George R.R. Martin’s Book Is Delayed and It’s OK, Really

George RR Martin
Tolga Akmen/REX/Shutterstock

We would do well at this moment to remember three things: Life is fleeting, the future is unpredictable and George R.R. Martin does not work for us.

Well, he works for HBO, in a manner of speaking; his “Song of Ice and Fire” book series, adapted as “Game of Thrones” for that network, has become a worldwide, Emmy-winning juggernaut, and presumably he happily cashes HBO’s checks. He is also under contract with a worldwide array of publishers, all of whom had hoped to release the sixth book in his series before the HBO show resumes in April.

That won’t happen, Martin announced Saturday, in a post that was touching in its honesty. You can’t come away from reading that post without thinking that Martin cares about his fans deeply. Despite his apologetic tone, however, the wailing and rending of garments commenced immediately in some quarters of the “GoT” fandom.

Lurking behind the outcry is a (mostly) unspoken fear: What if something happens to Martin before he finishes the book series? What if he dies?

Well, first of all, I hope Martin has a long, healthy and happy life, whether or not he ever writes another word. Having created so many vivid, thoughtful worlds and done so much to further genre fiction in popular culture, he deserves to do a victory lap for the rest of his days. But he keeps on writing, praise the old gods and the new, even though, if I were him, I would have retired long ago in order to roll around in piles of money.

But OK, let’s speculate: What if, for whatever reason, Martin never publishes another novel in his “Game of Thrones” series? That would be a drag, but it would not be the end of the world. It wouldn’t even be the end of that world. 

As he has noted in various interviews, he has told David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the executive producers of HBO drama, where the story goes and how it ends. Of course, the show and the books have diverged, so they were always going to be different animals (and should be viewed as such). But whatever Martin’s output, that show is such a winner for HBO that presumably the Westeros saga will keep trundling along until Benioff and Weiss want it to stop.

Whatever Martin does or doesn’t do, the show will be what it’s going to be, and it isn’t going anywhere. So let’s go back to the worst-case scenario: What happens if Martin never publishes another book in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series? To be clear, I don’t think that will happen — Martin said substantial progress has been made on the sixth book of a projected seven tomes — but if those books dried up, what would that teach us? 

It would serve as a reminder that life is tenuous and fragile and it’s not up to us how things end. That’s just how it is sometimes.

Would it be frustrating? Sure. Sad? Of course. But it’s far sadder to contemplate the artists whose careers did actually end too soon. Not a week goes by that I don’t wonder about the masterpieces Kurt Cobain would have created in middle age. Thinking about the early death of writer Harris Wittels still brings me to tears, even though I never met him; that’s how much his work meant to me. I’m sure we can all name friends and relatives who’ve died too soon, with children to raise and brilliant prospects in their futures. That is where tragedy lies, not in a guy blowing a deadline. 

As it stands, we’ll just have one more book to check out in 2017, or whenever. (I stopped reading the “Song of Ice and Fire” series after Book 3. I knew the HBO series was in the works and I didn’t want to be too far ahead of it, story-wise. When it’s over, I’ll read the entire book series, and I’ll no doubt enjoy revisiting that world and engaging in friendly arguments with Martin in my head.)

The bottom line is, we are not entitled to Martin’s story: We are lucky to get it, whenever he wants to share it with us. Sure, waiting can be a bummer, but “The Sopranos” took long breaks between seasons. “Doctor Who” was off the air for decades before the BBC revived it. Sometimes we have to wait for what we want, and sometimes we don’t get it — and we have to find our own ways of living with those frustrations. And those frustrations are not George R.R. Martin’s problem

It’s interesting — and a little discouraging — that so many fans want Martin to march in lockstep when it comes to deadlines; that mentality goes against so many of the themes Martin explores in his work. “Game of Thrones” — the books and the TV show — is all about the desire to be free of onerous restrictions and systematic oppression. The story often explores the tension between of the rights and responsibilities people have to their communities and clans, and those individuals’ desire to have some autonomy. In Martin’s work, duty and responsibility are important, but freedom and individuality are even more celebrated. You can have some issues with the novels and the TV show (I do too), but the reason they’re powerful is because they’re about unlikely people asserting their humanity and showing compassion in the most unlikely circumstances.

