On deadlines, GRRM and consequences

Posted January 4, 2016 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

This weekend, I saw George R.R. Martin’s post about the next book in his series, The Winds of Winter, apologising for further delays to the deadlines and explaining what’s going on. You can find that here. Not shockingly, I have opinions on this.

I’m a freelance writer. I have deadlines and they’re pretty set in stone. I have to get up and go to the computer no matter how I feel when there’s a deadline coming up, or there’ll be a penaCover of The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin, to illustrate my post about missed deadlineslty: bad feedback, no re-employment, cuts in pay. If I have copy to write, I don’t get to run out of ideas. If I say I’ll deliver an article on a topic, I can’t change my mind (at least not without consulting my client, and being prepared to deliver the article I originally pitched anyway). When I’m ghostwriting, I don’t get the luxury of saying that the inspiration isn’t there. It’s as stark as that: I don’t deliver, I don’t get paid.

So I totally feel the argument that if you commit to deadlines, you should deliver by the deadlines or face the consequences.

Thing is, for me, the consequences aren’t a horde of angry fans with whom I have no contract, no agreement, no protection. The consequences are between me and my employer, and possibly potential future employers. There are rules which govern the way I interact with my clients, and if they break those rules, I have recourse.

Not so much for Martin. He’s got this big amorphous group of fans who he is palpably worried about upsetting, in addition to his publishers. And it’s fandom, which has proved itself fully capable of all kinds of insanity in revenge for slights real or imagined. I wouldn’t want to be the person sorting through his email inbox: I’m willing to bet there’s abuse, threats, all sorts, because this has just got that big.

But look. He owes his readers nothing.

There’s no contract binding him to entertain them at their command. He no doubt has a contract to deliver the work to his publisher, who will have given him an advance, and they’re the only ones who have any right to hold him to a deadline. The deadline argument is a fair enough one to make… if you’re his publisher.

If you’re not, then please consider this: you’re adding additional pressure. As well as having to negotiate with his publisher, with HBO, with anyone else who has a financial stake in the books, now Martin has to be his own public relations department. And speaking from experience, having even one person chasing you up for work sucks your energy, your motivation, your time. Nobody is actually sanguine about missing deadlines. We know there are consequences.

I would be willing to lay money that the additional fan pressure, the constant speculation that he’ll die before finishing the books, the rumours that he hasn’t written anything… that all of that is contributing to making it more difficult for Martin to write, not less. That all this pushing and shoving is hindering progress.

This isn’t about financial consequences, it’s a sense of entitlement. False entitlement. Authors don’t owe us new books on a regular basis. Leave the consequences to the publishers — as fans, we should surely support the authors instead of adding more resistance.

Obviously, supporting the authors can include wanting to read their next book, being excited about it, being disappointed when it’s not going to come out on time. But authors are people and have lives, and we’re not their employers. Personally, I would rather my favourite authors be okay, be satisfied, and write good books, than deliver to a deadline.

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8 responses to “On deadlines, GRRM and consequences

  1. I totally agree. The pressure is enormous and unfair. But I also think that writing is kinda…a job. And you can’t just NOT write if you promised you would. (I don’t really believe in writers block.) BUT YEAH. I don’t think GRRM should be hated and all that and I think he shouldn’t be scared of his fans! I mean, he can’t be too much since he killed everything they loved?!?!? It’s obvious this story isn’t going to have a happy ending. xD
    Anyway, I have to admit I’m disappointed. I started reading GoT last year and it annoys me that there’s no schedule and consistency. But then I’m waiting for a trilogy conclusion from Maggie Stiefvater too…and I’ve been waiting FOR 6 FREAKING YEARS. Idek, I just think it’s not fair to give readers something but come through. SO YoU CAN SEE HOW MIXED MY FEELINGS ARE ON THIS. XDXD
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    • Yeah, it’s complex. But I’ve seen people being absolutely bonkers about it — one author recently felt the need to apologise that they didn’t have a new book ready because their parents were very ill. I know GRRM’s notorious for not meeting deadlines, but… there can be good reasons. (E.g. Scott Lynch’s books were delayed because he had severe mental health problems. That’s a valid reason!) And he doesn’t necessarily have to tell his millions of fans the ins and outs, you know?

      I get the frustration, I just think there are people are being too entitled about it and acting like they directly employ GRRM.

      (And I don’t believe in writer’s block either — it’s a luxury I can’t afford as a copywriter/ghostwriter, so. But I do believe in “oh god, I messed this up and need to restructure it and I have three funerals to attend how the heck do I fit it all in”, you know? In which case one’s client/employer is owed an explanation, but not the rest of the world.)

  2. I agree with you, of course, and I’d never go pestering the author about why s/he wasn’t writing as fast as I want them to – but I also agree with Cait, it’s a job and if you give the readers SOMETHING, you better deliver. I don’t know. With Martin, I’m just sad the poor man has such rabid fans that they actually molest him and that he has to apologize publicly. I mean, I don’t think you get this sense of “he owes us this” in other lines of work. Maybe Apple fans would be pissed off if the new iPhone release was pushed back? And Apple representatives would surely issue an apology?

    But I dropped Martin’s series. Both because I think his penchant for gratuitous violence is too much (even more so in the HBO series) and because I simply don’t have the time or the energy to re-read all his books every time a new one is published – because I forget half of what’s happened in the time in between releases. But I’m still very excited for Scott Lynch’s new book!

    What you’re saying about the fitting in the writing and the real life … Again, it’s a job. At least for Martin, it’s his job. Some authors probably don’t write full time because they can’t afford to but Martin probably can. Eh. I don’t know. Like I said – I’d never bother the man but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with his strategy/line of thinking. Great discussion topic, though. 🙂

    • Obviously I believe it’s a job — it’s my job! I don’t meet the deadline, I don’t get paid; I imagine Martin gets a lot more leniency than I would, too, because his books are popular and earning a lot. But even when something is your job, you can get personal time out — time off for illness, bereavement, etc — and deadline extensions if the work needs extensive corrections or something. Even I can get that if I agree it with my employers, you know? Scientists can, engineers can, architects can, teachers can, doctors can… so writers should be able to as well. Heck, my mother’s a doctor and about to take a ton of time off from work to take care of her mother while she has radiotherapy for cancer; that’s not unprofessional, even if it’s inconvenient, even if it causes delays in work. And it’s not something she owes her patients a detailed explanation of — quite the opposite, it would be inappropriate and unprofessional for her to give her patients a sob story about her sick mother.

      I don’t think Martin, or any other author, is casually missing a deadline for the heck of it. There may be reasons they wouldn’t want us to be privy to, and in this case especially I don’t think Martin has been short on apologies or accepting that yes, he should’ve met the deadline. Because yes, he should’ve, but I’m really frustrated by people assuming to know exactly what’s going on, and assuming they have the right to lecture the guy.

  3. I agree with you. If he missed the deadline, then it’s up to his publisher and him to work out an agreement. His publisher can hold it against him, demand retribution or he pay back the advance or something like that. But his readers? Sure, we can be dissapointed and sad we won’t see the book before the series. BUT he doesn’t owe us anything. And if an angry horde of fans attacks him now, that won’t help him write any faster at all.

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