Back in the Trenches

April 20th, 2009

Just been through the page proofs of Best Served Cold and made a few teensy little adjustments, which means the book is now officially out of the door as far as I’m concerned.

Done, finished, and complete.

I’m actually very happy with it, now, which is good, because for a long time – probably up to about two-thirds of the way through the first draft – I wasn’t particularly happy with it. The central character, in particular, took quite a while to come together. The characters of the First Law had been developing and maturing in my head for a long time – some of them since childhood – and so they leaped much more fully formed onto the page. A couple of the point-of-view characters in Best Served Cold came out easily but the more central, more complicated ones took a fair bit of trial and error to find the right voice, the right style of writing. It took a while for me to know who they were, if you like, and that was somewhat worrying and damaging to the confidence. That’s right. My confidence is not the impenetrable tower of adamant it seems. Within this harshly beautiful, heroically manly shell lies a heart-achingly vulnerable little boy who just wants to be loved. And that little boy worried. I wondered if I’d ever write a book as good as my previous one again. I would say things like, “well, not every book you write can be great.” Had I lost it, if, indeed, I ever had it? Would I ever have it again? What is it anyway?

To put it more succinctly, I was worried the book would be shit.

Probably this is the kind of tosh that every writer ceaselessly bores their family and editor with. And when I say ceaselessly… As a result it took a fair bit longer to write than Last Argument of Kings – maybe 18 months compared to 14? It was also intended to be a bit shorter – around 175,000 words, and ended up about the same length – around 225,000. Still, things have to be the length that’s right, and I think it justifies the girth (unlike my abdomen) and reads pretty quickly, covers a lot of ground for a single book. Perhaps it doesn’t have quite the depth of characterisation the First Law had, but it’s certainly a lot tighter, leaner, more economical and more focused (again, unlike my abdomen). Smoother in the pacing, too, and rather richer and more precise in the worldbuilding (that’s right, the worldbuilding, would you believe). I’d say it’s my best book yet, for what that’s worth, though no doubt my own feelings will change over time, particularly as it goes out into the world, like a bright-eyed child off for their first day of school, knowing nothing of the bullying, homework, teen pregnancy and hard drug abuse that is to come. How will the readers respond? Will they think it’s my best book yet? Hmm. Opinions always vary, and I’m sure they’ll vary this time…

But even before it hits the shelves I’m back in the trenches of my next book, about 11,000 exploratory words into my first draft, fumbling with plot and wrestling with structural issues, worrying that I don’t really know who the characters are, that they won’t be sympathetic, won’t be realistic, won’t be compelling, and saying things like, “well, not every book you write can be great.” If only I’d been through this before, and could look back and say, “you were worried last time, and it all came out fine.” Ah well…

In other news, I note that voting on the David Gemmell Legend Award has now opened. So pop over to the site and get involved. You could even vote for me, if you fancied it, but hey, if not, you could vote for Joe Abercrombie, or maybe Last Argument of Kings. The choice is yours.

As I’ve probably said before, I reckon it’s a good thing, overall, to have an award that’s aimed squarely at the more commercial end of fantasy, which tends to be a little bit overlooked by existing genre awards. I preferred the original idea of a public vote to establish a shortlist of 5 from which a winner would be picked by a panel, as that seemed to ensure a popular shortlist while preventing winners from being chosen purely on the basis of internet popularity or (dare one say) actual fraud. A full-on public vote seems to me to reward the most popular author, the biggest series, the best-known book, which I’ve always thought of as a little pointless since it basically rewards sales, which are kind of their own reward, and gives publicity to those who need it least.

But, you know, every award is a poll of one group or another with its own makeup and natural biases, and every award is endlessly criticised for the particular group it chooses to poll. Those that use membership of a certain convention as an academy (like the Hugos) tend to get accused of being unrepresentative and out of touch. Those that use a professional body (like the Nebulas) tend to get accused of being a club which gives an award to the most popular member of the club. Those that are based on public vote are accused of being populist, pointless, and subject to fanboy tampering. Panel-based ones are accused of being elitist, random, and over-literary. There’s really no pleasing everyone. Especially on the internet. Good article from Adam Roberts on the issue, for anyone who hasn’t read it.

