Progress Report June ’10

June 24th, 2010

Progress on the editing and revision of The Heroes presses doggedly forward.  I’ve finished a second draft which means I now have a complete and hopefully coherent book considerably tighter, more focused, slightly simplified, and lacking in characters who suddenly disappear and are never mentioned again.  It’s also some nine thousand words shorter than the first draft.  Readers sometimes get nervous about these kind of cuts (don’t destroy those valuable words!  That’s two whole short stories!) but believe me when I say these cuts are nothing you’d want to keep.  Only one thing even approaching a full scene was cut, and that one was crap, added nothing to the story, and contained nothing either particularly witty or exciting – that’s why it got cut.  The rest is all sharpening shoddy paragraphs, removing repetitive dialogue, and tightening up at the micro level.  A short story made from the bits cut out is nothing anyone would want to read, believe me, and the book benefits in the same way a boxer might from sweating out a few pounds before a fight.

I feel as if the central characters are all working pretty well, their stories making sense and binding nicely together, but there’s still a fair bit of work to do.  I’m already some way into the third draft, or the second round of editing, in which I’m addressing some character points that my editor has brought up, taking a look at a few scenes that aren’t working as well as they might, and trying to add some detail to the setting.  I suppose you could call it worldbuilding, though not of the, “I shall destroy thee, as king Zanvonzulus the Fifth did the Smejians at the Battle of Saphontes Heights bringing the Third Flidgian War to a victorious close after seventeen years of fighting in the year three thousand seven hundred and twenty two by the Brapfistic Reckoning, varlet!” but hopefully of a more subtle type.  Adding as much variety and detail as I can think of to the characters’ impressions of the landscape, especially important when pretty much the whole book is set in one place and one time.  Trying to keep the weather consistent, and as varied as possible, and to make the characters’ experience of the weather more visceral and personal – the feel of wet armour, the sun beating on sunburn, and so on.  And finally trying to work in some incidental detail of the two armies and the cultures they’re drawn from, giving some more texture and conviction to the backdrop, if you like.  Often this can be done just by replacing and refining what’s already there.  So rather than another set of bland soldiers tramping past, perhaps there’s a regimental wedding going on?  Or a soldier being lashed for thievery?  Or provisions being weighed out?  Those kind of details can sometimes give a recurrent little hook to a scene, or draw some thought or speech from the point of view character that fleshes out and helps to illustrate their personality, hence killing two birds with one stone.  I’m all about the killing of the birds.

Anyway, that third draft should be wrapping up early july, at which point there’ll be another run through, this time separating each point of view character out, looking at them individually, seeing if the balance of their story needs any additional tweaking but mostly concentrating on the voice for each character and the detail of the language, trying to make them stand out from each other as much as possible.  By the time that’s done, I’ll probably have the copy edit back to look at.  From the point of view of readers, still looking good for a January 2011 release, I hope.

In other news, Swords and Dark Magic, the sword and sorcery anthology in which my short story, The Fool Jobs, is appearing (along with a cornucopia of stories from masters of the genre old and new) is now out and available in the US.  Afraid it has no UK publisher as yet, but I’m sure they’re looking.

In other, other news, Mass Market Paperbacks of Best Served Cold are now out in both the UK and the US.  Don’t they look lovely, folks?  I really like the graphic, gritty, commercial stylings of the US one, but also love the (now award winning, mark you) parchmenty appeal of the UK.  Particularly like the fact that the UK one wraps around with no writing on the back, encouraging the browser to pick it up, feel it, and find the blurb on the inside cover.  How could they resist… 

In other, other, other news, there’s an interview with me up at the Examiner.  Enjoy…

Posted in Uncategorized by Joe Abercrombie on June 24th, 2010.

27 comments so far

  • ChrisE says:

    Any news is wonderful news. I don’t suppose you could say if you’ve got any plans post-Heroes…?

  • Killeraoc says:

    Hey Joe. Just picked up Swords and Dark magic (finally came out). Enjoyed your short, can’t wait for the next book.

  • Pauly says:

    Just ordered Swords and Dark Magic from the Book Depository. Which has free Worldwide delivery (great if you live in the UK). Cannot wait to read it, as I have finished all the books I was currently reading. The title of the collection sounds a bit like a Robert E Howard novel but I wont hold that against it.

