Monday, 12 October 2009

Looking for reviews of THE GATHERING STORM?

The twelfth Wheel of Time novel, The Gathering Storm, the first book in the series for four years, is due to be released in the UK and USA in about two weeks' time. By now, we should have a number of early reviews about the book, contributing to a building buzz about the long-awaited tome.

Instead, there is only a deathly silence. Only two reviews have appeared, one on Dragonmount and one on, but obviously they are not independent reviews. Independent bloggers, even those who are well-inclined to the series such as Pat of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, have been effectively refused review copies before release date.

Under normal circumstances this perhaps should be expected. The Wheel of Time is a massive, international best-selling series which has sold almost 50 million copies over the past twenty years. The new book will likely be, with the exception of the new Terry Pratchett book, the biggest-selling fantasy novel of the year. It will certainly be the biggest-selling epic fantasy of the year, no question. Review copies for the previous books in the series from about the seventh book onwards were also very thin on the ground, because frankly they weren't needed any more. The series' fanbase had grow to such a vast size that they could get the books onto the bestseller lists with no problems at all.

But The Gathering Storm is also the first book in the series not wholly written by Robert Jordan. Brandon Sanderson had to write most of the book based on Jordan's notes and even hardcore fans of the series (the ones who think Crossroads of Twilight is a good book) are uneasy about this situation, especially after a preview chapter was put up last month which indicated that the book will feature a radically faster pace and a more concise form of writing than they are used to from Jordan. There's a great deal of doubt about this book and a lot more people than normal are saying they'll be holding back on buying the book and waiting to see what the reaction is and what reviewers are saying. Getting review copies out early for this tome would have been a vote of confidence by Tor Books and I also very strongly expect would have built up a positive word-of-mouth about the book. The two reviews, as somewhat unreliable as they are from people with official ties to Tor and Sanderson, are very positive and for my money the three preview chapters are extremely strong. Based on Sanderson's superb Mistborn trilogy, I am expecting a very good book.

As it stands, The Gathering Storm will likely have a bit of a faltering start (if only compared to the previous books in the series; I still expect it to make the bestseller lists in its first week) as people look at the new name on the cover warily and with suspicion, which will likely only be reinforced when they find there are no reviews of the book online. In the film industry studios usually only refuse to hold press screenings if the movie is a total dud and some of that suspicion has now crept onto publishing as well.

I also understand that Tor at least will be vigorously enforcing the book's street-date, which is unusual for an author who isn't J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown. In the UK Bantam recently did this for Steven Erikson's Dust of Dreams which led to a bit of a backlash: booksellers simply chose not to have the book taking up stock room space for a week before being allowed to put it out, so simply didn't order it until after it had come out, meaning that on release day fans up and down the country couldn't find a copy on shelves anywhere, and in some cases had to wait a week or more before they could finally buy it. Even the Book Depository didn't get any stock in for the same reason, with the book unavailable for ordering on their system for several days after release (even more frustrating for overseas fans anxious to get the book ASAP). Erikson, of course, is nowhere near Jordan's sales level, so it is unlikely the same situation would happen again here, but you never know.

This blog will, of course, bring you a review as soon as possible :-)


John Ottinger III (Grasping for the Wind) said...

Excellent points.

Jacob @ Drying Ink said...

Nice points!

I hadn't realised that the review silence was of that extent. I'll certainly be waiting for the reviews - I've liked Sanderson's novels, but the slightly "videogamey" quality... I don't know if it'll fit with the setting/style. :P

Ah, well, I'll have to wait and see. :)

Valashain said...

As I understand it Tor decided not to send out any advance copies at all so I am not all that surprised at the lack of reviews. I guess they felt early reviews could do more harm than good, which from a business point of view I can understand.

It may not be entirely independent but I have good reason to value Melissa Craib's opinion ( I expect it to be a decent read.

Neth said...

Interesting, and I agree on a number of points.

