Should Someone Remind George R. R. Martin that Winter is Coming?

There is so much hype about ‘Game of Thrones’ at the moment that the whole world is eagerly awaiting the next instalment, Winds of Winter from its author, George R. R. Martin. But how long should a publisher wait for a manuscript? Sean Betts examines the nature of publishing deadlines.

It took me a while to catch on to the Game of Thrones runaway train. In fact, I didn’t think too much of it, or know who George R. R. Martin was, until a friend bought the ‘Series 1’ DVD boxset to my house.  Within the first few episodes, I was hooked.

After doing some research, I learnt that the first book, A Song of Ice and Fire, was published in 1996, a staggering fourteen years before the television series was first shown.

My initial thought was that the author, George R. R. Martin, had finished the books; however, I was quite taken aback to learn that Martin is still writing for the series (and other projects) and has another two books to publish before his epic series concludes.

I read a few pages of A Storm of the Swords and was not only impressed with the way George R. R. Martin crafts his prose, but also by the length at which he does this. The last published book in the series, A Dance with Dragons Part 2: After the Feast, weighs in with an astounding extent of 591 pages, and it’s only one half of the whole narrative as there are two volumes!

George R. R. Martin was due to release the seventh book, The Winds of Winter, at some point in 2014, but publication has been pushed back towards the middle or end of 2015.

As a publishing student, I have learned how vital deadlines are in such a time-sensitive industry. The ability for both publisher and author to stick to an agreed deadline is crucial. If a deadline is not adhered to, then the other books scheduled to be published also have to be pushed back. There are also additional costs incurred, as publishers have to book slots with the printers, which still have to be paid for even when missed.

How Long Can Publishers Wait?

George R. R. Martin’s world of Westeros is so intimately detailed, that it is more than understandable that he needs time to refine the book into a product with which he is happy.

However, Martin has been releasing chapters of The Winds of Winter sporadically on the internet for five years and reads them to fans at conventions.  With this in mind, I ask, in a publishing context: how long can publishers wait for a book to be completed?

Obviously, he has generated a lot of sales for his publisher, HarperCollins, and will more than likely continue to do so when the latest instalment of his magnificent series is published, so surely Martin must be allowed to take his time in order to hone the book, such that it is of the quality that he, his fans, and his publishers are used to?

The continual pushing back of the publication deadline does raise questions regarding the length of time a publisher can wait for the delivery of the completed manuscript, though. HarperCollins seem to have left the delivery time in Martin’s hands and I feel, in this instance, it is the right move; a man with his track-record is almost guaranteed to yield sales.

However, from a publishing standpoint, how does the publisher efficiently prepare the finished product when a writer is granted this much freedom?  Editing the manuscript is only part of the process, which also entails tasks like designing the jacket and preparing a marketing campaign that is intended to maximise sales. The time-frame from a book being delivered in manuscript form to hitting the bookshelves tends to be around nine months; altering this schedule costs money, but I suppose the argument here is that sales should ultimately outweigh lost revenue.

This raises the question of whether publishers should draw a line in the sand when dealing with delays like this? Would you take food out of the oven before it is perfectly cooked because people are hungry for it? There will always be the conundrum of whether time is an affordable currency, even if it means better quality, in the eyes of both fans and publishers.

The longer the fans have to wait, the more insatiable their appetite will be and, theoretically, the Westeros hysteria could be more intense.  Yet, if George R.R. Martin didn’t have his track record, his publisher mightn’t be so accommodating, especially as he has written (and published)­­­ other novellas since completing the last A Song of Ice and Fire novel. Could this writing time have been better used to work on the Winds of Winter?

Overall, this reinforces the notion that first-time writers need to build themselves a reputation and make an impression on the publishing world in order to reap the wider benefits. It also emphasises the power of the publisher in the book world; if George R. R. Martin hadn’t made such an impact, would he have been gifted with the time to dip into other projects?

Paraphrasing my old college tutor: “reputation is everything” , and this is no truer than it is in the current publishing climate. Yet it must be said that, although reputation is a key factor, it has to be substantiated by quality, which Mr. Martin has in abundance.

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Sean is a part-time student on the MA Publishing Course at Anglia Ruskin University. His acquaintance with the publishing world was born out of a long sense of intrigue about what actually happens at a publishing house. While his passion, and curiosity, is towards trade fiction, he also holds a bit of a candle to the academic publishing world. He loves to write about trade publishing on Blurbify and is always intrigued to see which book will be next that takes readers by storm!