Nobody’s perfect in Martin’s universe, but we root for Arya, Daenerys and Tyrion because they’re not always looking out for themselves. They try to see the bigger picture, and despite their flaws and despite their emotional baggage, they try to do the right thing — if they can figure out what that is. They care, and they are capable of kindness, despite having been grievously hurt, physically and emotionally. 

So, all things considered, it would be nice if people backed off from Stannis-style rigidity and didn’t follow Martin around chanting “Shame!” As Neil Gaiman put it when a reader complained about Martin’s publishing pace in 2009, “People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.”

Martin is not a machine, he’s a human being, and as he said in his blog post, no one could be more disappointed than he is at this moment. But I’m inclined to think we’re not even entitled to our own disappointment. As Gaiman noted, “George R.R. Martin is not working for you.” Nope. 

But fans who bought Martin’s books “deserve closure,” one person said on Twitter after I posted a link to Gaiman’s essay. Here’s my reply to that correspondent (well, a more eloquent version of it):

No one deserves anything. We get what we get, and we should be grateful that sometimes we receive things we enjoy — including tales we can debate over a couple of drinks. 

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  1. If you went to a comedy club would it be okay for the comedian to tell 20 set-ups for jokes and leave without telling you the punchlines to any of them?

  2. Enai says:

    Obviously fans do not own nor are they entitled to the rest of the story, but there is a certain sense in which they are- Martin’s popularity and success owes almost entirely to the fans of ASOIAF; without all of us reading, buying, and enjoying the books, there is no HBO series, and Martin remains a fringe writer. Selling out your original art and fans in favor of a successful TV show may not be a legal transgression, but it certainly is an artistic and moral one.

  3. The1Llama says:

    If your not a BOOK READER (after 3) why do you feel you can lecture those of us who started reading at BOOK #1?
    I mean GRRM has said the WHOLE story came to him after he wrote Chap#1 but then he wrote more and figured he had enough for a Trilogy, but then expanded it again to 5 & now 7 books.
    However he wrote the first THREE BOOKS, which are the best in the series in FOUR YEARS (1996-2000), but only wrote two sub-par books in 11 years and has dragged his ass getting the next one out!
    At this pace it will be 2022 before he finishes, if he knows how to finish? Yes he can choose his own pace but past performance has shown he doesn’t write as well when he misses deadlines!
    My biggest WORRY is that he doesn’t know HOW THE STORY WILL END!
    JKR got the idea for the Harry Potter stories in a similar way but at least she could meet deadlines and could write holding a baby. GRRM needs a fricken 1980’s computer and has to be in only one room in the world!
    I know writing is hard and JKR said the middle book was the hardest and she did change some plot points from her original idea, but GRRM appears to have NO IDEA how to finish his story and might not even know when or how it will end!

  4. Eara says:

    So, once upon a time, artists where not worshipped as they are now. Not even close. The majority of them worked, (be it music, literature or else) for money, nor for pleasure. Books and plays were written only for the public to pay the writer. Books followed what people wanted to read, had deadlines authors could not miss, because they needed the money. In Italy Opera plays were written, performed a very little amount of times in that season, and then completely forgotten, and the composer needed to write another one immediately, for the next season. Musicians composed in a hurry, to get paid. And still we know tha some of these hurried works are masterpieces.
    Nowadays, things are very different. The lucky ones who get success are revered, Martin here is revered for his works, he seems untouchable, it seems that his work is not even a job anymore, it’s just pleasure. That is because he has lots of money, because the public paid so much for anything ASIOAF realated.
    And he could retire. He has age and money to do so. Because regardless of how much readers pay for his works he can stop, he could stop, hadn’t he signed a contract wirh his editor (thing I suspect he did). Now we readers can’t complain he is taking his time to write, because we gave him the power to do so. Beacuse in our time, successful artists are allowed to do so and more.
    That said, I don’t like the idea of Mozart being thrown in a mass grave, but let me say, I don’t like the idea of depending on the writer either. It should be the other way around, people. Don’t want Martin to starve, God no, but I sure want him to need to write his books. I know it’s too late, so now we have to wait, patiently, knowing we have given him the power to stop writing right now, for ever. And that with this notion, we have given him the power over us.
    So we can’t really complain now can we?