Still, This year’s shortlist actually seems to me quite a varied one, within the confines of the epic/heroic/secondary world-ish end of the spectrum. Two americans, a new zealander, a brit, and a pole. I’d find it hard to pick a winner. Sanderson was doing nicely and his profile has no doubt been much boosted by his involvement with Wheel of Time. Weeks, though only published recently, has already hit the NYT bestseller list, so he must have a fair few readers out there. Sapkowski, though only recently translated into English, has been a massive-selling author in Poland for some time, and has probably sold more books than the entirety of the rest of the list combined. Marillier is more of an unknown quantity to me – though strangely enough she interviewed me a while ago for a writers website, and on my visit to Holland recently Wim Stolk was fulsome in his praise for her books. She’s a writer who doesn’t get duscussed much on the forums and blogs I occasionally frequent, but her being on the shortlist only demonstrates what a surprisingly unrepresentative world those forums and blogs can sometimes be, even of the wider internet, let alone the reading public as a whole.

If the aim of the award is to a) commemorate Gemmell and his contribution to the genre, and b) celebrate continuing contributions, they seem to be making a pretty good stab of it, especially since, as I understand it, publishers and booksellers seem to be interested in getting involved and doing some promotion based around the shortlist. And you know, it’s hard work to launch something new, and if it works out it will take a few years. There are bound to be teething issues to begin with. As long as they help me win, who cares?

A ha ha.

Posted in news, process by Joe Abercrombie on April 20th, 2009. Tags: ,

15 comments so far

  • marky says:

    Your best book ever! Surely I will get blinded trying to read it?

    My vote has been cast. The best of luck, Joe.

  • Masrock says:

    Voted already, you got my vote this time, but it was close as I quite liked the first Witcher book, but as we were voting for the second, you won. (His second book was slightly off the mark where yours was spot on!)

    But don’t be too smug, I have high expectations of this new offing, your best ever…we’ll see.

  • Bear Nasty says:

    You got my vote, Hero of Ages was good. But you cant vote for second best. Its a shame you know, I think you’re my favorite author now…scary

  • Shelley says:

    Hey Joe,
    Just posted my vote for the BEST BOOK EVER! Waiting to see if they give you that solid gold Bentley you deserve! ;0 Glad the hear that BSC is finished, something to look forward to! Good luck and keep writing!

  • Anonymous says:

    Although you and Mohammed Ali share a well deserved sense of self assurance and a willingness to self promote. (I wonder if you’ll ever turn up at another authors news conference and shout and cat call in the background then run out sniggering like Ali?)

    Anyway rather generously you post links to other authors, three of which I have bought. I wonder if others who visit your blog have also used the link to try out other authors?


  • Erik says:

    Hi Joe! Good news on BSC, grats on finally letting it loose on the world. Hope the feedback from proofreaders helped with the final tinkering 😛

    As for the Awards, I really don’t give a damn – I just voted on the #1 spot. I think they did it alphabetically?


  • Anonymous says:

    On the Adam Roberts link there is a conter-argument by James Bloomer:

  • JenMo says:

    I voted day one for LAOK, but it sure wasn’t an easy decision. Hero of Ages was good, but didn’t keep the same heart as the first two books of the series. LAOK, not only kept pace, but kicked into another gear. Weeks’ book was great, and intricate, but it ended all tidy and perfect, and everything was ok, which I have a distaste for after the spectacular, non-closure finale that is Last Arguement of Kings.

  • Steve Aryan says:

    The main reason I was introduced to your novels was because of their similarities in style (up to a point) to David Gemmell, so you’ve already got my vote for the awards.

    Glad to hear the new book is all done and dusted. Looking forward to getting into it too. Wait, you’re already on with the next one? I thought you were going to have a break?