  • Mark C says:

    Insightful and teasing. Classic Abercrombie.

  • Dan says:

    Great update. Thanks Joe. Just got my copy of swords & dark magic. Bought it for one particular short story near the end of the book.

  • ColinJ says:

    Awesome! Tightening can only ever make the book better.

    And if you can keep the best of the cut stuff for short works then it’s a win all-round.

  • SwindonNick says:

    I’m gutted. In Florida on holiday and smugly anticipated picking up Swords and Dark Magic – but to no avail. I know it has only been a couple of days but they seem keener on roller coasters here then bookshops. Although I was smart enough to decline the opportunity of the Harry Potter opening at Universal and had a lie in instead. The wife and daughters were in the queue for TEN hours!!!!!!

  • Rachel says:

    Good stuff!

    I love hearing details of the editing process … makes me think maybe I’m not completely insane for working in the way I do.

    I do like the American cover. Looks good and pulpy (in the best possible way). Is the snake eating its own tail … symbolising the never ending cycle of revenge … or just looking cool. Or maybe both.

  • martingriffy says:

    Hi Jo and people, I pre-ordered Swords and Dark Magic from Amazon uk in December… it arrived today, though I just checked it on the site and delivery is 1-2 months now.

    I think there were Marketplace sellers selling it though, so you might still be able to get one now, worth a try?.

    One question: Any news on The Blade Itself-
    Subterranean Press Edition? web site said early 2010, but not heard a hoot yet.

    Keep up the good work Jo… or ill force myself to read Martina Cole, you wouldn’t want to be responsible for that kind of disturbing scenario, would you?

  • Doug says:

    As one of your US readers, I love those TPB’s. They’re thick, good looking, textured. Really nice pieces of work as the physical structure of a book goes.

  • Dan says:

    Just finished fool job’s. Great story Joe. Has the two things I dare say you do best. Group dynamic and fight scenes. Love craw and his crew. Can I ask, does this story take place before or after Heroes?

  • This scares me a little:

    >Adding as much variety and detail as I can think of to the characters’ impressions of the landscape, especially important when pretty much the whole book is set in one place and one time. Trying to keep the weather consistent, and as varied as possible, and to make the characters’ experience of the weather more visceral and personal – the feel of wet armour, the sun beating on sunburn, and so on. And finally trying to work in some incidental detail of the two armies and the cultures they’re drawn from . . .

    One of the reasons I haven’t made it through a single fantasy novel in the last fifteen years (the works of present company excluded**) is the ubiquitous, monotonous insistence that every goddamn thing get described. Florid prose or no, it just ends up getting skimmed over, and when it builds up too densely . . . ack.

    Ack, I tell you!

    Don’t let the “We need more setting” bastards influence you a whit. Please. No compromises. I guarantee you that any setting-“enhancing” sentence that includes a description of a wedding will be reflexively skipped over faster than .

    **I made it through Game of Thrones — LOVED it — but couldn’t honestly get through the next one . . . I think our feelings on Martin are disturbingly identical. How did you put it — the plot got fatter, but not deeper?

  • DRFP says:

    I’ll trawl through London’s big bookstore’s on the off chance someone has a copy of S&DM but I suspect I’ll have to turn to the internet. Looking forward to it either way!

    And I for one am not worried about your cutting exercise. I love a good, trim novella as much as a Tolstoyian epic and am currently reading “Underworld” (I like to mix the literary and the genre) and I really wish it were significantly shorter than its 800+ pages.

  • Josh says:

    I found the Best Served Cold cover art (UK) to be utterly stunning. And I was very impressed that you managed to keep words off the back of it. Printing and styling all make it a beautiful book. Beautiful. The contents weren’t too bad either.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the 1st Law trilogy and this standalone book fit wonderfully into the world. I look forwards to reading The Heroes!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    The first rough sketches came through from the artist not long ago – very interesting, quite unlike any art that’s been done for the series before. So it’s moving forward, though I couldn’t really give you a date.

