Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Grand WINDS OF WINTER Update Post

It's been a long time since we last did this, since hard data has been scarce these last few years, but given recent movement it seemed a viable time to do a general update on the state of The Winds of Winter.

People keep posting this cover but it's worth reiterating that it isn't the official cover for the book. It was created in 2012 by fan FeroxDeoVacuusVinco, and is so good that it even convinced GRRM into thinking it was real cover concept from his publishers. 


The Winds of Winter is the sixth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire. It is currently planned to be the penultimate volume of the series, to be followed by a concluding volume called A Dream of Spring. Some commentators have speculated that, due to the large array of storylines and character arcs that need resolving, an expansion to eight or nine books (either directly or by one or both of these volumes being split in two) is possible.

According to Martin, he expects The Winds of Winter to come in at around the same length as A Storm of Swords and A Dance with Dragons, at around 1,520 manuscript pages, 420,000 words and between 70 and 90 chapters. Based on previous volumes, the book cannot be much longer, as at that point the book would need to be split in half for publication due to limitations in printing. However, the dramatic increase in popularity of the books, due to the Game of Thrones TV series, has resulted in over 80 million additional sales and a substantial increase in profit since 2011. The publishers would likely stretch this limitation considerably for The Winds of Winter, maybe up to over 500,000 words. Another possibility is that whilst Martin is writing material for The Winds of Winter, he has disregarded the page limitation and if that means the book will have to be published in two volumes even in hardcover, so be it. Ebooks are not subject to the same limitation, of course, but with the ebook share of the market falling to 17-18% in recent years, clearly the physical limitation concerns will still be paramount.

Completed Material

(note that I have been covering this on here, and am grateful for the coverage and research provided by Brynden "Hypeslayer" BFish at r/asoiaf)

It appears that Martin has either completed or almost completed a minimum of 39 chapters based solely on his public utterances; the true number is certainly significantly higher. These comprise:
  • Prologue: POV character unknown, although Ser Forley Prester seems to be the leading candidate, since GRRM has confirmed that Jeyne Westerling (Robb Stark's widow) appears in this chapter but is not necessarily the viewpoint character.
  • Arya Stark: 4 chapters
  • Tyrion Lannister: 3 chapters
  • Barristan Selmy: 3 chapters
  • Arianne Martell: 3 chapters
  • Melisandre: 2 chapters
  • Theon Greyjoy: 2 chapters
  • Aeron Greyjoy: 2 chapters
  • Areo Hotah: 2 chapters
  • Cersei Lannister: 2 chapters
  • Asha Greyjoy: 2 chapters
  • Jon Connington: 2 chapters
  • Sansa Stark: 1 chapter
  • Victarion Greyjoy: 1 chapter
  • Bran Stark: 1 chapter
  • Daenerys Targaryen: 1 chapter
  • Davos Seaworth: 1 chapter
  • 6 additional chapters completed in June and July 2020

POV Characters

It should be noted that the above list comprises all of the surviving POV characters from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons with four exceptions: Jon Snow, Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth and Samwell Tarly. Given Jon, Jaime and Brienne's cliffhanger fates in the previous book, it is unlikely that Martin will confirm new chapters from their POVs (although I suspect Jaime and Brienne will have POVs; Jon not having POVs after his presumably inevitable resurrection would be an interesting stylistic choice if GRRM should choose to pursue it). Sam is an interesting one as from a narrative perspective, it is possible to likely that he will have a fairly major story arc in The Winds of Winter. Martin not mentioning any additional Sam material at all is probably happenstance.

Martin has said previously that, for the first time ever, there will be no new POVs in The Winds of Winter (bar the prologue and epilogue, if applicable) and so far this appears to be the case.

To be fair, if I'd written two million words of complex fantasy on a white-on-black word processor, I'd also want to murder every single character.

Released Material

Martin has publicly released the following material from The Winds of Winter in the form of sample chapters:
  • "Mercy" - an Arya Stark chapter
  • Arianne I
  • Arianne II
  • Theon I
  • Alayne I - a Sansa Stark chapter
  • Barristan I - in the paperback version of A Dance with Dragons
  • Tyrion II - in the World of Ice and Fire app
These chapters have been read at conventions and signings:
  • Tyrion I
  • Barristan II
  • "The Forsaken" - an Aeron Greyjoy chapter
  • Victarion I

Writing History

Martin delivered A Dance with Dragons, the previous volume in the series, to his publishers in May 2011; it was published in July that year. Several chapters completed for the book were held back for The Winds of Winter in the editing process, totally around 200 manuscript pages. His editor Anne Groell reported receiving an additional 168 manuscript pages in 2013, for a total of ~368 manuscript pages, although George had many more chapters in at least some partial form of completion at this time.