So, are you complaining about the inforcement of the release date? It's been strictly enforced in the US for the last several releases - and the UK has been very lax on this. The result is that spoilers of the books have leaked out of the UK up to two weeks in advance of the past few releases. This has very much upset the Jordan estate (particulary Robert Jordan when he was still alive) and Tor in here in the US. I for one am very happy to hear that the release date will actually be honored in the UK this time around.

On the review copies - I've chatted with Sanderson's publicist a few times about this. Tor's policy is no early copies to anyone. The two 'reviews' (which I agree are completely biased and of very little use) came from copies that were provided by the Jordan estate. I was told that the review copy policy is to avoid spoilers leaking out (like they have in the past). Tor realizes that this isn't the same as a normal late-series book and that advance praise would be very beneficial, that's why they've released so much material before-hand - the first two chapters on-line for free, the the prologue for a relatively small fee and a large amount of interviews and videos, as well as all the contests and other promotions at Dragonmount and other places (such as the giveaways on blogs). I'd hardly call all that silence, just noise/buzz of a different sort.

Having said that, I predict that there will be reviews that pop up on the day of release that will be from more objective sources than Dragonmount and other uber-fans.

Adam Whitehead said...

Actually, Orbit hasn't said it will be strictly enforcing the street date, although it is likely they will. How strictly is open to question, especially as the book is being released on a non-standard release date (most bookshops get their new releases in on the Friday or Monday and will usually stick them out immediately with no regard for the release date). From that, I'd guess the book will be available at best only one day before release.

Also, the release dates for KNIFE OF DREAMS were also strictly controlled (in the UK it was available 2-3 days before the official date, but no more) but that was useless because someone at Tor gave a friend a copy of the book and they promptly went onto Wotmania and gave out a detailed synopsis of the book a month before release, which was a really bad idea. I'm surprised Wotmania allowed them to get away with that back in the day. I sometimes wonder if that contributed to the decision to make Dragonmount the official WoT fansite shortly thereafter.

Neth said...

I didn't recall where the leaks appeared first - because I was avoiding the site near the release due to the standard fear of spoilers. But I thought it Theoryland and that over half of the 'spoilers' turned out to be flat-out wrong (not that it matters).

Anyway, I think DM became the official RJ site simply becaue it had leadership who (presumably) was proactive to become so. The leadership at Wotmania was lacking for many years which is one of the reasons for its decline.

And that 2-3 days early it was avaible in the UK was an eternity to those of us who couldn't get (I recall going to every bookstore within a reasonable distance of my house to try and beg a copy - no luck).

Tree Frog said...

The decline in importance and influence of professional critics is a fact. Movie stars too - excepting Will Smith.

However, Tor is failing to take advantage of the opportunity to build the book's presence in the minds of consumers through reviews up on fan sites, DM, Amazon etc., through tidbits and advance chapters and through general good will towards Tor itself for being nice people to deal with.

Despite this dropped ball, I don't think Tor is actually going to be hurt much by this. People will buy these WoT books for years to come. They're probably much more worried about other great series or books from other publishers that persuade consumers to abandon the WoT.

Adam Whitehead said...

One of the situations I'd noted is that when I told a friend who was a casual fan of WoT the new book was out in just a few weeks, he was rather surprised as he'd heard and seen nothing about it. Given that Waterstones had been advertising ADWD as 'coming soon' recently (due to the September 2009 date Voyager didn't withdraw until August) and then pulled those signs down when it became clear it wasn't, it is surprising that TGS is slipping out with such a minimum of fanfare. I haven't seen any mainstream print adverts for it either. The 'casual' WoT fan audience who doesn't go on the Internet and makes up 85-90% of the people who buy the books don't really seem to have realised the new book is coming out imminently.

Marduk said...

I am in Australia and there is nothing out here about it at all. IE if you don't use the net or specifically look at SFF blogs you wouldn't even know it existed.

Oh and as an aside I got caught by the Erikson Dust of Dreams thing - I pre-ordered from the Book Depository expecting to receive it at worst one week after the UK release date and they didn't even have it in stock until then. Fortunately I am doing a complete re-read of the series (including the ICE books) and of course I didn't start early enough so am still only up to RotCG. So in the end not an issue but if I was hanging out for it I would have been p!ssed off - what's the point of pre-ordering if they can't send the book out on release date at the latest?

