Why Did You Split A Memory Of Light?

Pull up a chair. Get some hot cocoa. This is going to take a while. I’m a fantasy author. We have trouble with the concept of brevity.

In order to explain to you how this book came to be split as it did, I want to step you through some events leading up to the decision to split. That way, you can see what led us up to making the decisions we did. You might still disagree with those decisions (many of you will.) But at least you’ll understand the rationale behind them.

Before we start, however, let me explain that I only saw one piece of what was going on. As I’ve stated before, Harriet and Tom are the ones making decisions when it comes to publication issues. I’ve deferred to them. My input has by no means been ignored, but often I was so focused on the book that I didn’t have the time or energy to do more than say “Harriet, I trust your decision. Go with what you feel is best.” Therefore, some of what I say may be distorted through my own lens. I don’t have the whole story, but I think I’ve got most of it.

Let’s hop back to November of 2007. That’s the month where I’d discovered for certain that I’d be the one finishing The Wheel of Time. I was excited, nervous, and daunted all at the same time—but today’s blog post isn’t about that aspect of the experience.

The first discussion of length came in late November, early December during the contract negotiations for A Memory of Light. I say negotiations, though those “negotiations” were really nothing more than Harriet’s agents saying “Here’s what we offer.” And me saying to my agent “Sounds good. Say yes.” I wasn’t about to let the chance to work on this book slip away.

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 A Memory of Lightat that point, so I essentially signed blind, saying yes to produce something “At least 200,000 words” in length.

I’m not sure what Harriet was expecting at that point for length. She was still coping with Mr. Jordan’s death, and was focused on finding someone to complete A Memory of Light so that she could rest easier, knowing that it was being worked on. Remember, this was just months after Mr. Jordan passed away. I honestly don’t think she was thinking about length or—really—anything other than making certain the book was in the right hands. She left it to my decision how to proceed once I was given the materials.

Around January or February, I posted on my blog that I was shooting for a 200k minimum. This surprised a lot of people, as 200k would not only have made A Memory of Light the shortest Wheel of Time book other than the prequel, it seemed a very small space in which to tie up the huge number of loose ends in the book. I wasn’t focused on that at the moment; I was just passing along my thoughts on a minimum length. I think that I, at the time, hoped that we could do the book in around 250k. That was naive of me, but I honestly didn’t want to drag this on for years and years. I wanted to get the readers the book they’d been waiting for as soon as possible.

At that point, 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.

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?

To get this into one book, I’d need to railroad the story from climax to climax. I’d have to ignore a lot of the smaller characters—and even some aspects of the larger characters. I just couldn’t justify that. It wouldn’t do the story justice. I cringed to consider what I would have to cut or ignore.

Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps readers would have preferred a single, condensed volume so that they at least knew what happened. But I just couldn’t do it. The Wheel of Time deserved better.

This was not an easy choice. I knew it would anger some readers. I knew it would take a lot of time, and I would end up dedicating a great deal more of my life (and my family’s life) to the Wheel of Time than I’d initially anticipated. At the very least, I was contemplating writing a book three to four times the length of the initial contract—essentially, doing four times the work for the exact same pay.

But this had never been about the pay for me. I’d been put in charge of this project. I wanted to do what I felt Mr. Jordan would have done. I felt, and feel, a debt to him for what he did with this series. He had promised readers a big, big book—not big for big’s sake, but big because there was so much to do, so much to tie up. I decided that I would do whatever the story demanded, no matter how many words it would require, no matter how mad it made people. I would not artificially inflate the book—but I would treat each character, even the minor characters, with care and consideration.

I flew to Charleston that month and outlined my feelings on the various outlines for the different characters. The Charleston camp was cautiously enthusiastic; I don’t know if they realized just how much work this would all take. I’m not sure if I even told them how many words I was starting to feel it would be. At this point, Harriet was pretty much letting me call the shots when it came to the actual drafting of the novel. Harriet is an editor; she works best when I provide material to her, then she works her magic to turn it from good to excellent. That meant I was in charge of getting material to her as I saw fit, then she would tell me if I was on target or needed to try again.

I had already set the progress bar at 400k words on my website. I started writing in earnest, and also started warning people that the book was likely going to run longer than my initial estimate. Perhaps much longer. Soon, I was saying 750k.

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.)

Anyway, Tom implied that 400k was what he saw as a cutoff for length. Anything 300–350 could be one book, anything over 350 should be cut. (That’s me guessing on things he said; he never gave those hard-and-fast numbers, and I know there was probably some flexibility.) Anyway, Tom—like Harriet—wanted to wait and see what I was able to produce first. At this point, it was too early to begin talk of cutting the book. I’d barely written any of it.