Relatively limited progress was made during this two-year period due to GRRM's commitments elsewhere. This included revising the maps for The Lands of Ice and Fire (2012), which required GRRM to completely re-conceive and redraw his maps of Essos, and also his scriptwriting duties on Game of Thrones, which required approximately one month of work in each year of 2010-13. He also agreed to write 3,000 words of material for The World of Ice and Fire (2014) in 2012, but this ballooned out of control and he ended up writing almost 300,000 words of material in three months. This material was heavily compressed by Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson for the published book. The unedited material was later recycled and added to with new material to form Fire and Blood (2018). Martin also continued his work on co-editing the Wild Cards series with Melinda Snodgrass (as he had done since 1986) and co-editing four anthologies with Gardner Dozois during this period.

For these reasons, work in earnest on The Winds of Winter did not recommence until 2012, then accelerating through 2013 and 2014. Despite the early setbacks, progress in this period seems to have been reasonable (at least by Martin's standards from A Dance with Dragons), with his publishers reporting having the book on the shelves in 2015 or 2016 was possible, and at least two of Martin's overseas translators being advised by his that they were expecting the book in this time frame. Martin also refocused his work on the book in this time, suspending his co-editing work with Dozois in 2014 and also confirming he would not be writing any more Game of Thrones episodes after the fourth season. This seemed to make completion in 2015 for 2016 publication possible (approximating the time period spent waiting for both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons).

In a January 2016 update on the book, Martin reinforced this, noting that in 2015 he believed he was close enough to deliver the book for relatively speedy publication. However, he also noted in this update that he was still some months from completion. This period of high optimism seems to have petered out, with Martin noting that he had been trying to stay ahead of the TV show (which passed the events of A Dance with Dragons in 2015 and concluded entirely in 2019) but ultimately this pressure had been counter-productive. He also noted in March 2014 that he had not done anything like his normal rewriting and re-editing on the book, which given the substantial rewrites the last few books in the series have gone through, should have been a red flag.

Thus, although confirmation will have to wait until the book is done and Martin hopefully provides a detailed post-mortem of the process, it sounds like work on the book proceeded well and completion appeared possible in 2014-15, until he started rewriting and editing the book and ran into significant problems that required much more extensive restructuring and rewriting (on the order of, if not greater than, the "Meereenese Knot" was caused a lot of the problems with A Dance with Dragons).

Estimating Completion

The obvious answer to this question is how long is a piece of string? In his updates Martin has ruled out completion this year, but indicates that getting the book on shelves in (presumably late) 2021 may be possible. Although we've been here before and faced disappointment (with the 2016 update), it's also worth noting that GRRM's recent updates have been much more upbeat than at any time since work on The Winds of Winter began. They resemble the "light at the end of the tunnel" updates he began providing on A Dance with Dragons in late 2009, although the book was still twenty months away from hitting shelves. For that reason, granting Martin's usual tendency towards optimism, a publication date of early-to-mid 2022 for The Winds of Winter may be more realistic and likely.

At which point, of course, we get to enjoy another wait all over again.


Wastrel said...

Thanks for putting this all together! I'm not even sure if I'll read it when it comes out - it'll have been more than a decade since I read the last volume, nearly two decades since I first got into the series, and more than half a decade since I already watched (presumably) a lot of the contents of the book in TV form. But nonetheless, I retain a certain morbid curiosity on the topic!

[one advantage of the incredible delay: the longer it takes, the more I'll have completely forgotten what happened in the TV version...]

Remember back when we were waiting for AFFC, and Martin posted an update with the cautionary tale of The Demon Princes, and we all thought the "fifteen years between volumes" thing was a joke? Yeah, not so funny now...

[there's a project for you, if you're looking for one: which series took the longest to be published from start to finish? And which installments did fans have to wait the longest for? (obviously some definitional issues - what's a series, and what's just a cycle of works in the same setting? Perhaps two lists needed...)]


