Red Country Facts and Figures

August 24th, 2012

Yesterday I finished going through page proofs of Red Country and sent a handful of changes back to the publisher, most of which were simple swaps of a new word for one I’d used twice in close proximity.  Amazing how these things persist to this point after all the rounds of editing.  But that means, in essence, that my involvement in the book is done.  Now it belongs to you, the readers.  Of extremely limited interest to most people, but interesting to me…

The final version of Red Country is 172,100 words.  The 1st Draft was 170,700 words, and the 2nd Draft 164,700, so somewhat to my surprise it’s actually got quite a lot longer in the finishing, although the profile has changed, with the early parts getting shorter and the later being fleshed out a bit.  Still, 172,100 is makes it by some margin my shortest book.  The others, out of interest (as close as I can reckon):

The Blade Itself – 191.2 thousand.
Before They Are Hanged – 198.3
Last Argument of Kings – 234.1
Best Served Cold – 227.7
The Heroes – 203.4

Incidentally the three standalone books were all pitched to be between 150-175,000 words so it’s only with Red Country that I’ve actually managed to hit the length I was always aiming at.  It also means I’ve written well over 1.2 million words of fiction altogether.  My fingers hurt.  And my brain, of course, but that always hurts.

Hard to be absolutely definite about this, since the start of a project has always tended to bleed into the end of the previous one for me, but looking back at my blog posts I reckon Red Country took about 22 months to write, or at least I was in a similar position with The Heroes at the end of September 2010.  By the same assessment, The Heroes took about 19 months and Best Served Cold around 21.  The timings on the trilogy are lost in the mist of time but then things were different and more hobby-ish for much of that period, without a contract or even any serious intention of getting one while I was writing The Blade Itself, so it’s tough to compare.  I’ve a vague recollection that Last Argument of Kings took about 14 months – way my fastest book as well as my longest – but then I was bringing in characters and situations that were already well established, which is a lot easier than working out new ones.

I’d like to be working a bit faster than a book every 22 months, that’s for sure.  They say a year is the ideal and I’m not honestly sure I’d ever hit that but 18 months would be nice.  Still, a lot of life stuff going on (when isn’t there?), and the more books you sell the more promotion and travelling you end up getting involved with.  Having seen how hard GRRM was working in Aviles recently I’m kind of impressed he gets anything written at all.  In the end, a book just takes as long as it takes, and there it is.

From a pain standpoint, Red Country was pretty painful.  Not quite as bad as Best Served Cold, but a good deal worse than The Heroes.  The profile was similar to Best Served Cold, actually – a lot of doubts early on about the whole idea, and about one of the two central point of view characters in particular, and therefore half the plot, really.  The first three of the five parts were slow, difficult going.  At one stage we were looking at pushing publication back to January.  But it actually helped to be somewhat forced to bring it back into this year.  Sometimes you need a kick up the ass.  Things started to motor a bit more in parts 4 and 5, and by the time I finished the last part I had a very good idea where I wanted to go, and was able to pull things together pretty quickly for the second draft, working a lot more solidly and efficiently than I had been.  That difficult character now works a hell of a lot better, and actually has gone from being very much the secondary one to being the central character in some ways.  It’s interesting that the experience of having gone through pretty much exactly this with Best Served Cold didn’t actually help me that much with Red Country.  It’s also interesting that The Heroes went so much more smoothly when it is, in many ways, a far more complicated book, at least from a plotting standpoint.  The writing life is a mystery, all right…

Posted in announcements, process by Joe Abercrombie on August 24th, 2012.

31 comments so far

  • Mitchell Lurie says:

    Definitely of serious interest to me my goof sir, thank you for your hard work.

  • Mitchell Lurie says:

    Definitely of serious interest to me my good sir, thank you for your hard work.

  • Michael says:

    And so it is done. The ‘process’ posts have been truly excellent, almost seems like a little bit of us will be in the book, because we have been allowed to be a part of the journey.

    Can’t wait.

  • Smoochie says:

    “Having seen how hard GRRM was working in Aviles recently I’m kind of impressed he gets anything written at all.”

    Is that the sound of a million frustrated and impatient teeth I hear grinding? Why yes, I think it is.

