The Age of Madness Facts and Figures

September 20th, 2021

Finally reaching the end of a big ass trilogy like this seems a good moment to look back and take stock. It just so happens that for much of this project I kept a lot of tedious records of when and how it was written, so – for the tiny minority of people for whom that might be of some interest – thought I’d go through some of that data and talk a little about the process…

Words

I’d been aiming at 180,000 words a book, each consisting of three parts of 60,000 words. The three books ended up at (and probably not quite final final figures but close enough): A Little Hatred – 177,800, The Trouble With Peace – 195,300, and The Wisdom of Crowds – 199,200. So a little bloating as I struggled to contain all those threads but less than with the First Law where the books went something like 190, 200, 240k.

In terms of development, the first and final drafts of A Little Hatred were pretty much exactly the same length, but it waxed and waned a bit between and in particular I did an extra sort of one-and-a-halfth draft after I’d finished the first (feeling that I now had a much better grip on the characters and story and wanted to rewrite a bit before proceeding with the next book) where I cut everything down quite a lot but also added a few things. Many chapters lost 10% of their word bulk or more as I tightened up, already seeing what I needed and didn’t, what served the characters and story and what could be axed. So the first chapter, Blessings and Curses, for example, went from 3,700 words to 3,000. But at the same time I added a few things – so Sore Spots went from 2,300 to 3,900 as I added an extra scene to it (which was the one of Savine dressing with her maids). I also originally did the uprising in Valbeck purely from Savine’s point of view, but on reflection decided it would work better done partly as a ‘Little People’ sequence, which ended up adding a chunk of words but also of context and variety. The book lost about 7,000 words overall on this draft despite the additions, but gained about 10,000 on the proper second draft (which I did once I’d finished a first draft of all three books), mostly I think with just additional bits of detail, background and character that I knew I needed after finishing a version of the whole story. There were in particular a few extra chunks added to the chapters Civilisation and Good Times – where the main characters and storylines start to intersect and there were things to set up that would pay off over the long haul. The book then cut down a little bit over the course of editing and revision as I streamlined and fine-tuned and ended up a whole 400 words longer than it had been on my first draft. Still, those words were, by and large, a lot better than they had been, one hopes.

The Trouble With Peace is a slightly different story. The first draft was 173,300 at which point I was probably congratulating myself on my concision, but the 2nd draft added more than 20k to end up at 194,500. Looking at the chapters there were still plenty that were notably cut down, but also plenty that got longer – I remember me and Gillian (my editor) feeling that after smashing through the initial draft there were quite a few things that needed fleshing out. In particular I added several pretty chunky new scenes and chapters – the Art of Compromise was new, there was a big chunk added to Dead Wood, New Shoots to give that key funeral some more oomph, the whole Little People sequence with the explosion of Curnsbick’s train was added to get some action and danger into a slightly saggy middle section, and Leo’s chapter Grown Up where he shares an important moment with Jurand in Sipani was new as well. The whole book then expanded gently over following revisions and edits as some things were mildly cut down and others elaborated, to end up within a thousand words of the second draft at 195,300.

The Wisdom of Crowds actually worked pretty similarly to The Trouble with Peace. The first draft was a svelte 178,200, almost exactly what A Little Hatred had been, but the second draft jumped to 195,100, almost entirely because I rewrote a big chunk of the final part having finished a second draft of the other two books and realising I needed to restructure slightly to bring all of my main characters back together for a final payoff. It then followed a similar course to the others, streamlining in some places and elaborating in others and getting gently larger overall in the final stages, including one key scene that I rewrote very late in the game for me, maybe even at copy edit stage, because I felt it needed to hit harder and explain more.

Time

Looking back at my progress reports, which were pretty damn patchy at the time, it looks like I’d finished work on Sharp Ends and was describing myself as on the ‘thinking-about-it stage’ of a new trilogy in September 2015, if you can believe that. A full six years ago. I also said ‘you won’t see these books on your bookstore shelves for quite some time.’ How right I was. My next report was almost a year later (I know, sue me) in August 2016, when I was talking about the general idea of drafting the whole trilogy as a unit before considering when to publish, and said I was half way through a rough draft of book 1. So I think it’s fair to say progress had not been massively fast. By the end of the year I was saying I was not far off a reasonable first draft and continuing to justify my rate of progress (as always), and by the end of May 2017 I was once again apologising for not posting much, explaining my approach again and saying I had finished a draft of the first part of book 2. I know from elaborate weekly word tallies I was keeping during the drafting of books 2 and 3 that I started Part IV on 10th April and finished 22nd May, which means that the thinking about, 1st draft, and a significant rewrite of A Little Hatred took me about 19 months.

