, I’d be well away and proud of myself.”
Wishful thinking, I know!