Follow-up on Finishing The End of All Things

Because it’s always fun to do a post-mortem on one’s books when one is finished writing them.

* First, some of the fiddly bits: This book is a direct followup to The Human Division and continues the scenarios, events and characters found there. It also wraps up the larger story arc begun in The Human Division (i.e., you will find out who is behind all the cliff-hangery stuff and why), so those of you worried that there will be some things left unresolved and to be dealt with in a third book: Relax. It all gets settled.

Like The Human Division, the book is made up of smaller, discrete episodes — four novellas this time. Also like that previous book, those episodes will be released electronically first, with a print/combined eBook version to follow (for those of you who preordered the book, you’ve preordered the print/combined eBook version). There will also be an audiobook version, which will be the complete version; I don’t believe Audible plans to do episodes this time around.

The print publishing date is August 11; the episodic releases will be shortly before that. The print/combined version may contain extra material — if it does, that extra material will be released online as well (free!) so that people who buy the episodes will not feel left out in the cold. We learned from the last time, we did.

* As to the novellas that make up the book, I will be stingy on the details except to say that two are from the point of view of major characters in The Human Division, one from a previously minor character, and one introduces a brand new character who I think is very interesting indeed. The novellas average just under 25,000 words, with the longest at 33,000 words and the shortest at 17,500. They feature the usual action, adventure, explosions, aliens and snappy dialogue, in various percentages depending on events. And yes, the actual end of all things is a very real concern in this novel.

I’m quite happy with the novellas and with the arc of the overall story. I think fans of the Old Man’s War universe are going to like where this story goes, and where it ends, and what it means for the universe in general.

* For those of you concerned, the title The End of All Things does not mean that I am forever done with writing in the Old Man’s War universe. I’m not one of those writers who declares he is never going back to a universe he created, only to do so at some indefinite point down the line with some slightly embarrassed rationalization. I might come back to the Old Man’s War universe! Sometime! In the future!

However, The End of All Things ends this particular story arc in the OMW universe, and at the moment in time there are no other OMW books planned. I have other things I want to write and do, and six books is enough for now. My philosophy behind writing the OMW series (which I expect I will extend to any series I do) is only write books in the series if I enjoy the process and have someplace new to take the universe. Grinding out books in a series is a drag for both writer and reader. I have better things to do than crank out books in a series just for the cash, and you have better things to do than to read a book created in those circumstances. So while I never say never to more OMW books, for the moment, this is it.

* This book took longer to write than any other novel I’ve done so far. I announced that I was officially starting it on May 12, 2014, and I finished it on April 3, 2015, so there’s a total travel time of eleven months there. That bests the previous record-holder, Zoe’s Tale, which if memory serves took nine months. So what happened?

The answer I gave here at Swancon (the convention I’m current attending in Perth, Australia) is that the thing I find hardest to do with novels is to begin them: I fiddle, I hem, I haw, I try out different approaches and basically I bang my head against a wall until something works. Usually, with any novel, I only have to do this one time. But with TEoAT, I had to “start” the novel four separate times, because as it happens my writing process for novels and novellas is very much the same (short stories I don’t have this problem with, it seems). So that put a dent in my schedule.

I also had a pretty substantial false start to the book. Those of you who saw me during the Lock In tour remember me reading an excerpt from TEoAT, which I mentioned was an excerpt from the third chapter of the novel. Well, that excerpt is no longer in the book at all; neither are the chapters immediately preceeding it, nor the ones I wrote after it, either. It’s not that those chapters were bad (they weren’t) or that what I wrote was not telling a good story (it was). It was that the story I was telling there just wasn’t the right one. So out it went. Repeat this process at several points.

The End of All Things is 99,000 words long, but for the book I wrote about 140,000 in total — basically the equivalent of another long novella (or very short novel). All of that extra writing was necessary, but none of it is in the novel. Writing it, chucking it, reconfiguring and starting again adds time to the schedule.

The other thing is that quite honestly I did not manage my time as well as I should have while writing this. I have a lot of things going on and I ended up letting myself be pulled in several directions and not being as disciplined with the writing as I should. Normally this isn’t much of a problem — once I get going I write very quickly and generally hit the deadlines that I set for a project — but this particular novel, with its four beginnings (and one major and a couple of minor false starts), was more difficult for me than others.