    Grumpy Buddha,
    I think this may be the first time I’ve ever been accused of putting too much effort into the setting. My description of a wedding is half a sentence in passing. This isn’t about exhaustive description, it’s about incidental detail which draws something out of the characters. Ack, I tell you!

  • […] That’s what we’re here to find out as we decode Joe Abercrombie’s latest post: Progress Report June ‘10 […]

  • Joe — I get it, and I’m tormented, because it’s incredibly churlish to go to an author’s site and critique anything they’re doing, doubly so when you are so amazed by their work. After I read The Blade Itself part of me thought “Well, the rest of them can stop trying, now. What would be the point?” Seriously.

    I will make it up to you by punching myself in the face after I finish this post, thus saving you the trouble of buying a plane ticket to the States.

    Because you are, as you know, awesome, I had no choice but to read through almost all of your past blog entries, and read many of the review snippets. Sadly, between the vast and well-deserved praise, I see gripes about lack of maps, limited worldbuilding, blah blah blah — things that aren’t synonymous with throwing in more about the setting details you’re talking about, but aren’t independent of it, either.

    Let me give you an example. There’s a spot in Last Argument of Kings where Logen and Dogman are dragging a dying Grim into a hall, surrounded by a ton of other wounded. There’s a paragraph there where Dogman marvels at how he’d “never seen a hallway like it”, about the ceiling being crusted with flowered and leaves, finely carved, etc. etc. etc. etc. — it’s a full paragraph.

    Reading it now, it’s an extremely well written four sentences that accentuate how far away from home these guys are, set up the later note about what a shame it is that Grim is dying so far from home, and helps the reader picture where all of this is happening.

    While I was reading it the first time, though, I completely skipped over that paragraph, because for the love of god, Dogman, your buddy is dying and you’re staring at the details in the fucking ceiling? Bullshit!

    That kind of description being here and there, makes sense — some are looking for exactly that — but I’m worried that it may hit critical mass at some point. I feel like there might have been more of it in Last Argument than in The Blade Itself, for instance.

    In sum, I feel that there’s been some unreasonable critique on the “we want more setting/description” side, so I felt that I had little choice but to add some unreasonable critique on the “we want less setting/description” side. My apologies.


  • Also, to all others reading this — rereading my comment, I know I’m being a douche. I don’t mean to be, but objectively speaking, seriously, what the hell am I doing? Who could possibly be so selfish as to think that Joe should be personally writing exactly for them, and no others?

    Er . . . I could punch myself in the face again . . . ?

    Like I said, my only justification is that there are Robert Jordan-type fans out there critiquing him for not being sufficiently worldbuildingy or descriptive, and I wasn’t sure he had heard any opinions in the opposite direction. I figured I should make sure there was at least one.

  • martingriffy says:

    No worries, thanks for the reply Joe.

  • Tera says:


    Can I just say you’ve been my favorite writer of all time since the moment ‘The Blade Itself’ came out? It’s writers like you that make me even more determined to become a writer when I get out of school!

    But enough fangirling. -dang you fangirl tendencies!-

    I can’t wait for ‘The Heroes’! Any cutting you do must have its reasons, so I’ll try not to become too curious as to what got ripped out, though I ensure you I won’t be able to forget about it. I do enjoy a tad of description in accordance to setting, but TheGrumpyBuddha has a point. Too much setting can make a story seem more like a poem written by a half-wit on the back of a soiled napkin- though of course you are no such half-wit!- thus causing me to want to burn the book altogether, and subsequently rip my hair out due to curiosity about the end and the fact I completely wasted ten bucks.

    Though, thinking about the subject, I am sure a great deal of famous poems were originally written on soiled napkins- but I digress.

    Since I’m commenting, and since I have no idea whether you’d actually read this (wishful thinking!) I might as well ask some questions I’ve been eager to get answers to.

    1. I’ve always been inclined to the creative side, and my dream has been to become a novelist once I got out of high school, finished college, and moved out. I always feel like I speak too stiffly, and that what I write is more like a textbook- gray, dry, and tasteless. How would you suppose I work on this?

