I came across this tweet the other day by the A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) author George RR Martin.
So, my publishers say I have to start trying to appeal to a younger audience… pic.twitter.com/T3BZuw6iqB
— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking) April 11, 2017
Needless to say, people weren’t amused. Not so much because of the content of the tweet, I think he was probably having a bit of fun. But because he’s still writing the next book of this series…only two years overdue.
Book six of the set, The Winds of Winter, was technically supposed to be finished before the premiere of the sixth season of the HBO adaptation. Season six premiered on April 24th, 2016.
On January 2nd, 2016, good ole George announced to the world that yea, that wasn’t gonna happen. From his blog:
So a book that should have been delivered by November of 2015 was not done by early 2016. And, it appears as we approach the middle of 2017, The Winds of Winter doesn’t seem to appear on the horizon anytime soon.
Keep in mind that season 7 of Game of Thrones will premiere on HBO on July 16, 2017.
So understandably, there were a few similar reactions, my (NSFW) favorite being:
just finish the fucking book, man. https://t.co/JBLof0frBF
— Shyne Coldchain Jr. (@Smooth_Orator) April 11, 2017
GoT: Behind the Numbers
You might be thinking, who cares, books take a while to write, right?
Yes, true. And I’ve never actually written a high fantasy novel with the expectations of the world resting on my shoulders. But, it does feel like a really long time.
So, since I’m a nerd, I decided to take a look at the numbers.
Here are the publication dates and the number of words in each of the previous five books in the series (I took these dates and numbers from Wikipedia):
- A Song of Fire and Ice – Published August 1996 and 704 pages
- A Clash of Kings – Published February 1999 and 768 pages
- A Storm of Swords – Published November 2000 and 992 pages
- A Feast for Crows – Published November 2005 and 753 pages
- A Dance with Dragons – Published July 2011 and 1056 pages
- The Winds of Winter – ??????
- A Dream of Spring – ????????????
- Yup, I have seen theories that he won’t be able to finish and go to 8 books, so let’s put this here so I look like a genius when this is uncovered in 2032 on the publication date of the 8th book
Total that up and you are at 20 years (and counting) and 4,273 total pages.
I dunno about you, but looking at those numbers you can start sensing a pattern.
Those first three books, Martin was trucking along. He was able to bang out books at a pretty good clip. In just over four years, he had three books and 2,464 pages done.
We hit our first major lull at book four, it took 5 years to get it.
Unfortunately, it’s only getting worse.
It was about five and a half years between books four and five. But now we’re rapidly approaching seven years between books five and six. I won’t even get into book seven, which technically is planned.
As a rough (yes, very rough I don’t need a debate between authors) comparison, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (also 7 books) was written over the course of 10 years and runs approximately 4,000 words.
A (Real) Experts Take
Trying to figure out when the hell this book is coming out has been something of a sport amongst GoT enthusiasts.
One post I really enjoy on this topic is from Jeff, aka BryndenBFish in a guest post on the popular Game of Thrones site, Watchers on the Wall. Since he’s an actual A Song of Fire and Ice expert versus sometimes enthusiast like me, I’ll hold up his post as a very good take.
He wrote the post in March 2015 and covered quite a bit of research, charts, graphs, to come up with this conclusion:
If you cornered me, put a gun to my head and told me to tell you how many completed manuscript pages are done for The Winds of Winter, I’d probably say that George is just north of 1000 manuscript pages with an expected completion date of late 2016 to early 2017. I think the average pace of 287 manuscript pages/year that George wrote between 2008 and 2010 is probably a good data point. If George had 1350 pages to write from the end of A Dance with Dragons, 287 average manuscript pages per year would have George finishing The Winds of Winter in early 2017.
Well, here we are. Unfortunately, that prediction has come and gone.
What the Hell, Man?
That’s the big question running around the fandom.
While I don’t follow the daily machinations of Martin’s comings and goings and ramblings on his blog, it does feel like he might be suffering from a serious combination of:
- Writer’s block
- Enjoying newfound fame (newfound being a relative term in conjunction with the HBO show)
- Getting kinda old
- Working on other projects
- Visiting various cons and speaking engagements
- Generally spending his hard earned money doing fun stuff
None of which I can really complain about. I think if I suddenly became very famous, rich and beloved, I might have a hard time sitting down and writing too. Especially, when I can be off doing cool things.
I can also understand the delay between the books A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons since, in early 2006, Martin’s agent sent the books to David Benioff who then pitched them to HBO as a show. So, no doubt that took a lot of time as development didn’t officially start until a year later, in early 2007. Martin probably didn’t have much time in that first year or two to fully devote to A Dance With Dragons.
Yet, now it just feels a bit excessive.
Lots of Writing (Just Maybe Not The Winds of Winter)
Buuuuut, as much fun as Martin seems to be having out there, that’s not to say that he’s been too swamped with activities to do much of anything productive.
Oh no. He’s done tons of writing that been out there in public.
