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Holding pattern

The shortage of new blog entries is down to me being on a death-march to the end of the first draft of an entire fricken' trilogy—alternatively, a 950-page novel that will be published in three volumes some time from late 2015 onwards (most likely in early 2016).

I have passed the 292,000 out of 300,000 word marker and am plodding along. Meanwhile, my current state of mind can be accurately summed up by the following three tunes (links via YouTube):

They're coming to take me away, ha-ha, he-he, ho-ho (Cover by Lard)

ah-ah ,eh-eh ,oh-oh ,yawa em ekat ot gnimoc er'yehT (B-side of the original single, by Napoleon XIV)

They Took You Away! I'm Glad! I'm Glad! (by Josephine XV)

Go on, I dare you to play them back to back without wincing.

29 Comments

1:

The first of those was a particular favourite in the union bar when I was an undergraduate.

2:

This might be a good place to ask - is it known what sort of interval there's likely to be between publication of the volumes? I got to read the first Merchant Princess straight through (when the UK editions came out) and is really like to do the same again.

3:

This is not yet decided; nor is it under my control. However, current wisdom in publishing is that it's best to "surge" trilogies or series out fast, to build public visibility and momentum. This isn't going to come out at the rate of one book every 12 months; most likely they'll come out at 2-3 month intervals (and possibly faster).

4:

> ah-ah ,eh-eh ,oh-oh ,yawa em ekat
> ot gnimoc er'yehT

But not

Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang ?

WITCH DOCTOR (David Seville) 1958 original version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmjrTcYMqBM

5:

In my work playlist...

Queen - I'm going slightly mad - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od6hY_50Dh0
Tears For Fears - Mad World - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFsHSHE-iJQ
Bob Geldof - The Great Song Of Indifference - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CfxkFj8iAg

(the Geldof song normally plays after manglement make a stupid decision and force me to do the wrong thing).

6:

@4: That song was politically incorrect even back in 1958! Which is really saying something. Funny, though.

I liked OGH's appearance in a recent TOR article about Harry Potter memes:

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/07/best-harry-potter-memes-gifs-videos-july-31

Charlie appears in comment 5.

7:

There used to be a website with 21 variations on this theme... my personal favourite is in a deep hessian dialect of german.
Got them all before the webpage disappeared. Ha ha ha ho ho ho hi hi

8:

I look forward to a chapter consisting entirely of:

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"

A question for the literary geeks out there: are there obvious signifiers - in-jokes, coded phrases, quotes from [redacted] multipart fantasy bestsellers - that authors slip into their trilogy or doorstopper when they're at the 'death march' stage?

9:

@hairyears - I've always wondered about that too. Do authors have in-jokes that they get a pass on? Even from their editors? There's the 'Wilhelm Scream' in the sound effects business, 'Alan Smithee' for disgruntled directors, and 'The Aristocrats' amongst comedians...

10:

yay more Stross books.

I'm sure you'll recover, eventually ;-P

11:

At least you're not singing along with Word Crimes. That would be your editor's song just now?

Oh well, just go find some Tom Lehrer to retro out with. I'd suggest, perhaps, "The Wild West is Where I want to Be" or, perhaps "Who's Next."

12:

This publishing schedule is ...Madness !!! Apart form the perfectly reasonable expectaion that the next Laundry Files Story should make itself Manifest NOW!! But given the amount of traveling that the average mid-steam/stream writer has to do these days by way of public performance, signing and reading ? This is appropriate and so I'll suggest it before someone else does and thus claim the credit...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV1_7R_3cXA

13:

This might be welcome relief. Not my work, but I write in the setting.

Great Northern Audio visits the Spontoon Islands

14:

What's on the "back", so to speak and as it were, of that Josephine XV one?

15:

Amusing fact about the 45rpm single of "They're Coming To Take Me Away" - not only was the B-side "ah-ah ,eh-eh ,oh-oh ,yawa em ekat ot gnimoc er'yehT", the *label* on the B-side was a mirror-image of the A-side.

16:

Definte "Earworm" material (Especially "they are coming ..." )
Sympathies.