I wrote all summer, and the next point of interest comes at Worldcon. Tom and I were on a panel together, talking about A Memory of Light. I noted that (by that point) I had around 250k written. He said something like “Ah, so you’re almost done!” I looked chagrined and said “Actually, I feel that I’m only about a third of the way there, Tom.” He blinked, shocked, and then laughed a full bellied laugh. “It’s happening again!” he exclaimed. “Jim sold me one book that somehow became three, and now it’s happening again!”

Well, that was the first hint I had that this might be three books instead of two. I started to lobby Harriet subtly, pointing out that previous Wheel of Time books had been 380k, and perhaps that would be a good length for each volume of A Memory of Light, if it was cut. I also indicated that I felt it would be really nice to keep volumes of the book published close together if, indeed, the book had to be split.

What I didn’t realize was just how taxing this process was going to be. There’s only so much one person can write in a year. Before working on A Memory of Light, my average wordcount for a year was around 300k. One 200k epic fantasy, then 50–100k on other projects. During 2008 I wrote over 400k—fully a third more than usual, and that was done with three months of my working time spent re-reading and taking notes on the Wheel of Time series. (Yes, it was easier because of materials left by Mr. Jordan. However, that was offset by the need to become an expert on thousands of characters, places, themes, and worldbuilding elements. All in all, even with outlines, notes, and written materials Mr. Jordan left, I’d say this was the most difficult 400k I’ve ever written.)

By December, after my book tour, I was pushing hard to even get 400k done. I still had this phantom hope that somehow, I’d be able to spend January, February, and March writing harder than I’d ever written before and somehow get to 750k by the March deadline that Tom had said was about the latest he could put a book into production and still have it out for the holidays.

In January, Tom called Harriet and they talked. At this point, I’d hit my 400k goal, and I knew that I was only about halfway done. (If even that far along.) Very little of that 400k had been revised or drafted. Tom and Harriet chatted, and several things came up. One of the most dominating points was this: it had been four years since the fans had been given Knife of Dreams. Tom felt that we needed to provide them a book in 2009. They couldn’t wait until I finished the entire volume to publish something.

Harriet called me and I finally agreed that I needed to stop work on writing new material. It was time to begin revising. That was, essentially, the decision to split the book. And I wasn’t certain that we could simply print the 400k that I had written. There were scenes all over the place, and if we printed that portion as-is, it would cut off right in the middle of several plot arcs. The book just wouldn’t be any fun to read. Beyond that, editing 400k would take too much time to have it done by April.

This is the second big decision. Perhaps you would have chosen differently. But let me outline the options as I see them. Pretend you’re Tom Doherty or Harriet in January 2009, making the call on how to publish the book.

1) You can decide not to print anything until the entire novel is finished. That means letting Brandon write until the end, then revising the entire thing at once, followed by printing the book (either as one enormous volume or several chunks, released in quick succession.) During the summer and fall, this was what I was hoping we’d be able to do.

If you make this choice, the readers don’t get a book in 2009. You’re not sure when they’ll get a book. Brandon took a year to write 400k words, and feels that he’s around halfway done.

So, if you choose this option, let’s say Brandon writes all 2009, delivers you a rough draft of a full, 800k book in 2010. 800k words would take roughly eight months to edit and revise. Production would take another eight months or so. (Minimum.) You’d be looking at releasing the book somewhere in summer 2011. Perhaps one volume in June and another in August.

2) You could publish the 400k as they are done right now. If you do this, the readers do not get a book in 2009. 400k would take roughly four months to revise (and that’s rushing it), and you’d have to put the novel into production with a January or February 2010 release date. That’s not too far off the November 2009 date you’d promised people, so maybe they would be satisfied. But you’d leave them with a story that literally cut off right in the middle of several plotlines, and which did not have tied up resolutions.

In this scenario, Brandon writes all through 2009, turns in the second half sometime around April or May 2010. It takes roughly four months to edit and revise that portion, and you’re looking at a summer 2011 release for the second half. Maybe spring 2011. (This way, you get the whole thing to the readers a little bit faster than the other option because you have the luxury of putting one half through production while Brandon is writing the second half.)

However, in this scenario, you end up releasing two fractured books, and the bookstores are mad at you for their size. (Which may translate to the bookstores ordering fewer copies, and fans being mad because they can’t find copies as easily as they want—this is what happened with Mistborn Two, by the way.). Beyond that, you missed releasing a book in the holiday season, instead putting one in the dead months of early 2010.

