Gather round, my friends, for I have some (slightly) bad news. Publication Date for Best Served Cold has moved from April 2009 back to June 2009. Only a couple of months, which is probably small fry for some of you folks who are used to waiting for books, but I thought that you should be the first to know. Other than me. And my editor. And some other folks at the publisher. And some booksellers. But I thought you’d want to know, anyway, nice and early, to keep any disappointment as small and far off as possible. Nothing worse than camping outside the bookstore all night in the pissing rain, charging in bright-eyed and sweaty-palmed as the doors open only to be told the book’s been put back a year, right?
Now I hang around some forums, so I see people get quite irritated about shifting publication dates, and I entirely understand. So in the interests of full transparency, let me attempt to explain a) what’s going on with my writing process that has caused the publication date to be moved in this case and, b) why it is that you seem to get considerable delays even once you hear a manuscript has been handed in.
So, Best Served Cold. It’s a simple story, in a way, a lot less complicated than The First Law, certainly. So why’s it taken me a good few months longer to write than I expected? New characters is the main problem. New characters mean new approaches, new feels to create. For me the characters are the essence of the book, so getting them properly realised is key. That’s taken time to a degree I didn’t entirely aniticipate. The characters in the First Law had fermented in my mind over the course of years, then I’d taken two or three years with no pressure to happily work the approaches out in the first book before I ever got a publishing contract, and long before anything was printed. You know, when it was a hobby and fun, rather than the hideous drudgery of actual work. These new characters, particularly the central one, have had to be worked out from scratch and that’s been (and still is being) a challenge.
Plus I’d got used to the pace I was working at with Last Argument of Kings, and foolishly extrapolated my likely writing pace from there. That was pretty damn fast, took about 14 months including all the editing. But that was writing the third in a trilogy, the characters, plots, endings long established in my mind and ready to be vomited out onto the page. This new project has proved more difficult. In a sense, since the trilogy was one long story, this book has felt much more like my “difficult second album” than the second book did, which was only really a continuation of the first. I am beginning to understand why people end up writing endless series…
Partly in order to make my life easier, and partly because I like books that tend toward the shorter and more concise end of the epic fantasy spectrum, I’d aimed for something tighter than the previous three (which were 195,000, 200,000, and 230,000 words respectively, oh yeah, real short and concise, Joe), somewhere in the region of 150,000-175,000, which I thought I could knock off in 12 months. Slight errors at the planning stage (chronic overambition, incompetence, failure, that kind of thing) have led to the book getting quite a bit longer than that – I’m guessing it’ll work out about 220,000 now. Longer books take longer to write, you’ll be surprised to learn.
Then there are the distractions and pressures that come with having books out there in the marketplace and (relatively) successful. Interviews, blogging, responding to email, endlessly searching for anyone talking about you, checking your amazon sales ranks every hour in four different countries, etc. That vital work all takes up time and energy one could have expended writing. And though I’m doing a lot less of the day job these days, it’s funny how the pace of writing doesn’t necessarily increase to match (more on this in due course, perhaps).
Then, given that this is a standalone book, I decided to take a different approach. With a series, one would desire to write the entire thing before the first book is published, so if some brilliant idea occurs while writing the last you can just alter the first here or there to match. In the real world this tends not to be possible, since a man’s gotta eat and so on, and generally you’ll have to publish the first book before you’ve written the rest, which means you need to be pretty damn sure of where you’re going if you want your last book to be any good. It means a lot of revising and thinking as you go along. An awful lot, in the case of The First Law. Because Best Served Cold is a standalone I thought, aha, I’ll just Bosh out a first draft quick sharp, not worry too much about getting it right, then revise and edit much more heavily than usual en masse, giving much greater economy of scale! The shackles are off! I am free! Free! Problem is I know I’ve left a lot of stuff that needs a lot of work behind, and that’s going to mean more editing than with the previous books, which is going to mean more time after the first draft is finished to get things right, and etc.