  5. Pegan23 says:

    Read it .. or don’t
    Watch it .. or don’t

    Enjoy the ride, and stop the whining.

  6. Nymeros says:

    I agree with this article so much. The fans of this series are f***ing annoying with this attitude of self entitlement. “I’m sick of waiting, he’s going to lose me as a reader,” well please by all means LEAVE no one’s making anyone stay! Or how about read some other damn books in the meantime? I’m sure you can live a life in the meantime without receiving gratification for ONE story?

    I guess being an artist, I understand that you can’t force your work to be done by a certain time unless you want it to be sub-par. I’ll admit, most of my work having missed deadlines is due to laziness, and less to do with an artistic process. But this man has been writing this series for years and that show of dedication is honestly impressive. “It should’ve been done by now,” you’re not writing the damn things, you don’t know how long it takes. It’s the final two books and he has to wrap this enormous story up as best he can and somehow readers think that a deadline is going to make him scribble out some half-a$$ed ending for each of the characters that meant something to him years before they were anything to us. Honestly, the ending of a story is the most fragile part. It can so easily be dissatisfactory. These last two are going to take longer than all the previous installments and we just have to live with it. If it had come out three years ago, people would complain about it. And I can guarantee that when it finally comes out these same people are still going to complain about it. “It took him six years to write this piece of $h*t!?”

    And it just baffles me that these same people despise him for doing other things with his life. God forbid that an old man actually take a break from this gigantic project and take a vacation (or many). Honestly, people are just getting their hopes up about it being done. It happens every few months. Just take a damn break from ASOIAF instead of waiting around and complaining that the author isn’t a slave to your petty demands.

  7. rinaex says:

    “Mr. Martin agreed to work for us the second he decided to publish the first of these stories.”

    I’m sorry, but no, he didn’t. This would actually be true if you gave him money beforehand and he didn’t provide a product. He put out his product, and then you had the choice to give him your money or not. You decided to buy the books AFTER he put out his product, so you’ve gotten what you paid for. GRRM hasn’t taken any money from YOU yet for the unpublished book, so for all intent and purposes, he owes you absolutely nothing. It was your choice to get invested, so you own whatever emotions that go with that decision.

  8. Miki says:

    Will be done, when it’s done. Let’s enjoy the show for now, as it’s quite different from the books

  9. John says:

    Everyone is right. It’s disappointing to have to wait so long for the next book in a very popular series. Does Mr. Martin “owe” us anything? Not legally, but there certainly must be some obligation to the audience that has made him rich and famous to complete the work in a reasonable amount of time. Is six years too long? Well, if you spend much of that time on other pursuits I believe it is. Further, it’s somewhat disingenuous of him to post about his other travels and activities and then try to convince me that he hasn’t had the time to write. The message that it sends to me is “Thanks for buying my books. I appreciate the support but I’m too busy to worry about you and finish the story right now.”

    If Mr. Martin takes too much longer for Book 6, imagine how much time will pass before Book 7 arrives. In all likelihood, I’ll be dead by the time Book 7 arrives. He runs a real risk of losing his reading audience. If HBO knows the basic outline as to how the story ends and if that ending is reasonably satisfying, then in all likelihood I will not wait around for Book 6 and do not even contemplate Book 7. It’s just too much time to be invested in a story that has ended in a satisfactory manner. All Mr. Martin can add after that are some minor details and minutia that will, by then, not be worth the time or money.