    2. I ramble… a lot. I’m the type of person you’d have a conversation with and they’d end up talking about something completely unrelated because a thought crossed their mind, and then quickly go back to the first subject. Yeah… it’s not an attractive quality, especially in writing. When I do get my thoughts together, I can write clearly and fluently, but I have a difficult time getting my thoughts to be that way. How do you organize your thoughts for your stories, especially with all the sharp twists?

    3. Ah, word choice. I have a wide vocabulary, but when it comes to dialogue, I fail. He, she, his, her, Name1, Name2, etc. etc. It always seems like I use them too much, and I can never figure out how to fix this!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Grumpy Buddha,
    It is churlish. You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself, especially since, as buddha, you should have moved beyond such petty physical concerns. But one facepunch will be adequate pennance.

    You have fangirled me into giving some trifling, useless advice. First of all, take no advice too seriously, there are no rules, and as a writer the most important asset you have is your own point of view, your own voice and manner of expression. Anything that cramps or limits that is not helping. But, I would say-

    1. Very few published writers earn a living from it. I’m pretty much full time now but it’s seven years since I started writing seriously. So as far as moving out and becoming a novelist goes, I’d have a plan A that will pay the bills. As far as stiff voice goes, I don’t know, relax, shout it at the wall, don’t write for anyone else but yourself. Write what amuses and excites and inspires you, never what you think you ought to be writing.

    2. Plan very carefully, and edit an awful lot, especially to begin with. Go over and over and over, and really think about what is necessary, what is repetition, how things change if you change their order.

    3. Try removing everything except the dialogue, and see if you can make it make sense without any he said she said at all. If not, add only what is strictly necessary to communicate who is speaking, and let the characters speak for themselves.

  • Tera says:

    Oh 😀 wow! You replied!

    I hope you know that just made my day! Anyways, thank you for the reply! And I appreciate the advice greatly! If you ever find yourself in need of a fangirl, you know who to call!

    And why do I use so many exclamation marks?

  • Phil says:

    Joe – In your advice to Tera item 2 you say edit a lot which is something I do (a lot) as well as going over and over what I’ve written again and again (with more editing) and have been told (on an internet forum) that this is something I should avoid and I should just plough on and finish the story then bury it in a drawer for several months before going back and editing.

    Let me see advice from an internet forum or advice from a published author of the greatest fantasy series I’ve read in my life…….I think I’ll go with what you said.

    Tera – like you I have trouble with the “he said…she said…he said” as well (makes note of Joe’s advice No. 3)

  • Jason says:

    @ Tera
    You use so many exlimation marks because you’re exited that the God of Fantasy replied to you. I would too. Hey Joe, You Rock!

    @ Phil
    As a budding writer, half way through his first Novel, I’ve taken the approach that you say come from forums. I have ploughed through the first half of my book, noting down in a seperate document all the changes I know I’ll have to make in the past.

    The reason being comes from acclaimed Australian fantasy writer Sara Douglass, “If you concentrate too much on the first half of the book, going back and revising, you will never finish the book. Simple.”

    I use quotations, but that is not an exact quote. visit if you’re interested. She has some great advice for writers. But as Joe said, take it or leave it.

    Can’t wait for The Heroes. Continue editing, and get it done quick, I’m running out of books to keep me occupied during the wait! Oh, and ah, it goes without saying… You’re super awesome!

  • Phil says:

    Jason – Thanks for the link to Sara Douglass’ site there’s some very good advice and information on there. I’m no where near half way through my novel – 5,000+ words and still working on character background and worldbuilding as I go – but I do have pages of rough notes and so do know where my story is going and how it will end. This is an accomplishment for me because I’ve been working on this story on and off for five years and have only decided this year to stop faffing around and write the damned thing.

  • Jon says:


    I’m loving Best Served Cold. Just saying… Can’t wait for Heroes

  • Jason says:


    Your welcome. As Joe said, writing is a personal thing. I’ve decided to plough through the writing process, and edit the fuck out of it later… So far so good.

    Each to their own, and I do wish you luck. Shamelessly promote your work when it’s published, I want to find your advertisements in my dreams! I want to read your end product!


    Hope you’re hoidays are/were great. And sorry for hijacking your website to promote Sara Douglass and myself… and Phill…

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