Now begins a period of (relatively) frenzied activity, however: Part V was drafted in 5 weeks, June to July, Part VI in 8 weeks, July to September, and the whole of The Wisdom of Crowds was drafted between 17th December 2017 and 28th May 2018 – about six months. I was spending time revising and tidying up each part as I finished it, but on weeks with no big distractions or trips away I was consistently hitting over 10,000 words (which is shit loads for me), with my very best week being that of the 26th June 2017 when I racked up 17,100 words and my very best day being around the 19th March when I managed 5,400. I made a progress report in June 2018 crowing about my success in finishing a first draft of the whole trilogy, and announcing the tentative publishing schedule of the three septembers, 2019, 2020, 2021, a schedule I am now almost as smug as I was then to see we have managed to nail, in spite of covid and a host of other distractions.

Now came the long road of revision and editing and it appears I hit the ground running. By August ’18 I was talking about the process of the second draft of A Little Hatred, by October it had gone off to the publisher and I was well into the second draft of The Trouble With Peace, and by February ’19 A Little Hatred was fully revised, copy-edited and some advance copies had already gone out, while a second draft of The Trouble With Peace had gone off to the editors. In April ’19 I was working on the end of the final book and first using the title Age of Madness.

Now, sadly, it seems things started to slow down. By the time A Little Hatred was about to come out in August ’19 I had at one time hoped I’d be starting on the next project, giving me an immense head start and meaning I would never in my life chase a deadline again. As you have probably already realised… that didn’t happen. There was lots of touring and promotion to do for the first book, and it wasn’t until February ’20 that The Trouble With Peace was with the copy editor – actually closer to publication date than it had been for A Little Hatred – while The Wisdom of Crowds was entering its final stages of revision. Then we had a little pandemic, you may recall and, believe it or not, it wasn’t until the following February, this year, 2021, that The Wisdom of Crowds was out for its own copy edit. Work on the final book had been petering out for a while, though, so I had also started on the next thing and I was saying I was some 35,000 words into a draft. It wasn’t till April that I was tackling page proofs and you can really call the whole trilogy FINISHED.

Long story short, work on a project of this scale always seems to expand to fill the time available, but with a somewhat indeterminate start, and an end that blurs into the next project, I reckon it took me about five to five and a half years to complete, but progress in that time was very lumpy, and massively concentrated towards the middle. Partly that was because of other projects drawing attention at one time or another, but it was also the natural life cycle. The first book took perhaps 18 months to plan and draft, the second and third took about 6 months each, but perhaps half of the whole schedule was spent on a very long – and increasingly patchy – tail of rewriting, revision and editing where a lot of the real work of making it good was done.

Phew. Here endeth the lesson…

Posted in process by Joe Abercrombie on September 20th, 2021.

22 comments so far

  • Phil Norris says:

    And now rest, reflect and after a period of R&R tell us “what next…” 😉

  • Patrick flynn says:

    I wonder if George RR Martin is as forensic in his approach haha

    Bring in whatever comes next!!

  • James Hancock says:

    I’m in awe of your dedication and determination. Always moving from one project to the next. Always thrashing out a consistent supply of necessary words. Good words. You aren’t an author who allows the ‘life got in the way’ excuse to take hold. These are the reasons great authors become legends.

  • Roger says:

    I love this kind of informative posts! Thanks for sharing it.

    I wonder if writing in a brand new world (like you are doing now with ‘The Devils’) means that we should expect you to write slower or faster than with the AoM trilogy. On the one hand, you have to create everything from scratch, but on the other, you have complete creative freedom and you don’t need to reread any past book for consistency. Any thoughts?

  • Joseph says:

    I always enjoy your openness to reveal the work behind the novel. You are, both, a great teacher and a phenomenal writer with an unparalleled work-ethic.

    Thank you for all that you do.

  • Aster says:

    thank you so much for sharing! I adore your writing + this was very helpful to get to see

  • Bryan Clarke says:

    Joe, it’s been six days since Wisdom of Crows came out and is still not available on thr mexican site of Amazon! Is there something you could about it? It’s the first time that one of your books is not available on release.

  • Phil Blundy. says:

    I love your work. Yes I feel betrayed, sad , or shocked when some of the loved characters, or the innocent passers by , with a little back story get killed, but that’s life , and for fantasy writing, it makes it feel even more real. I also like the almost historical back stabbing and duplicity in the story lines. When you know your history you know there’s nothing in your plots that are unbelievable , nothing larger than life. It’s brutal and beautiful at the same time. Because I listen to the audio versions at work ( brilliantly read ) I’ve listened to the books many times. Wonderful

  • Brendan Ding says:

    Very good. Your hard work has certainly produced an amazing product.