What I’ve learned: Writing a novel comprised of four novellas is difficult (for me, anyway) and that if I do it in the future (which I don’t plan to), I need to both budget more time into my writing schedule and do a better job managing my distractions. Also, my next novel will definitely be, like, a normal novel. Maybe.

The difficulties with the novel meant that for the first time, I blew a book deadline, which kills me, but more unfortunately, also puts pressure on the folks I work with at Tor to rush to get the book out on schedule. I’m very annoyed with myself that it happened and that other people will now have to deal with my lateness. So, Tor folks: Sorry. I’ll try not to have it happen again.

* As an aside, I noted a while back that when I turned in The End of All Things, I would be out of contract with Tor, which is to say contractually I owe them no more books. This comment has apparently led people with more spite than brains to allege out there on the Internet that Tor’s dropped me, possibly not amicably, possibly because of low sales, etc. Let’s just say I find this a very amusing interpretation of events. It’s also a reminder that people say stupid things online, often about me, with remarkable frequency.

* Which segues into: What am I doing next? Well, for the next couple of weeks — not much! I’m going to finish my trip here in Australia and then I’m going to be in LA. I think I’ve earned a break. After that, yeah, I have several projects lined up, none of which I want to tell you about until they’re done. But they are all very cool. I will say that yes, I do have a novel planned to write later in the year, which would then presumably be out in 2016. Is it with Tor, which has dropped me because of low sales?!?!? We shall see! Suffice to say I don’t believe you will be at a loss for entertainment from me.

43 Comments on “Follow-up on Finishing The End of All Things”

  1. News flash! Writing novels is hard – if it was easy everyone would do it!

    News flash! Some people don’t understand what a “contract” is! (Those people should follow baseball more closely, starting tonight since it’s opening day.)

    The Human Division is my favorite of your books, so I can hardly wait to read this new one.

  2. Well, congrats and stuff, but I can’t see why Tor is bothering to even publish this one, since your previous sales record is so cruddy and stuff. (Wish I had that handy “rolling eyes” emoticon here!) Looking forward to the book — your OMW universe is my favorite thing of yours!

  3. thank you for finishing the cycle. also, if you like pie, as i noticed a few weeks ago, my chocolate meringue is outstanding, if I do say so myself )

  4. Sounds like John is doing one of those free agent tours professional athletes do to see who pays him the most money. Hopefully we can skip a “Lebron” like announcement when he picks his publisher.

  5. Bravo on getting done and bigger bravo on having other things you’d like to do more, at least for a while.

    Echoing your minor point: In contract and out of contract are both so different in the publishing world that they are hard to explain even to newcomers and wannabees. And whether it’s an advantage or not, either to be in or out, is something that only emerges in the course of time. Scalzi speaketh sooth: contractedness or not is related to success or not, but the relationship is extremely complex and changes over time.

  6. Congrats. Look forward to the book.

    Love to get update on your TV projects at some point.

  7. Guess:

    You’re overthinking it. I’ve been out of contract before, most notably after Zoe’s Tale. Both Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts were written out of contract and then sold to Tor. Hate Mail and Metatropolis, also published by Tor, were also not under contract to Tor when they approached me about publishing them.

    As John Barnes rather cogently notes, this is terrain that is not easily traversed by those who are themselves not in the industry.

  8. If there’s one thing I’ve never worried about, it’s being insufficiently entertained by John Scalzi.

  9. In responding to the “Scalzi’s a free agent being wined and dined” idea:

    JS also said he has several things lined up and that he’s going to be working on a novel later in the year. He’s also very specifically said that he only writes when he’s getting paid. So that means that he has “several” plus one contracts in the bag and waiting for him to apply his time to produce the work.

    And Tor may have a big recent influx in awesome novelists and need to get their work in the pipeline, and so when they talked to JS, they decided that they’d confab in 6 or 9 months and see if the had slots that would line up for a new novel.

    Besides, JS is the sort of forward-thinking kind of guy who thought about what he was going to do after the curent novel was done at least 6 months ago, and started talking to people about what it was, and made it happen.

  10. …. yes. That’s exactly what I did.

    More seriously, yes, typically I don’t write things unless they’re already bought and paid for. That said, I do occassionally write things I want to write, for my own reasons, without regard to whether there is a market for them. Fuzzy Nation is in fact an example of that; I wrote it purely because I wanted to, and not with any intention to sell it to a publisher. So it’s more accurate to say I write for pay or for my own amusement (or both).