So cut the sh*t, Joe, can you just tell us what authors will never bloody tell us, and say where are you actually up to with this book? Well, er, yes, thanks for asking. It’s in seven parts, and I’m just finishing the first draft of the fifth part, so about three quarters of the way through. Well, that doesn’t seem so bad, it’s only May, a whole eleven months before the original pub date! True, I still hope to have the first draft finished and then thoroughly revised to my own satisfaction maybe end of August. Two months for some furious editing, polish and tidy up, and a month for copy edit and back and forth, have the bastard well and truly nailed by the end of the year. Proofs out, all hail my genius, unprecedented combination of critical and commercial success, buried under an avalanche of cash and awards, no, no, not another Hugo, I couldn’t possibly, oh alright then just one more, mansion in the country with pool shaped like a magic sword, right?
But I know what you’re thinking now. If it’s all finished before the end of the year, why the f*ck does anyone need to move the pub date from April to June?
Come closer, closer. No, even closer. Not that close, I can smell you. And attend, as I reveal to you the hidden mysteries of the dark arts of publishing.
There’s a lot more to it than just getting it typeset, proof-reading for errors, then boshing it off to the printers and counting the cash. For one thing the production department of a big publisher may have dozens of books going through at a time, from many different imprints, and everything has to take its place in the queue. They can’t just be twiddling their thumbs waiting for that one author you like to finish their manuscript. These things can take some time.
But there are much more time-consuming processes than the obvious ones of physically producing the product. If you’re going to give a book the best chance of selling well then booksellers need to know when it’s going to appear some time in advance. The more warning they get, the further in advance they can plan their buying, the better chance of getting better display space and support. Editors need some time to get folks in their own company enthused about a book – the publicists, the reps who will try to sell books on to booksellers, the rights department who may be trying to sell the book to other markets. The longer you have and the firmer the date, the better chance of prising some marketing cash from the gripping fingers of the soul-less money men (I don’t mean it, I really don’t). The more time you have between finishing the final edit and publishing the book means more time to get proofs out to reviewers and more time for them to read the book, which means more chance of it
getting reviews, of there being some buzz, or at least some awareness of the existence of a book before it comes out. All of this is going to help sales. Indeed, for a little known author it could make the difference between some exposure and none, between some sales and very few.
Then there is the question of scheduling. A publisher doesn’t want to be releasing two similar books too close together, because they’ll end up competing with each other, not only for the generous cash of the book-buying public, but also for the attention of the marketing within their own organisation, the reps who go out and try and sell the books to booksellers, and the booksellers themselves who need to fill their shelves. They don’t want to be saying, “this book is the most important epic fantasy released anywhere this month … apart from this one which we also have, which is just as good if not better, well, not better, but … where are you going?” Schedules get filled up, books have to be moved around other books, and the later the delay occurs the worse the problem, which is why sometimes a small delay in delivery can mean publication has to be shifted months later, into the next free slot.
So you can see there are a compelling stack of reasons why it’s in the best interests of a book to have 9-12 months between delivery of a first draft and publication. With the really big, well-established authors it’s less important. Booksellers, reps and readers aren’t going to say no to A Dance With Dragons because it doesn’t turn up on time, for example, but if you push it down to less than six months you’re limiting editing time, proof-reading time, putting added pressure on everyone involved and taking some risks with the quality of the output. Ever wondered why books that are long-delayed may seem sloppily edited? Wonder no longer…
Phew. So that’s why we’ve decided to move the publication date of Best Served Cold back a couple of months at this early stage, to reduce the pressure on the writing somewhat, to ensure the editing time isn’t squeezed, to give the book the best chance as it goes through the pipes of marketing, repping, selling and so on. The God of Publication Dates is a jealous god, and it’s best to upset it as little as possible. Best to move the book now, nice and early, to avoid disappointment later. Yours and mine. We all want the best possible product, after all.
So, as I say, Best Served Cold, June 2009, stick it in your diaries. I’m entirely confident it won’t have to go back any further than that.