In other good news, my BEAUTIFUL copy of "Equoid" arrived today, so I'l get to find out how my parallel alter ego goes under ....
Oh, & the older ( Born May Day 2001 ) cat (Hex) seems to be recovering - we thought we'd lost her .....

Are your cats pissed-off with your writing marathon, for lack of the humans paying sufficient attention?

17:

FYI, if you can't wait for more Stross, WIRED.com has an audio interview with OGH up now, titled "This Sci-Fi Author Thinks Amazon Will Cause an Apocalypse"

The interviewer isn't the liveliest, and there's a bit of a spoiler about The Rhesus Chart near the end where the interviewer reads questions from Twitter. But still interesting.

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/geeks-guide-charles-stross/

18:

Butt Trumpet's "I've Been So Mad Lately" sometimes comes across as appropriate, but it's definitely not to be played out loud anywhere where swearing can get you into trouble. Occasionally I go with it at work when a dev has given me something noxious to work with...

19:

Your loyal fans will be disappointed if you are eventually not found slumped dead over the keyboard, having typed the last full stop on their favorite final installment. Remember, you still have to catch Asimov and Cartland.

20:

My local bookshop has a habit of only bothering to buy in books 1 and 3 of trilogies.

Apparently they think people are more likely to buy them if they have to search for the middle of the story.

21:

In other news, I was in London briefly last week and visited W & G Foyle's bookshop (which they strangely now call "Foyles Bookshop") and I was happy to see a nice supply of hardcover copies of The Rhesus Chart. Which was exactly the reason to be there. Well that, and to buy one.

22:

Back when I was about 18, I was trying to read the Dune trilogy. Going by the stocks in West of Scotland bookshops and newsagents, I was more likely to buy a trilogy if I couldn't buy part 1!!! Seriously, it took me about a year to ge a copy of Dune, and about 2 months to complete the original trilogy including reading time.

23:
Apparently they think people are more likely to buy them if they have to search for the middle of the story.

From my time working in a bookshop many years back it's more like trilogies are a PITA to manage, stock wise, for a variety of reasons. For example:

  • You'll be amazed at the number of times when one volume or another is out of print. For example V3 is out new in hardback, V1 is fresh out in trade, V2 is nowhere… — and other combinations.

  • Predicting sales of trilogies is hard. They usually go down (v1 sells more than v2, v2 sells more than v3). V2 is the riskiest to buy for without some kind of track record since it depends on how well V1 worked as a story. Since good sales don't always correlate with good story — which is what gets folks to buy v2 — it's the hardest to predict.

  • You're buying for different groups of people. The ones who bought V1 18 months ago and thought it was so awesome and want V2 as soon as it comes out. The ones who have to have V2 match the edition of their V1. The ones who are now only buying V1-3 since it got good reviews and the whole set is out now. People who buy V1 not knowing or caring whether V2-3 are out or exist… and so on.

Now I last worked in bookshops more than twenty years back — so maybe there are fancy predictive ordering systems that make all this much, much easier. But I suspect they're still a complete bugger to stock control well. Outside of "classics" like LOTR, etc.

24:

From my time working in a bookshop many years back it's more like trilogies are a PITA to manage, stock wise, for a variety of reasons.

Which is why they do it differently nowadays. You might have noticed a bunch of series books by new authors coming out at 3-6 month intervals? There's a reason.

Consider that hardcovers and trade paperbacks are sold on sale-or-return, with 90 or 120 days of rolling credit. The bookstore orders them from the supplier (wholesaler or jobber or publisher) and puts them on the shelves. After 90 or 120 days they must either pay the supplier the wholesale price of the book, or return the undamaged book to the warehouse.

If you run a bookshop and a book isn't selling you can either gamble on it selling in the near future by paying up and keeping it on the shelves, or you can ship it back, or -- arguably unethically -- you can "churn" it; ship it back then re-order it in the next credit period.