    So no, he doesn’t owes me anything. Nor have a ranted or gnashed my teeth over his failure to produce anything further in a more than reasonable amount of time. I have, however, lost much respect for him for the manner in which he so cavalierly treats those who supported him.

  10. turtleseyes says:

    ANNE WILKES would’ve get this matter solved quickly.

    Let’s just hope he met his in one of those lazy trips..

  11. dolfangt says:

    I read this article hoping that maybe the author had some scoop to share, from Martin, on when he feels he will be able to deliver the 6th book. I slogged through the tiresome and apoplectic prose and having already read Gaimans essay (which also brings up Rothfuss) learned nothing new. I don’t care about this persons opinion, and find reading people who are on a high horse writing condescending, apologetic articles like this a very alienating process. if you have an opinion to share and a platform like Variety, please have something to share that is original, informative, thought provoking, or at the very least, entertaining. I have hreat disdain for those waste my time. I won’t be reading anything else by her. As a writer, and a fan of writers, I am always looking forward to the next offering of somone I enjoy spending my time with (like Child, Martin, Rothfuss, and Gaiman) and would prefer never to read something like this again. Now you have my opinion too.

    • Siavash says:

      Totally agree! She should be his lawyer! She didn’t even shared martin’s statement!

      No disrespect but Maureen Ryan You wrote like those people who talks and keep on talking no matter even if there is one single person actually listening to you!

      And this was on top news at main page of IMDB!!!

  12. Mja says:

    ‘ Without us readers he would not be where he is now’
    : And that sums up the entitled fanboy culture to a tee. The narcissism of a lot of audiences truly is quite sickening, and you’ve encapsulated that very well.

  13. CLang says:

    Without us reading his books George wouldn’t be anywhere. Writers don’t create so they can sit their works on a shelf and quietly admire what they’ve achieved. It takes readers to measure an achievement. For a writer to say he isn’t working for his readers is a very narcissistic response.

    I used to defend George RR Martin for taking his sweet time in completing his GOT novels, but I’ve changed my mind. As a writer myself, I won’t pick up another work, spend a great deal of time on my blog or travel the world attending conventions that praise me for my noteworthy accomplishments… until I’ve finished what I need to finish.

  14. Dupester says:

    You say in your article he does not owe us anything, well I disagree. Without us readers he would not be where he is now and also publishers deadlines obviously don’t mean anything either. However saying that I would not want him rush the book, just because he may want to concentrate on the tv show. My only guess is he making lots more money fromf the show, than he did from selling the books.

  15. Branko Burcksen says:

    I feel like George R.R. Martin and Kentaro Miura, the author of the manga Berserk, would get along really well.

  16. 1panquehabla says:

    It doesn’t surprise me for Martin has no self-control at writting SOIAF. Each book has had more and more filler pages than the last: AFFC is a complete dull piece of shit that don’t hate even more only because it was a $10 dull piece of shit.

  17. Mike says:

    This article wastes words on the obvious: no of course George RR Martin doesn’t “owe” anything to his readers… (“No one is owed anything” thanks for the life-lesson!) But here’s the real question: will most GOT fans read his meandering long-winded book WINDS OF WINTER (if it ever comes out) when they have already gotten the basic sum up from a vastly superior television show? Maybe not. That’s why his publishers are upset. Deadlines do mean something when the TV series is competing with the books for the consumers’ valuable time. And no doubt some fans insist everyone will want both. Sorry. Not true. To be honest, if the ending of the tv series sucks I won’t bother.

    • werthead says:

      “will most GOT fans read his meandering long-winded book WINDS OF WINTER (if it ever comes out) when they have already gotten the basic sum up from a vastly superior television show?”

      No, they wouldn’t. But since a “vastly superior” TV version is many, many years off, probably a few decades after HBO’s current “version” terminates, that’s not an imminent problem.