    Got my copy of Red Country pre-ordered already. Any eedy-beedy, itsy-bitsy, ickle hints on what the next book will bring? Go on, throw us a bone!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    How dare you refer to me as goof sir?

    Some discussion of forthcoming stuff after this book’s out, maybe.

  • Mitchell Lurie says:

    Ha, I was hoping that comment wouldn’t get posted after posting the 2nd corrected one immediately. That’s what I get for feeling the need to remark when I should’ve been working.. after a busy year of keeping up w/ most of my reading w/ audio adaptations, ‘Red Country’ will be the first book in months I make sure to read a hard copy of before listening to the audio rendition several times after.

  • Iangr says:

    Are there any thoughts of “evolving” your world?

    We saw some traces when gunpowder was used and when the cheese-trap was discovered but do you plan to continue your story-telling in the past,present or future of the Circle of the World?

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    Uh oh, it is never good when your favorite author says these words, ” In the end, a book just takes as long as it takes, and there it is.” Is this Abercombie’s first hint at GRRM’s philosophy rubbing off on him?

    Out of interest Joe (I’m extremely quizzical), do you expect the next book to take a lot longer to write as it will be the first installment of a trilogy?

  • M Gillespie says:

    Would you say that character definition is harder to define than the story? Being as the heroes, which was almost entirely characters already defined, was easier than the other standalones?

  • Shahriar says:

    Haha ‘goof sir’. I like it!
    Don’t fret so much about the size. It’s the quality of writing and storyline that matter. I’d rather read a short novella by Joe Abercrombie (not implying that Red Country is) than a sizeable novel that drones on and seems to go nowhere. Most of your fans would probably agree.

  • SwindonNick says:

    Very interesting on the perspective of the blood sweat and tears of writing. So next I presume it is the round of book signing and promoting and waiting the first reviews and sales, but do you then take a break before you start on the next one? Do the publishers give you time to breathe before they start pushing for the next one?

  • Phil Norris says:

    Interesting statistics, and boggling when you look at it as 1.2 million words!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Oh yeah, it’s a developing world. It’ll be going a bit more industrial in due course, I expect…

    M Gillespie,
    Character and story are hard to separate from each other, but I’d probably say story is generally easier. Set of events, scenarios, settings they take place in, there you go. There’s work, and sometimes teasing out exactly how events should go so everything seems convincing can be tricky, but I don’t think you (or at least I) ever find myself flummoxed or not knowing what to do next with story. Characters are much more of an unknown quantity. You can know all the basic stuff – what they look like, what their history is, what you need them to do in the story, what their personality might be like – but until you start writing you don’t really know how or whether they’ll work as you hope. Sometimes they work right off, sometimes they need a lot of work, thought, and development. The Heroes had existing characters but since I hadn’t written from their point of view it wasn’t a lot different to starting from scratch. It was also far more challenging than anything else I’ve done from a story standpoint as there are so many points of view crossing and interacting within the same space and period of time. Red Country is probably the simplest from a story standpoint. But The Heroes seemed to come off reasonably easily. Dunno why.

    Not sure, honestly. My aim is to draft the whole thing first to make sure I know exactly where I’m going, then edit and release each book on whatever timescale best suits. So the chances are there’ll be a long gap before the next book, but then hopefully I’ll be able to put three out on a yearly basis. I also might do a couple of side projects before I start on it, though.

    With earlier books I’d have been well along in the planning stage already but this time the turnaround has been much tighter and I haven’t put that much thought into what comes next. I’ve got a few short stories and other things to do, so probably I’ll do those, do some reading, some thinking, foot off the gas, lots of travel and promotion to do, and let the brain stew cook up until Christmas and then see where I am at the start of next year.

  • Adam A. says:

    And so now the in-person book slinging/signing/promoting stage of R.C. once it hits the shelves, yeah? Know you’ve been talking taking a bit of a break once all this is done, but uh… just by your description of things, sounds like a long time coming. Especially if your books are breaking into new territories.

  • Svante says:

    Really looking forward to Red Country! You may already know this, but the link to an extract from Red Country leads to an extract from Best Served Cold.

    I (and undoubtedly hordes of others) would really be grateful if this was fixed.

  • AntMac says:

    I read the bit about their world evolving and immediately pictured Industrial Demonology, with Shenka in the coal-stoker positions.

    When you see how horribly destructive and “using” each of their States already are, it does not look good for the forests and animals if the humans get their hands on chainsaws and production lines.

  • Mus says:

    If your brain always hurts I suggest you seek medical advice, or at least skip the Whisky Deathmatch for a few days 🙂

  • Jakub dan Worst says:

    Your process posts are extremely inspirational. Reading them leaves me with a desire to start writing something myself (who knows, might be that writing is one of my remarkable talents!). But then, there is “a lot of life stuff going on” (alright, alright… there are new games, new books, new movies, and Champions League) and I always end up with nothing (or with a few disconnected sentences) :/ Perhaps, if I printed the posts out and plastered them all over my room… Nah, I’m just a lazy, scatter-brained bastard ;>

  • A-drain says:

    22 Months is, I think, about the right time to be putting out Fantasy novels.

    You have to invent/imagine so much stuff it has to be way harder to set the scene. I imagine it is not as difficult for say Dean Koontz to come up with the world building becuase he just uses real places.

  • JonathanL says:

    Reading your post-mortem about Red Country makes me think of something Neil Gaiman said, where he told someone (I forget who) that after writing American Gods he felt like he really knew how to write a novel, and their response was, “No, you know how to write THIS novel.” Sounds like it’s true. The amount of work that must go into building a new book, especially after finishing one that probably makes you feel pretty good about it all, seems like it must feel like a herculean endeavour each time. Or rather a sisyphean one.

    Looking forward to Red Country. Your books are day one purchases regardless of price. So thanks for not gouging us.

  • David says:

    How did having your donkey kicked get you motivated?

    I can understand them giving you a kick up the arse, buta trusty four legged friend? That’s pretty low…

    Ps- I hear you’re coming to Tasmania later in the year – any truth in that ?

  • NobodyCris says:

    Went is the book comeing out My lord ?

  • Tenesmus says:

    Sir, The Red Country link on your site for an extract points to an extract for Best Served Cold. I would love to read an excerpt from Red Country.


  • Jacob says:


    What others genres of fiction do you want to explore outside of your own well-defined “fantasy genre”? I know your work is usually a mixture of varying elements, but what would you like to write that would be completely separate from the “First Law” universe?

    Sounds like the aforementioned “side projects” a few posts up…

  • Heather says:

    So two questions:

    1) You may have already addressed this elsewhere, but how has writing changed for you when it went from being a hobby
    (as you mention it was while writing The Blade Itself) to your job? I assume it was fun back when it was a hobby. Is it still enjoyable, or has the pressure of making it your job stolen the luster somewhat?

    2) Now that you are done and we are all eagerly awaiting Red Country…is round 2 of Whiskey Deathmatch imminent?

  • It’s interesting how you described that _Best Served Cold_ was more difficult for you to write than _The Heroes_.

    I thoroughly enjoyed both books, yet had an easier time reading through _The Heroes_. Even though the POVs varied more in conflict/setting, the whole package just seemed better assembled.

    Your craft has always been top notch, but has clearly improved with each novel. I can’t wait to see how _Red Country_ turns out.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    On the extract, it’ll be going live next week.

    1 – The actual writing process, especially the first drafting, has definitely got less fun.
    2 – Yes

  • Roger says:

    Thanks for all the data, Joe. It’s really interesting.

    I know I am beeing too greedy now, but since you say that “the start of a project has always tended to bleed into the end of the previous one for me”, I’d ask: can you give us any clue about the next one? 😛

  • Curtis says:

    Joe have you recieved any offers to make any of your books into movies?

  • Robert Low says:

    Can’t wait for this one – an Abercombie book is about the only one likely to tear me away from reading for research and I thought Best Served Cold couldn’t be bettered – until I read The Heroes.

    Glad you are working in fantasy, mate, believe me!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Not yet. Bit of a break now. And promotion…

    Good to hear from you. I am never happier than when disrupting the work of other authors…

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