Anyway, just wanted to add two small points. One is that we should be cautious about things like announced completed chapter counts, lists of chapters, even chapters made available to the public: we know that Martin unwrites chapters as well as writing them. Certainly with ADWD, some chapters that he announced as completed had to be rewritten or deleted (or moved to the next book). And given that his probable editing-and-rewriting period will have gone on about as long as it took him to initially write most of the book (if we assume it was, say, 85-90% done in 2016), it would seem there must have been very extensive rewrites and restructuring of some sort. So really, who knows if any of those completed chapters are still completed - or even still in the book at all? He literally has had time to rewrite the entire novel word by word from a blank page by now, so I'd be surprised if more than one or two of those announced completed chapters were still there in anything like the same form.

On the positive side: we should be clear that the size limit that applied to ASOS and ADWD is entirely a marketing limit, not a physics limit, or even an economics limit. So not only might they be able to 'stretch' that limit for him now that the books are an easier sell (assuming they still are by 2022!), they may well be able to blast past it entirely.

One datapoint I have in this regard is my one-volume paperback copy of Gentle's "Ash", which iirc is over 500,000 words - even though it was only expected to sell a tiny fraction of the copies that TWOW will sell.

[on the other hand, we need to remember that the wordcounts don't include ASOIAF's appendices, which add quite a lot of pages]

A second datapoint is that you can buy quite cheap copies of Richardson's "Clarissa" in one volume. Clarissa is about a million words long. And while not having to pay the author any royalties surely helps, those classics have a relative small market, and generally a relatively low price, so they can't be great economic opportunities. There are also hardback volumes of Zettels Traum, which is even longer, although I don't know if it's available in paperback. [and of course there's the Bible!]

Perhaps the most relevant comparison would be Moore's "Jerusalem" - 600k, I think I remember? Much smaller fanbase than Martin, but probably a more comparable market than the classics market or the limited edition translations market, so may tell us more about what can be done economically in this market. I've never actually seen a copy of Jerusalem, though, either paperback or hardback - I'm assuming it's available in both, but I don't know.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I knew GRRM uses and old processor, but white font on black? That would get me into a character killing mood, too. :-)

My old Atari already offered a black font on light grey background (and a word processing program of an elegant simplicity Microsoft has never managed to create).

Adam Whitehead said...

"which series took the longest to be published from start to finish?"

I assume we mean by the same author and not counting sequels/prequels by other hands?

Tragically, probably Gor. The first book was published in 1966 and the latest in 2019, 53 years later.

I think the second might be Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser: the first story was published in 1939, the last in 1988, 49 years later.

The Tales of the Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock began in 1962 and the latest in 2010, 48 years later.

Middle-earth might be next, between The Hobbit (1937) and Unfinished Tales (1980) it was 43 years.

The Shannara Series by Terry Brooks and the Xanth series by Piers Anthony both began in 1977 and both had new instalments published last year and more are planned, so also 43 years.

Wastrel said...

Well, I would distinguish between a 'cycle' (independent stories with thematic or tangential links between them) and an actual 'series', in the sense of a single story, with a largely continuing core cast of characters, and an underlying problem that is not resolved until (near) the end.

I suppose a practical test would be: how would fans react if the author moved to a different topic? If it's a cycle, the reaction might just be "oh, that's a shame, I liked those stories - but I wonder what they'll write next?"; whereas if it's actually a series, the reaction will be more along the lines of "WTH!? How can they just stop partway through the story!? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!?". Intuitively, there'd be a big difference between Martin declaring he wasn't going to write The Winds of Winter at all, vs, say if Le Guin had declared she wasn't going to write any more Hainish stories...

I don't know about Gor, beyond the general concept. I don't think I'd count Fafhrd - I gather there is a general sort of arc about aging, but that the stories don't really directly require one another. I wouldn't include the Eternal Champion - the subseries are only linked together by authorial fiat and some references, you don't have to read one to understand or enjoy the others.

I would include LOTR and The Hobbit as, loosely, one series, arguably. I wouldn't include the stories in Unfinished Tales. [why did you pick UT, though, rather than one of the later works - because they're too much Christopher's work?]

I don't think I'd include Shannara. I've only read the original books, but I didn't feel the story was incomplete at the end; I know they do follow on from one another in some sense, but I'd see them as related series in one cycle, rather than a single continuous story.