Since 2011, he’s been involved with writing, editing, or acting in short stories, graphic novels, novellas, quote collections, and more. Some examples include:
- The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister (book)
- The Princess and the Queen (book)
- The Rogue Prince (book)
- The World of Ice & Fire (book)
- The Ice Dragon (book)
- A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (book)
- Writing a number of GoT episodes
- Appearing in Sharknado 3 and Z Nation (as himself)
- Contributing and editing to the Wild Cards series
- Editing a number of anthologies
We have no idea how much time or words has been dedicated specifically to The Winds of Winter. I mean, is he 82% done, or his he 43% done? At this rate, it is very hard to tell exactly where we are in the overall process.
But that’s not to say it’s nothing. To his credit, Martin has released a number of chapters on his blog and has read a number of chapters at various conventions too. You can read them all here.
The latest of these ‘official’ releases was in mid 2016.
It is just fascinating to see the progress of other projects ramp up slightly while this one, the most anticipated, has slowed down a bit.
Earlier this year, The Ringer decided to take a look at just how much content Martin has been writing on other projects like his blog and other books. Since they did the hard work, I’ll share their findings here:
See that number there at the bottom? It’s over 560,000 words. It includes a number of the projects I cited in that list above.
Keep in mind, though, that post was published in January 2017. Since Martin has been blogging away on his site since then, that number is only higher now.
All told, Martin has published more than half a million words since he slew his last big book. For reference, the longest installment of the series so far, 2000’s A Storm of Swords, ran 424,000 words, which means that Martin has produced much more than one giant book’s worth of prose for public consumption in addition to whatever portion of Winds of Winter he’s hoarding.
Clearly, Martin can produce epic amounts of content, but is he stuck on producing the text people generally want the most?
Preparing Us for Disappointment?
As of now, the most recent mention of The Winds of Winter on Martin’s site is from March 18th, 2017:
Notice that part I highlighted, setting expectations?
Beyond this post, there are barely any mentions of The Winds of Winter on the blog in 2017. I saw one that I found where he mentioned he wouldn’t let himself work on another project until it was done.
With a bit of sleuthing, I found this comment thread from Martin himself on a post from January 9th that provides a bit more information as to where he might be at:
Not exactly encouraging.
The next most recent post I could find was from late November 2016, where he cites he won’t be on many book tours in 2017 because he’s dramatically cutting back his events until the book is done. As of now, I see only four scheduled appearances for 2017-2018 on his main website.
At this rate, and I’m no expert, but it feels to me like Martin might be trying to lower expectations. The fact of the matter is he knows he’s late, and fans are starting to lose their minds. I’d guess this still won’t make him write faster.
End of the Road
At the end of the day, Martin is running out of time.
At the start of season six, the readers and watchers were on the same page, so to speak. But now, the tables have turned, the readers no longer have the inside track into what’s happening in the show.
We know that season 7 of the show starts in July, and season 8 will likely follow in 2018. We also know that these two seasons will be much shorter than previous seasons (which had 10 each). Rumor has it, the upcoming season 7 will be 7 episodes, while season 8 is rumored to be only six.
Is that because they are working with less information than before? In past seasons, the books were the guide. Now, there are no books. Just the ideas that Martin has provided and yet to fully flush out in the books.
It leaves a lot of questions, especially about the divergence between the books and the shows. Something that Martin’s own book editor has expressed displeasure with in the past.
It seems like Martin is planning on writing content in The Winds of Winter that does not track along with the show. From a 2016 interview:
When asked if he had decided to move ahead with a twist in The Winds of Winter, he had long been contemplating, Martin confirmed he had.
“I have decided to do it,” Martin says. “Will you know it? I don’t know. It is fairly obvious because it is something that involves a couple of characters, one of which is dead on the show, and not dead in the books. So, the show can’t do it, unfortunately, because they have killed someone I have not killed.”
So, we don’t know what this means beyond the feeling that the show will continue to diverge from the books.
But, will it be too late? Will all of the ‘big’ spoilers be revealed over the next two years by HBO so that the books might not be as interesting? Is this what is causing Martin problems?
I hope not.
Yet, to be honest, I know we are closer to seeing the book than not. I’m absolutely willing to wait, because I’m sure the overall story will be well worth it. And who knows, maybe having the show actually be over will be freeing to Martin, he can just write his own story now and not worry about HBO anymore.
It’s Time for Some Game Theory
Or, you know, my prediction.
Finally, did a quick Google to see if there actually is a betting market out there for The Winds of Winter, but it seems like even the fine folks who run the UK betting sites have no freaking idea either.
The Watchers on the Wall post predicted early 2017. Well, hi, we’re at that.
The folks in this (now archived) Reddit thread from 5 years ago have predictions that run from 2013 (ha) to 2034, with late 2013 to early 2014 the consensus winner.
So, I’ll stake my bet here:
I think he finishes The Winds of Winter around the end of 2017, but we won’t actually see it until Spring 2018, before the last season airs.
As for A Dream of Spring? Well, who the hell knows?