Now, what happens these days is that publishers try to "build momentum" by getting a whole series (or enough episodes of it to get the readers utterly, hopelessly addicted) on shelves within the 120 day rolling credit period. Publish book 1 on day 1. Publish book 2 around day 60-90. If book 3 comes out on day 120 or thereabouts the bookstore owner knows it's in series with two that are already on the shelves or have sold recently and can judge how demand is trending, and ideally can keep all three books visible as a group. Also, there's no backlog of customers who bought book 1 a year ago and who might want to pick up books 2 and 3, because it's all out there right now.

I'm not sure whether this theory works, but it was mooted for the new Merchant Princes series (although we had to push the schedule back a year -- see below for why) and it's being applied widely at Tor US right now (see, for example, the publishing tempo of Max Gladstone).

The problem with this system is, it only works if the author's workflow can keep up with it. Emitting a trilogy at two month intervals means each book transits the publishing pipeline eight weeks apart. That means the author has to process three sets of copy edits at eight week intervals, and three sets of page proofs ... with the page proofs for book 1 arriving close to the same time as the copy edits of book 2, and the page proofs of book 2 intersecting with the copy edits of book 3. My rule of thumb is that unless I'm skimping on the process (not unheard of, I will confess, if I'm totally wiped out when they hit me) it takes about a week to do a set of copy edits and two weeks to do a set of page proofs properly. So we're looking at 9 weeks of intensive work in a 12 week period. Which is ever so compatible with, for example, scheduling a 3 week overseas trip to worldcon or being a guest of honor somewhere else or simply having an elderly relative wind up in hospital for a week at the wrong time.

As for why "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation" will not be coming out in April, July, and September of 2014 ...

Yes, that was the original planned schedule. I'm due to hand in the finished first draft of the trilogy by September 1st, and I'm going to hit that date. But for us to have made that schedule would have required (a) for me to hand in a final draft of the trilogy by September 1st (not gonna happen: it needs editorial input before I spend a couple of months polishing it), and (b) I'd then have to be working like a demon from November through January with no slip-ups to make the schedule. I've got another book due in 2014, so I'd actually be processing four sets of copy edits and page proofs in a three month period (guess what? Rival publishers' production departments don't adjust their schedules so as not to piss on each other's GANTT charts) which also includes a month of overseas travel. Spot the project management headache here! (Not to mention that if I hit my October 15th deadline for Ace and Orbit, I will have handed in five novels and a novella in the preceding 25 months -- more than double my normal sustained output level, over a two year period -- and will be in need of some serious down-time).

But anyway: this is how the industry copes with trilogies these days, and illustrates the failure mode in the process (it works fine as long as $AUTHOR is energetic, young, and Has No Life other than processing workflow -- much less rival demands on their time). The Merchant Princes: Next Generation trilogy will come out eventually, in a rapid cascade -- just not until it's been properly polished.

25:
Which is why they do it differently nowadays. You might have noticed a bunch of series books by new authors coming out at 3-6 month intervals? There's a reason.

I hadn't actually — but that makes complete sense. Thanks ;)

26:

In other good news, my BEAUTIFUL copy of "Equoid" arrived today, so I'l get to find out how my parallel alter ego goes under ....

Mine arrived this morning. Had forgotten that it was ordered last September--was thinking it was in early spring. It's nice to have a properly formatted copy, the version I printed out was okay, but a slight pain to read.
My sympathies to your alter ego.


Speaking of ear worms: Why the hell is Tom Jones' "She's a Lady" stuck in my head today? Aaargh. Yes, I am trying to pass it on to rid myself of it.

27:

Para 2 - Nope; still got Thunderchild, Forever Autumn, Bad Romance, Born to Run, Thunder Road and Smoke on the Water on random shuffle.

28:

>> trying to pass it on

BASTARD.

29:

Note WRT "Equoid": it arrived in Subterranean's warehouse a month early, and Tor have graciously consented to let them start shipping them ahead of schedule. (As Tor have the exclusive rights through the beginning of September, they could have chosen to get nasty about it.)

If you pre-ordered, they should arrive soon. And I'm hoping to arrange for supplies to be available at Loncon 3 next week in London.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 3, 2014 1:47 PM.

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