  • fsmn36 says:

    Hey, Joe! It’s been awhile, but Joe Mallozzi’s recent review of Best Served Cold perked me up (sorry to say I’d forgotten a new book had been coming out–thank God for Joe!!). And then the other day I happened to be reading the April 13th edition of Publisher’s Weekly and what should I find but a picture of Best Served Cold (of what I’m assuming is the US cover)! They didn’t talk about the book in the article at all, but I was still happy to see you getting some more recognition. Here’s an online link (sadly only to the article, not the images) in case you missed it:

    Also, your daughter is simply adorable!! Congrats!

  • Book finished. Book sent to publishers. Book likely to be better received than dead rats in your pipes.
    You must be getting pretty damn smug how much you’re outpacing Scott Lynch these days.
    I shall now be making a regular visit to your blog to add my reflective glory to that of your other ardent followers. It’s what I do.

  • Leiali says:

    Marrillier’s sevenwaters trilogy is reasonably well known but I think as each book has a female protagonist, the books might be considered… girly. Personally I have no problem with that as I like heroic, girly, epic, bloodthirsty, dense and traditional fantasy, but I’ve gotta say the fantasy world suffers from fear of girl germs massively so some really good books get filed under, ‘never read as they talk about feelings urgh’.
    Rant over, haven’t voted as I’ve only read out of the short list your book and half of Way of Shadows (which I thought was rubbish)..I really liked the Tchaikovsky books.about a Wasp Empire, I’d have liked to see them on the list.

  • barfly says:

    bravo on finishing BSC, especially since i’ve pre-ordered the thing! much loved the TFL books — best thing i’ve seen in my preferred ghetto of the genre in yonks — and fully expect to be wowed by the new book. tally ho on the new-new book! i’d say ‘love to love ya!’ but that might give you a fat head and the truth is that most of the rest, generally speaking, is just shit. shrug, life happens eh?

  • Marky,
    Were you not blinded trying to read the last one?

    Thanks for the vote.

    Bear Nasty,
    That is scary, but in a good way.

    Somehow I doubt that will be the prize. I believe it’s a 20 pound half-size Snaga. And everyone on the shortlist gets a tiny little one.

    Let us hope so…

    All awards should be awarded alphabetically. Except to people called Abbey or Abbot.

    I kind of agree with some of his argument. I kind of find it a little bitchy. The idea that these awards provide superbly useful lists of recommendations would hold more weight if they had more commercial impact. As I understand it they have virtually none these days. Still, I was trying to say there are upsides and downsides to every method of deciding an awards, as a reader you just have to know what the process was.

    Perhaps they’ll have an open ending to the award, and just never tell you who won…?

    I already had the break. You missed it. So did I.

    I owe Joe Mallozzi big, not just for his positive reviews of his books, but for saving my life out in the Venezualan jungle. He saved all our lives, god damn it. Except Billy. We couldn’t go back for Billy. I can’t talk about it any more.

    Oh, I’ve always been this smug. I try to avoid getting any more so on any basis, especially about delivery dates. We had to put mine back for BSC by a couple of months, admittedly fairly early in the process, but I fully understand how it can happen. Ain’t easy, writing books. With a new baby and a house move this year, I may need to do some rejigging of my own at some point. Don’t hate me.

    Clearly Marillier is a popular author who sells a lot of books. Funny that no one talks about her on the forums and so on. But then you could say the same about Gail Z Martin, Karen Miller, and Trudi Canavan. They’re all women too… But perhaps it’s because they write stuff that perceived to be lighter, younger, more traditional, maybe? (that’s just my 2nd hand perception, I haven’t read those writers) From what I can tell, there are plenty of women commenting on the forums in question. They account for the majority of readers after all. It is noticeable how inward-looking and self-supporting the blogging community can be. Not that it isn’t true of any community…

    life does indeed, happen.

  • […] for any that might be interested, that I finished reviewing the page proofs of Best Served Cold back in April 2009, and although I’d already made a start on The Heroes at that point, it means that it’s […]

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