So. TOR put out a press release today regarding the late Robert Jordan’s finale to the Wheel of Time saga – A Memory of Light. Basically, they said that the book was being cut into thirds. My initial response to this was to be extremely pissed off. I felt that they were just trying to milk it for all it was worth – cut the book Jordan promised would be a single volume into three and get all of us suckers waiting for closure to pony up three times the price so they could make more money.
In short, I was wrong.
Miffed by this bit of news, I read the press release again and decided to click on the link to Harriett’s interview (Jordan’s widow and editor for the book) about the whole thing. She said some things that made me go, “Oh. Huh. I didn’t realize that…” Specifically, in answer to the question, “Huh?! Wha? Why?!” (paraphrased), she replied:
“The material that Jim left was very capacious, and Brandon saw after working with it for a while that he could not complete it in less than a total of 750,000 words. This is probably an impossible thing to bind – unless we sold it with a magnifying glass. 250,000 words is in fact a fat, or Rubensesque, novel. You will notice that 3 x 250,000 equals 750,000. So… part of the decision was based on making a book within the scope of binding technology. The major part of the decision was to get ALL the story that Jim left out there for us all.”
Feeling that my thoughts about the matter were shifting, I decided to check out what Brandon Sanderson had to say on the subject over on his blog. His piece was very enlightening. Some excerpts that helped to change my mind include:
“I started reading through the series again. I did this with the notes and materials for the final book at hand, taking notes myself of what plotlines needed to be closed, which viewpoints needed resolution. The read-through took me until March of 2008. As I progressed through the series, I began to grasp the daunting nature of this book. How much there was to do, how many plotlines needed to be brought back together, the WEIGHT of it all was enormous.”
I feel for him here. He is absolutely right. So many fans, so many people, waiting with bated breath for this book and a good portion of them are probably wondering who this guy is and why he thinks he can bring them any sort of happiness and closure with this book series. I would not want to be in his shoes – the pressure must be incredible. More:
“The contract stipulated that I was to provide a completed work which (including Mr. Jordan’s written sections) was to be at least 200,000 words long. This sort of length provision isn’t uncommon in contracts; it’s there to make certain neither author nor publisher are surprised by the other’s expectations. It’s generally a ballpark figure, very flexible. I hadn’t seen any of the materials for AMoL at that point.”
Okay – so, this sounded about right to me – 200K is a decent sized book. More:
“April 2008. I had to make a decision. I realized that the book would be impossible to do in 200k. I’d begun to say on my blog that it would be at least 400k, but even that seemed a stretch. I looked over the outlines, both mine and Mr. Jordan’s. I stared at them for a long time, thinking about the book. And this is where the first decision came in. Did I try to cram it into 400k? Or did I let it burgeon larger?”
Ouch. Think about the size of these books for a second. They are HUGE. All the great ones are. Could this massive series really be completed in 200K words? I suddenly realized, like Brandon, that it could not – not if you wanted to do it any justice. Okay – writing tons and splitting them up was making a lot more sense. And Harriett had said that he was around 750K words – holy crap! No wonder they wanted to split it up! But there was still more from Brandon:
“By this point, I’d already warned Tom and Harriet that I saw the length being very large, but I hadn’t told Tom the 700-800k number. When I’d mentioned 400k to him once, he’d been wary. He explained to me that he felt 400k was unprintably large in today’s publishing market. Things have changed since the 90’s, and booksellers are increasingly frustrated with the fantasy genre, which tends to take up a lot of shelf space with very few books. There is constant pressure from the big chain bookstores to keep things smaller and thinner. When I’d turned in Mistborn 2 (revised and already trimmed) at 250k, production and marketing had nearly had a fit, complaining that the book would cost more to print than it would make. Tom approved the publication of the book anyway. (And fortunately we managed to fit it into enough pages–and sell enough copies–that it was still profitable.)”
Ouch again. Hadn’t thought about how the retailers can dictate the size of a book based on shelf space. You learn something new every day. I actually look for the thicker books when I’m shopping – anyone else do that? I mean – when I see a thin book, I don’t know – I tend to pass it up for something with a little more meat in it. Maybe the bookstores should INCREASE the section, huh? HUH?! GIVE US MORE ROOM! More:
“I also want to mention that one of my main goals in division was to make certain that most (if not all) of the major characters had screen time. Some have more than others, but almost everyone has at least a couple of chapters. (In other words, it wasn’t cut like FEAST FOR CROWS/DANCE WITH DRAGONS with half the viewpoints in one and half in the other.) However, some of the important things you are waiting for had–by necessity–be reserved for the second book.”
Okay – you’ve sold me Brandon. I understand now – this is the only way to do the end any sort of justice and bring us closure on the story we’ve been following forever. I feel for ya man!