3) You could do what Tom did. You go to Brandon (or, in this case, to Harriet who goes to Brandon) and you say “You have 400k words. Is there a division point in there somewhere that you can cut the book and give us a novel with a strong climax and a natural story arc?”

I spent a few days in January looking over the material, and came to Tom and Harriet with a proposal. I had what I felt would make the best book possible, divided in a certain way, which came out to be around 275,000 words. It had several strong character arcs, it told a very good story, and it closed several important plot threads. I felt it would be an excellent book.

Now, this was longer than they’d wanted. They’d hoped I’d find them a cutting point at the 225k mark. But I didn’t feel good about any cuts earlier than 275. In fact, I later took that 275,000 word book and I added an extra 25k in scenes (one’s I’d been planning to write anyway, but decided would work better here in this chunk) in order to fill it out and make of it the most solid novel possible.

Now, let’s assume you made this decision, just as Tom did. This is the only case in which you get to keep your promise to the Wheel of Time readers and deliver a book in 2009. (Though, it took a lot of work to get it ready. I pulled 14–16 hour days six days a week for months.) In this scenario, you get to deliver them a solid book, rather than a fractured one.

But you are also splitting a book that Robert Jordan intended to be one book. (Tom and Harriet both have said they don’t think he could have done it, or would have done it, given the chance.) A bigger problem is that you’re releasing a book without knowing when you’ll be able to release the next section. You aren’t certain what to tell people when they ask how large a gap there will be between the books; it will depend on how long the next chunk is and when Brandon can finish it. (Plus, Brandon keeps increasing the final estimate, which looked at this point to be easily be over 800k.)

And I guess that’s what I’m trying to show you with all of this: No matter how the book is split, cut, or divided, the last portion wouldn’t come out until 2011 at least. Why? It goes back to that first decision I made, the one to write the book the length I felt it needed to be. And so, it’s not the greedy publisher, stringing you along that is keeping you from reading the ending. It’s not the fault of production taking a long time. The blame rests on me.

I wrote this book long. I wrote it very long. Most books in most genres are around 100k long. I was looking at eight times that length. And one person can only produce so much material, particularly on a project like this. Writing this book, keeping all of these plot threads and characters straight, is like juggling boulders. It’s hard, hard work.

I know some readers were mad that it got split; I feel for you

Now, some words about titles. Where did The Gathering Storm come from? Well, in January when it was decided to split the book, I continued to advocate for something that would indicate that this was one book, split into three parts. (I still see it that way.) And so, I suggested that they all be named A Memory of Light with subtitles. I love the title A Memory of Light; I think it’s poetic and appropriate. Plus, it was Mr. Jordan’s title for the book. That alone is good enough reason to keep it.

And so, I suggested smaller, shorter, more generic sub-titles for each of the parts. With a long, evocative title like A Memory of Light as the supertitle, the subtitles needed to be shorter and more basic, as to not draw attention. The first of these was named Gathering Clouds by Maria’s suggestion. Book two would be Shifting Winds, book three Tarmon Gai’don, all with the supertitle of A Memory of Light.

We proceeded with that as our plan for several months. And then, suddenly, Tom got word from marketing that the titles needed to change. The bookstores didn’t like them. (You’ll find that the bookstores control a lot in publishing. You’d be surprised at how often the decisions are made because of what they want.) In this case, the bookstores worried that having three books titled A Memory of Lightwould be too confusing for the computer system and the people doing the reordering. They asked for the supertitle to be cut, leaving us with the title Gathering Clouds.

I shot off an email to Harriet, explaining that I never intended that title to be the one that carried the book. It was too generic, too basic. She went to Tom with some suggestions for alternates, and The Gathering Storm was what they decided. This all happened in a matter of hours, most of it occurring before I got up in the morning. (I sent her an email at night, then by the time I rose, they’d made the decision out on the east coast.) Some materials had already gone out as Gathering Clouds, and I wonder if The Gathering Storm was chosen because it was similar. I know it was the one out of those suggested by Harriet that Tom liked the most. It’s somewhat standard, but also safe.

That title swap came at me rather fast. I plan to be ready for the next one, so hopefully we’ll have the time to produce something a little more evocative. I don’t mind The Gathering Storm, but I do realize that it is one of the more bland Wheel of Time titles. (My favorite title, by the way, is Crossroads of Twilight.)

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 A Feast for Crows/A 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—to be reserved for the second book.

Anyway, that’s the story of how this all came to be. I don’t expect you all to be happy with the choices we’ve made, but I do want you to understand where we were coming from. I have to trust my instincts as a writer. They are what got me here, they are what made Harriet choose me to work on this book, and it would have been a mistake to ignore them.

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