  18. imustseemovie.com says:

    HBO will spoil the ending for all his fans

  19. mario says:

    As much as I am saddened that “The Winds Of Winter” is delayed, it is still better to be delayed than to have a rushed book. And to all those that say Martin should have finished the book by now and that he is a lazy writer, well they have absolutely no idea how hard it is to write a complelling book of that magnitude. It took Martin 6 years to complete “A Dance with Dragons” and that book still felt messy, unorganized and unedited. Stephen King fell under the same influence for the completion of “The Dark Tower” and his rushness to finish the last 2 books resulted in disastrous, shallow ending of something that was masterful and epic until … well, the last 2 books. It took 12 years for Tolkien to finish “The Lord Of The Rings” which is basically one book. In less time, Martin wrote first 3 books in ASOIAF serial and more than 3 times pages number than TLOTR. So, give the guy some break, will you all. It will be finished when it it suppose to be finished. Not one day before. And rightly so if you ask me.

  20. Crazyworld says:

    I don’t even care if finishes the series anymore. Losing interest in the series the longer he takes to finish them.

  21. satireknight says:

    “It would serve as a reminder that life is tenuous and fragile and it’s not up to us how things end.”

    Or, more likely, they would hire Brandon Sanderson to finish the series, like they did with the Wheel of Time series.

  22. noah says:

    I’ve been reading his books since ’98 and the length of time to release is excessive. It’s worse than Robert Jordan. A man who actually did die before completing his creation. I fault George for his work on the TV series and also for his side projects. The books should have been completed prior to the HBO catching up with them. Now we have divergence in lore and story which is bad for everyone. It will be interesting to see how the TV series turns out. Asa far as I know a situation like this is unprecedented.

  23. KathyB says:

    I remember reading, way back when the HBO series was going to happen, that Martin found that amusing. He seemed to maintain that he started writing this series for himself, without restrictions, because he wanted something different than the time constraints of screenwriting. So the story rambles, and he publishes when he gets around to it. The HBO show has gone its own way well and often. Merrily. Both will, I presume, continue according to their own predilictions.

    Trying to calm the clamor may be completely fruitless, Mo. But that is fine. It has now been long enough since I last visited any of the books that I can just enjoy the ride with the show. Not a perfect show, certainly, but has its moments and more.

  24. Ric says:

    OMG!
    Maureen you should be teaching high school brats a thing or two about entitlement and the way the world is supposed to work. Not to mention the other respondents to your piece who all have seemed to have missed the point. SHAME! on them! I so hope I did a better job with my child.

    A hick in New Hampshire

    • John says:

      Let me get this straight: he misses deadlines, continues to collect checks for his work up to date, and is willing to let someone else finish his “masterpiece” and we r supposed to praise him. I don’t think so. He is a lazy writer resting on laurels and basking in fame who still finds time to publish other books related to GoT without finishing the series. Imagine if Shakespeare, Dickens, or Herbert did that.

  25. BMB says:

    I disagree entirely. All entertainers, whether writers, actors, or newspaper columnists, work for the public who purchase their product. Public doesn’t like your product? No money. If you don’t believe it, look at Bill Cosby’s chances of getting a movie role this week. Martin is an author, and writing is not a light switch that you just turn on. But he could provide HBO with story lines immediately, to finish the series. He MUST know how the story develops and if he doesn’t he should.

  26. jennifer corozza says:

    It’s getting so exhausting reading critics’ critiques of fans’ reactions to disappointment. Did you all get together to come up with this?

    However, my primary concern with your article is the argument who use of what I call “painful reality.” You’ve made the argument that GRRM’s book series, art, is nothing compared to painful reality (e.g. the death of loved ones). It’s unfair to compare the two as it’s an argument ender. I mean, I love a Song of Ice and Fire and I’m disappointed not to get book 6 before season 6 of GoT, but you argument is something I can’t argue against. To put it simply, it’s apples and oranges.

    I can wait for book 6, but it is disappointing. Some fans may go too far, granted, but are we not entitled to feel disappointed? As I said, exhausting to read the critics’ critiques, so perhaps I won’t anymore. Instead, I’ll read a book.

  27. Murica! says:

    This article was hilarious!! How much did he pay you to write this nonsense?