Anonymous said...

You looked in an A&R bookshops recently Marduk? Becuase the one I'm near has got a poster in the front window as well as a thing on the shelf. They've had those up since the start of the month.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with your take on the review copy situation. I just wanted to point out that spoilers have found their way online for every WoT book since WH, on wotmania and elsewhere. I distinctly remember reading about the cleansing a good month before the official release. I would be very surprised if the KoD spoilers contributed to the site's closing at all.

Neth said...

It's been a while since I've been to a brick and morter bookstore, but usually the stores here in the US make a pretty big deal of things. I'll be that there are displays or other ads of some sort up in most these days. And they seem to be promoting the signing tour pretty heavily.

But it's always been difficult for the casual fan of any but the Dan Brown/Harry Potter level of books to find out info. It's only in the last 10 years or so with the internet that releases have become available - even if only a relative minority take advantage.

Kevin said...

I'm kind of dubious that lack of early online reviews will hurt the book in any appreciable amount. I just don't think the blogosphere has enough impact to be significant for a book with this level of release.

Tree Frog said...

I think the casual fan is still going to pick up this book, but perhaps not so much in the avalanche-to-trickle that Harry Potter or Stephen King gets. It's going to be small spurts consistently, as people see it on Amazon or in their bookstores.

I quit WoT somewhere around the point where Perrin didn't go anywhere for an entire book, but it's still interesting to note its sales patterns and effect on the other (worthier) books in the field.

The Fantasizer said...

I started reading fantasy with Tolkien but i fell in love with it because of Robert Jordan.
I am a die hard fan of the Wheel of Time series I acknowledge that the series has its faults, lots of them rather, but in the end when Jordan wakes up from his reveries what comes up is "extreme awesomeness".
These parts of "awesomeness" might have been getting rather thin in the last few books but no matter what anyone says, no matter what the reviewers say, no matter what the silence suggests I will be getting the upcoming Wheel of Time books to see for myself!

Adam Whitehead said...

One point that probably didn't come across too well is that there aren't any reviews * at all * for the book. Not online, not in print, just those two reviews from fansites and that's all.

Considering that even KNIFE OF DREAMS, which got a good reaction from the fanbase disillusioned by the terrible CROSSROADS, still got very weak print reviews, it's possible this decision to withold all review copies of TGS was a deliberate damage-limitation maneuver, like Paramount did with the second TRANSFORMERS movie to good effect.

battousai10k said...

so Adam, can we expect a unbiased review from you? :P

I agree that the two reviews up are definitely reassuring, but without a doubt have some bias to them, since they have such strong connection with Tor.

Adam Whitehead said...

Indeed! Whilst I am perhaps more fondly inclined to the series than many, I am also aware of its many faults, as I hopefully showed in my review of the entire series last year. If THE GATHERING STORM is not up to spec, I will be happy to say so :-)

Marduk said...

Anonymous - no I haven't been to an A&R bookshop recently (in Oz)... the one I used to peruse in Pitt St Mall Sydney shut down a little while ago and the other ones I know of aren't worth going anywhere near. But if you say they have posters up, there you go, I stand corrected.

Dave de Burgh said...

Very good points, I have to agree. I have heard (from a very reliable source which I will not name) that the book is under such a heavy embargo that copies for the UK are only going to be printed a couple of days before publication - I enquired about an ARC and was told this.

Putting it up against Stephen King's Under the Dome, though: I received an ARC, have already finished the book, but I'm not allowed to post my review until the 10th November.

To be honest, it doesn't really bug me - being in South Africa, we wont be getting The Gathering Storm until December, so we're going to waiting for the book anyway; by the time we get it, most of the UK, Europe and the US will have already read the book.

I am curious, though, as to how Pat (Hotlist) has got a finished copy to giveaway? It looks to me like the US is doing things differently to the UK.

Anonymous said...

A third review has arrived: