George R. R. Martin and crippling self-doubt.

I have yet to read any of the great books by George R. R. Martin. Nor any of the shitty ones, apparently. I have read a ton of reviews for A Dance With Dragons, his fifth book. The book mostly interested me because it shows up in science fiction, my domain. But it clearly isn’t sci-fi. It’s fantasy. It’s full of, well, dragons I would imagine.

I think the publisher pulled it out of the fantasy categories so it would be more difficult for readers of that genre to find and review it. Dance with Dragons, you see, is getting RIPPED by Martin’s own fans. The 1-star and 2-star reviews make for some gripping reading (really, go read some). They are long and full of heartbreak. As an author, it’s powerful drama. Here’s a man who was at the height of his game before losing his way. A man who became so distracted by his popularity that he forgot to devote time to his writing (a five-year delay for a book is telling).

Now, I’m no Martin. I’m not even in the upper tier of indie-writer-success. Which makes my fear of failure and plague of self-doubts all the more nauseatingly difficult to stomach.

When the next series comes out, I might not even tell anyone. I’ll hide it among the fantasy books, where A Dance with Dragons belongs and hope it languishes there. No one can hate it if they never read it, right?

18 responses to “George R. R. Martin and crippling self-doubt.”

  1. ‘Cept for the fact that if you try to hide it, we WILL find it… I have read your stuff… just keep doing what your doing and you will be fine… that and if you stray I am sure quite a fair few people here will slap you upside the head before it gets too bad…

  2. As far as my knowledge goes every single published and non published author I ever came accross has fear of failure, self doubt and intense sense that it will never see the day of light. No one can love it if it is never read….

  3. I started reading Martin’s books after having watched the first episodes of the TV series, and I’ve been immersed in his stories until a few months ago, when I finished reading “A Dance with Dragons”. In my opinion, the avalanche of 1-star and 2-star reviews may be due to two reasons:
    – having let fans accumulate expectations for too long
    – having changed the “pace” of his stories, trying to focus less on action and more on the psychology of each character

    Especially the second point can be important (and sometimes devastating)… it happens also in music, for example, when your favorite band suddenly changes style. But then, an author has to decide whether he/she prefers to satisfy fans or write what he likes, as he likes it.
    I made the parallel with music because one of my favorite bands just revolutionized their style, and fans split 50/50 :)

    That said, let me take this chance to say that I *loved* WOOL. All five books. I’m a long-term fan of post-apocalyptic/dystopian books/games/movies and WOOL easily jumped into my top-ten. I can’t wait to start the new trilogy!

    P.S. I’m still trying to decipher the acronym :)

  4. Thanks, ege! The acronym is spelled out (though not in perfect order, so as to make it less obvious) in WOOL 5.

    Glad you enjoyed the series. Can’t believe it’s in your top 10. Very humbling.

  5. Hugh

    I would like to think the overwhelming reader responses, sales and the occasional network contacting you would have assuaged your writing self doubts but we all have them.

    I generally don’t read fantasy but looking at the reviews for “Dances” I’m reminded of when I read “Wizard and Glass”, it was a big letdown for me after the first three Dark Tower books and it can be disheartening to see a poor outing from a master.

    That said; writing insecurity is simply a killer. It’s why, after 20 years of practice and study, I have yet to honestly complete anything other than some shorts. I have a boatload of novel and screenplay drafts though!

    But what has that done for me?


  6. Hugh,

    I am not a fan of George R. R. Martin, but I intend to read everything you write! I’ve read Wool 1-5 and now I’m totally hooked on Half Way Home! Can’t wait to start Molly Fyde.

  7. Thank you, Hawklord! I am flattered, and I appreciate you reading and giving me awesome feedback.

  8. Careful here Hugh, the GRRM “tardiness” issue has been covered to no end but to suggest he “lost his way” is rather unfair.

    As Niel Gaiman put it “George Martin is not your bitch”, if he wants to take 5 or 6 years between books – so be it – it’s his choice and he owes you nothing. Buying an early book in his series is exactly what you got, not some contract that enslaves him to writing another one.

    Dances with Dragons is NOT a bad book, it had many very positive reviews – from Time that went on to name him in their year’s most influential 100 people – to USA Today that named him Author of the year. Admittedly the Amazon reviews can be somewhat scathing but I would argue that a lot of his own success plays into this – much as it did to George Lucas. The complaints from that perspective become quickly predictable – from an extremely varied audience with wildly different expectations.

    1. I can’t say since I haven’t read them. I do plan on reading them once I see the series has been completed. I personally don’t want to wait years between entries.

      I only brought him up because of my own fears of being panned by people who currently like what they’re reading. This is fed in large part by my desire to tell my own story my own way, which is probably not how my readers would foresee it being told. Really, just insecurities. I’m trying to deal with it. Reading GRRM reviews is likely not helping any.

  9. You can be certain that in whatever direction you take the series some will differ with it but you can’t be all things to all people, trying to is a certain recipe for failure. Have faith in yourself, it’s ultimately what has got you as far as you have.

    George Martin BTW had a couple amusing stories on his blog recently about some rather humble origins of his own – showing up for a book signing and having the only 2 people in the store leave or getting out drawn by Clifford the Dog – something to take inspiration from, if your work is good – and Wool certainly is – the rest will follow.

  10. Hugh,
    please keep telling your own stories your own way. That’s how you got your readers in the first place: not by writing what we were expecting, but rather the opposite.

    I completely agree with darwinfish. I googled Neil Gaiman’s sentence, and I found the original entry in his blog:
    It’s an interesting read.

  11. The same goes for Orson Scott Card, whose books I love with a fiery passion that refuses to be quenched. He always has way too much going on all at once so that the wait between books in several different series is excruciating. It doesn’t help that his stories never truly end so that I’m left wondering if he means to continue or to leave it open-ended like a real human interest story would be.

    I think you’ll be fine, Hugh, if you just continue what you’re doing in the way of your actual work. The only thing that might actually really change for you, regarding popularity, is that you won’t have the same kind of time to address your fans as personally as you are at the beginning.

    And we should be able to forgive you that.

    1. Okay, but for right now, I can reply to every post. Even if it’s just to reply, right?

      Right. ;)

  12. Here’s my guess for the WOOL acronym. In book five, when Lukas is talking to Sil0 1 he’s welcomed to “Operation Fifty of the World Order”. The Roman numeral for fifty is “L”, so the acronym would be “World Order, Operation L”. How’d I do Hugh?

    BTW, I thought the books were fantastic, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment. I can imagine stories about linking Silo’s 18 and 17 (what would they do with all that space), learning to live with the truth in Silo 18, exploring what’s going on in Silo 1, and (since there were hints at survivors outside the Silos) stories about visits from folks above ground. The WOOL series has a fantastic premise, is excellently written, and there’s countless new areas to explore. Very nicely done!

    Oh, I wonder what Operation Fifty is? ;-)

    1. I believe you’re the first to find and share the quote. I’d say you did pretty damn well!

  13. Hopefully you don’t mind me chiming in on an older topic, but as someone who reviewed The Wool Omnibus and gave it 5/5 …. and also reviewed Martin’s A Feast For Crows and gave it 2/5 I can’t resist.

    Personally, my problem with Martin’s last two books is not the wait between releases, but the quality of the last two releases. One book excised viewpoints of the most beloved characters of the series and added viewpoints of characters that were flat out dull and seemed to offer little of relevance to the overall plot. Both books were an absolute chore to read.

    Dance brought back the viewpoints that many missed but still there was a big problem: all had goals they were after and by the end of the book none of them were any closer to achieving those goals. I couldn’t help but feel both books were packed with filler for no other need other than to fill out the length of two books. If anything, much of the material could have been cut, and the rest combined to form one novel. It left me feeling taken advantage of as a fan and has drastically decreased my enjoyment of the series.

    I highly doubt you have anything to worry about. Your work is of the highest quality, and you treat your fans great. Once you read Martin’s books I’ll bet you can easily spot the difference in quality in the first three versus the two that follow them.

    1. Thanks for this CYR. I plan on reading the first three of his books and stopping right there. Then I’ll pick up with later books if the reviews are great.

      I don’t have anything against Martin. I’m just terrified of a similar drop-off in quality and reader interest. :(

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