    Now…on with the next one 🙂

  • Peter Mahoney says:

    I just finished reading ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ and was as enthralled by it, as I have been by all of your books since I first picked up ‘The Blade Itself’. Thank you for the joy (and tears) you have brought with your books. You are a master of your craft and I eagerly look forward to seeing where you go next.

  • Yoan says:

    I’ve always been interested in the process of writing this trilogy (and all your other work), so thank you! The Age Of Madness was absolutely insane and I loved it! And I am beyond excited for what you’re currently working on. Thank you for what you do, with all my heart!

  • Robert Holmes says:

    In the words of Bon Scott; “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’roll” and you are certainly rocking and rolling mate! That’s lot of perspiration, matched only by your unique inspiration. A really interesting insight in to your world. I’ve got the new tome, but I’m saving it for 3.10.21, which is my birthday! Currently rereading the preceding novel, just to get in the mood! Chill out and relax my friend, you’ve earned it!

  • Joe Leo says:

    I think these three novels might have been the most fun I’ve ever had while reading books. The prose has that distinct voice, and dark humor I loved in the first seven books, yet I think there was a freshness brought to this trilogy. Having just finished book 3, I must say, it feels like there are a great many threads that could be picked up in future.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Bryan Clarke,
    Sorry to hear the book’s not up on amazon in Mexico – obviously I’d like it to be available everywhere but the workings of Amazon even in the UK are a long way out of my hands. I’ll raise it with my publisher but I’m not sure what effect it’d have. If the other two books are on there this one should be, so that sounds more like an Amazon than a publisher issue – take it you’ve raised it with them?

    Everyone else,
    Real glad you’ve enjoyed the book, and the series, and thanks for the kind words. I shall have something new for you to read in due course… wouldn’t hold your breath, though…

  • Andrew Scafidi says:

    You are the by far the best fantasy writer going today. For adults who still enjoy this genre, there really is no comparison. I also believe that The Bloody Nine is the greatest character ever created. He surpasses Conan.
    Once I finish one of your books, I look forward to the next..
    Thank you for all the books.

  • Han Yolo says:

    “[…]and an end that blurs into the next project[…]”
    That’s what we love to hear.
    Also congrats to Stephen Pacey for once again delivering your book to the audio format like his life depended on it.

  • Bryan Clarke says:

    Thanks for the reply Joe! My uneducated guess is that maybe your publishers forgot to add your new book to the mexican site of Amazon because it’s literally not listed on the site, but on the other hand the german translation of Wisdom of Crowds shows up and is available for preorder.

    I promise that I will buy two copies or more if you ask your publisher if there’s something they can do about it. Oh man, I really need my First Law fix…

  • Steven Bell says:

    I think your work is fantastic. I have engaged with all of your content since the blade itself. I have not engaged with Reddit where the very savvy had uncovered so many of the mysteries in the book. I did not see many of the plot twists coming that you had planned. I loved the latest installation and genuinely look forward to engaging with more of your content!

  • Rebeca Civatti says:

    Hi Joe,
    Just to add to Bryan’s comment, Wisdom of Crowds is also not available as an ebook for Brazilian or Swedish Amazon (either one would do for me). The only way to buy it in either country is to import the paperback or hardcover from the UK, which is weird because all your other ebooks are available in English in Brazil, at least. In fact, I bought The Trouble with Peace less than a month after it came out last year (not sure how long it took for it to become available before that). The Brazilian website does have an option to show interest in the kindle version, and it said it would inform the publisher after I clicked it, so the issue might be on the publisher’s side.
    Just wanted to let you know that I have been checking the site compulsively twice a day since the 14th because you’re my favorite author and I’ve been waiting for a year to find out if you’re going to decapitate my poor Orso in your Pseudo-French Revolution or not. Trying to avoid spoilers while searching for news about the international release date has also been delightful, lol.
    Just saying, Glokta isn’t the only one torturing people 🙂

  • Tom says:

    Great to read stuff like this, your process and stats, so to speak. The end result is just great, I’m a huge fan and tell everyone I can about your books.
    Just finishing up re-listening to TTWP now and super excited to finish off the masterpiece with TWOC very soon, hopefully starting tomorrow!
    Cheers, Congratulations, and Thanks for your hard work/awesome stories!!
    (now get on with it to the next awesome thing!) 🙂

  • Chris Burtonwood says:

    Is there any better writer out there? No. You rock Joe.

  • pctek says:

    Well that was interesting. I always read the prefaces and addendums and such in books too.
    5 years….like raising a child…….thanks very much for the terrific reading, I have the lot, every wee bit of story related to the world. First author I have ever bought (and kept) every book.
    It’s great having them all too. I rearranged them to timeline and reread them accordingly as well.

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