[this can of course be tricky. I'm not sure if I'd include Hobb's three Fitz stories as a single series in three parts - I think I probably would, actually]

I don't know about Xanth (I didn't even know it was from 1977 - busy year!]

On the other hand, I WOULD include prequels/sequels by other hands IF they're part of a continuous story pre-planned by the original author - I'd include the Jordan and Sanderson books as installments in the same series. I wouldn't include tangential cash-ins (like those authorised by the Asimov Estate, for instance).


To be clear: your info there is interesting! And the longest-lasting cycles is indeed also a good question, and perhaps a more objectively interesting one. It's just that my initial idea was about series that might be considered analogous in this way to ASOIAF - that is, where fans would have been left waiting to see what happens next.

Unknown said...

Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Barristan Selmy, Arianne Martell, Melisandre, Theon Greyjoy,
Aeron Greyjoy, Areo Hotah, Asha Greyjoy, Sansa Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, Daenerys Targaryen and Davos Seaworth

GRRM said he's using 13 POVs, which will decrease in number.

We don't know, if the additional 4 POVs you posit will be used. We're assuming GRRM hasn't changed his mind on which 13 he's using or that he's only using 13 POVs. I'd give the POVs you give to Prologue and Cersei's POVs to Sansa, the JonCon POVs to Arianne and the POV you give to Bran, I'd give to Davos.

I do agree with you that half the book is done. It could be published as 'Part 1', if GRRM were so minded.

Adam Whitehead said...

"I would include LOTR and The Hobbit as, loosely, one series, arguably. I wouldn't include the stories in Unfinished Tales. [why did you pick UT, though, rather than one of the later works - because they're too much Christopher's work?]"

UT is the last book to feature Tolkien's actual writing which he intended for public consumption, and reflects his "latest" thinking on things like Numenor, the history of Galadriel and the linking material between The Hobbit and LotR he was thinking of working on. The History of Middle-earth series is all earlier drafts, so non-canonical, and the latter three books (Children of Hurin, Beren & Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin) are just reprints of material in UT.

"I do agree with you that half the book is done. It could be published as 'Part 1', if GRRM were so minded."

This would only work if the material was written linearly, which we know it isn't. Based on what happened with the earlier books, it's entirely possible that GRRM has Chapters 43, 62 and 71 complete but hasn't even written Chapters 4, 6 and 9 yet.

Jens said...

Another long series is the Dumarest saga by Edwin Charles Tubb. The first novel was published in 1967, the final one (#33) in 2008. I haven't read it myself but apparently the series consists of "self-contained adventures" as the Wikipedia article puts it but has an overarching plot that is resolved by the end.

Another candidate is the German Perry Rhodan series.
It's been published in weekly installments since September 1961 and is still ongoing.
It's a mix of what Wastrel sees as series and cycles. Basically, it is a sequence of continuous adventures (called Zyklen). One Zyklus usually runs 100 installments after which the plot generally jumps forward in time and another continuous narrative begins.
However, the main cast is quite stable because very early on (in volume #19) the protagonist were granted an unusually long lifespan (20,000 years) by a very powerful entity.
Also, the slate isn't wiped clean after each Zyklus but the following series builds on to what came before, sometimes more, sometimes less. But the whole world becomes quite complex.
The series was conceived by two authors who pitched the idea of a pulp series with an ongoing narrative to the pulp publisher. They originally planned for roughly 30 volumes; the series was very successful and then went on and on.
The Zyklus nature only solidified over time. In the beginning, there were smaller overlapping sub-series of 20 to 30 volumes; the first real Zyklus of 100 volumes that was planned as such started with #200.
In order to be able to produce what's equivalent of 100 novel pages each week, the two founding authors recruited some more co-authors. Later on, one of them wrote less novels himself but coordinated the team of writers providing them with the skeletal novel concepts (Exposés) that they then fleshed out to the novels (or rather novellas).
This system is still in place: there's a team of writers that meet annually (I think) to discuss the rough plot going forward, the "Exposé author" pens the outlines for each installments which the writers then turn into the novellas.
As can be expected, writers joined and left the team over time, the same is true for the team leader. There is a continuity as the team has grown over time to around 10 writers and these replacements happened gradually and organically; yet, all of the writers of the first hour have since passed away.

I should note that both Dumarest and Perry Rhodan are SF so if you were asking exclusively for fantasy series, the two don't apply.