  28. Sumner Manock says:

    I disagree wholeheartedly with this statement .Frankly you lost credibility when you said you stopped reading after the 3rd book. You aren’t invested like the other book readers anymore. You personally have not been waiting 6 years for a product we were initially promised would be done in 2 .It’s very easy to say that we may not be getting his next books and that’s fine, when you don’t read the books. 6 years is a ridiculous amount of time for ONE book, not 10 eps of doctor who, not a sopranos season but ONE book. Of which he should have already had a rough outline for. Look I get he doesn’t work for us and deadlines aren’t good for writers but gimme a damn break. No it’s not okay that this got delayed, it’s pretty damn frustrating in fact. You arent invested in the books at all anymore so you can’t really speak to how people should feel about this
    Imagine how insane people would be if they were waiting on the show to answer what happens to Jon for 6 years? That’s how book readers have been

    • werthead says:

      “You personally have not been waiting 6 years for a product we were initially promised would be done in 2”

      When and where did he say that THE WINDS OF WINTER would be done in 2 years? Link, please.

      “6 years is a ridiculous amount of time for ONE book,”

      There are a lot of writers who take two years to put out one 80,000-word crime novel. Taking five years to put out a 420,000-word novel is actually not too bad at all. When that novel is as structurally complex as these are, that’s actually pretty good going.

    • And how! says:

      Frankly you lost credibility with your weird period placements.

  29. It’s amusing watching people complain about the complainers, adds a lot of spice to the discussion. You can’t really call it an argument, because even the initial complainers (of which I’m a member) all acknowledge that George will have the next book out when he has it out. We’ll all buy it too, though I’ll only buy the books and Blu-Ray sets, that’s it (my little rebellion), not any other merch. The writing takes as long as it takes, but my irritation is tinged with sadness, in that I’m resigned to never seeing an ending to the written series. I hope George lives a long time too, but he’s a 67 year old man who takes six years to write his (admittedly long) books, all while being rich for the first time in his life. If he lacks motivation now, what will it be like in 2022? This leaves out the time last year when his publishing company floated the possibility of an eighth book, which George didn’t technically refute (he giggled and winked, loving the attention).

    I love A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s a wonderful story with fascinating characters. I thank George for writing it, but wish he’d be a little more diligent in his job. Yes, it’s his job, he’s not doing this out of the goodness of his heart, and the ones complaining about us complaining seem to be missing that point. We’ve made him rich, and all we’re doing is asking for a conclusion to a story we cherish. So Maureen, your condescension is a bit much.

  30. BL says:

    I’ll start off this post by admitting that some of my disagreement may be due to just being angry about not getting what I want, which this article painfully made me realize. However, I do still disagree with one of your points. Not that we don’t deserve Martin’s next novel, or like you said, any of them. Nope, I definitely think you are right. We do not. But I do think George R.R. Martin works for us.

    Now, the easy argument to make here would be that we pay his bills by buying his books. But, in my opinion anyway, it’s more than that. Mr. Martin agreed to work for us the second he decided to publish the first of these stories. He wants us to read them, and discuss them, and genuinely be engaged in them. Otherwise, would he publish them at all? Or any artist for that matter. I’m sure it’s not quite that simple, but if Martin were to take another 2-3 years on this novel, and people lost interest? Maybe the show finishes it’s run and we’ve all moved on to something else. Let’s say this happens and people don’t buy, or read, his next novel. Or the “final” one after that. Would he be satisfied with just having finished the story? Maybe he would, but I doubt it. And if he would then he could have just written the entire story and thrown it into a box in a basement somewhere, never publishing a single word of it.

    Like I said, I’m sure I’ve oversimplified it, but my point is that I do believe every artist works for their fans. Whether the fans deserve that or not is another issue entirely, but the artists agree to that when they decide to publish their art. That’s my not-so-eloquently-made point. In the end it’s moot though, since all I’m going to do is whine a little bit, then wait for Martin’s next book. I’ll buy it the day it comes out, read it, and probably tell everyone how worth the wait it was.

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