The Importance of Letting Authors Finish Series On Their Terms


Cover detail from A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin.

Writing a book is a difficult process.

It is a process though that should not be interrupted by outside influence, especially when one’s lifetime achievement is involved.

I am a writer. I write different things. Content for Unbound Worlds. Website content for authors Terry Brooks and Naomi Novik. And novels and short stories. While I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about the craft — even after 40 years of being a professional author, Brooks says he is still learning — I know enough of it to empathize with the plights of writers who have problems in their projects.

George R. R. Martin is one of those authors. Late last month, Martin updated his readers about the state of The Winds of Winter, the next novel in his series A Song of Ice & Fire, the last installment in 2011. You can read his post for yourself. In it, he shares his thoughts about where he’s at in the writing process for Winds and several of his other projects.

I tend to ignore such prognostications. As a writer, I understand an unforeseen problem could be thrown into his story tomorrow that sets things back further.

Martin’s readers should know this by now as well. He’s had several wrenches thrown into the cogs of his writing progress. Many readers don’t know though. I won’t address the vitriolic comments online about those times, rather, I’ll just say a lot of angry readers make assumptions about Martin and other writers in the same situation — and how they spend their time. For instance, I’m pretty sure if Patrick Rothfuss cured cancer in the time he isn’t writing, some of his readers would still be absurdly upset he wasn’t exclusively working on The Doors of Stone.

No, it’s not about publication estimates or fan comments. I am more focused on one simple question:

As readers, what do we ultimately want from Martin, Rothfuss, and others who have not delivered their newest books?

My answer: I want the best damn masterpiece they can produce.

And here’s why:


There is such a thing as legacy. Martin has a legacy that goes beyond his mortality. So does Rothfuss. But the same is true of you — the reader.

“What do you mean, Speakman? You clearly know nothing.”

I mean this: It is important that these brilliant series are completed masterpieces in their final volumes so that we as readers can pass these books to our children and their children like we’ve done with Tolkien for decades. We simply won’t do that if the conclusions to A Song of Ice & Fire and The Kingkiller Chronicle are mediocre. Martin knows this. So too Rothfuss. Readers should know it too.

It goes beyond that though. I’ve welcomed Martin and Rothfuss into my home and both are lovely people who care a lot about their work and their readers. But like any writer working today, they care about their work being the best it can be. They too want their books read long after they are gone. The best way to assure that it is to spend extra time on them.

Legacy drives the delays — every word, every sentence, every scene must be the right one. These authors hit the delete button almost as much as the space bar. Martin and Rothfuss share that in common.

And what if the authors don’t deliver masterpiece endings? By not harassing them to publish faster, they are forced to own every word. The author can’t say, “You demanded it published and it’s your fault the book isn’t as good as I wanted it to be.”

So when it comes down to it, ask yourself, do you really want these books now if they are not prepared to the satisfaction of the authors?

What damage could be done for all time if your demands were met?

Let’s not interfere with legacy.