  11. I’m not glad this novel gave you more trouble than your usual situation, but I am glad to see that even someone who generally writes quickly and has a whole bunch of novels already published can have the same problem I have: needing to write about 40% more than the final work will be.

    I spend a lot of my writing and revising time muttering, “No way out but through.”


    Also, speaking as a production professional who has had to crash through many a missed-deadline book: Send the production department at Tor/MacMillan a box of chocolate or catered lunch or something. No one ever remembers the production department because if we do our job right, we’re invisible in the process. But I assure you, the production/manufacturing department is getting hit the hardest timewise; they’re the last step in the house.

    (The printers get squeezed the hardest, but at least the printing company gets to charge rush fees. The production department is probably salaried and doesn’t even get overtime.)

  12. Don’t you know you should show more respect? It’s the Voice of God that speaks, after all. He got His slate on the Hugo ballot, So There.

    Also, it’s the Voice of God, so you *better* listen! If He says Tor dropped you, It Is So.

    Because He speaks.

    With the Voice of God.

    (Sincerely hope you enjoy your time down under! I liked Redshirts, and have OMWar in my queue, but promised myself I would try to read all the Hugo norms this year. True, I should not hold myself to ALL of them this time around, but just getting TWO from Best Novel require reading several others first . . . But I *will* get to OM W!)

  13. This time around I’ll try to slow my reading a bit and think about the task of you writing the words that flow past my eyes. If I can. Perhaps you’ll be able to use some of that material in an altered way in the future. Thank you for writing the very, very good books we readers can enjoy.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing another book in the Lock In scenario, though I have small expectation of such.

  14. Does this mean you are going to revisit the Lock In universe next? I hope so as I’ve been wondering what Chris Shane and Leslie Vann have been up to for the last year.

  15. Congratulations on finishing the book, thanks for being a great guest at SwanCon, and have a great time relaxing for the rest of your trip.

  16. My philosophy behind writing the OMW series (which I expect I will extend to any series I do) is only write books in the series if I enjoy the process and have someplace new to take the universe. Grinding out books in a series is a drag for both writer and reader. I have better things to do than crank out books in a series just for the cash, and you have better things to do than to read a book created in those circumstances.

    But you have to finish another book before the next season of the TV show!!!

    Oh, sorry, wrong author.

    Seriously though, as a reader and a fan of your work, a mighty and sincere thank you for not dragging me through uninspired filler. I’ve left other authors because they started off well and then began pumping out junk to get paid or please publishers or whatever drove them to waste shelf real-estate.

  17. I’m glad to see that the actual blog entry now has an italicized “not” in the declaration about “forever done with writing in the Old Man’s War universe.” I was a mite dismayed when I read the emailed version that lacked that word — though obviously it’s your prerogative to leave that universe behind forever and ever if you so choose! It did become fairly clear within two paragraphs what had happened, but if you feel like being merciful to those who jump to conclusions, you could send out a followup of some kind.

  18. So, The End of All Things is not actually the end of all things?

    Seriously, congrats on finishing TEAT. I just pre-ordered it from Amazon.

  19. Glad to hear the novel is completed and looking forward to reading it. Also, many thanks for divulging your writing process for this novel. I find them very instructive. Finally, I think you look best clean shaven. Okay, a couple day’s shadow is fine, but yeah.

  20. Do you know if William Dufris (who did such a phenomenal job on THD) is going to be narrating again? Listening to his version of your story was a highlight of my commute last time.

  21. Yes! I love William Dufris’s narration! I have experienced all of the OMW novels by audiobook and hope he will be able to continue because he’s the “voice” I hear in my head when I think about these novels.

    Will the audio book also have the extras that the print/combined version will have? Please, please?

  22. What’s the best order to read the OMW series? My girlfriend recently read OMW, and now I’m not sure exactly which one she should read next since it’s been so long since I’ve read them. Ghost Brigades?

  23. I’ve always assumed that “I’m never ever going to write another whatsit universe story” means (spoken in a very frustrated voice) “I’ve been trying for /forever/ to think up a good idea. Mutter mumble writer’s block!”

  24. As I see it – you can have an universe but you can play a lot of stories within that universe, even for different time periods. New players, new borders, new alliances. The great thing with Science Fiction is that you set the rules yourself and tie in some familiarity into it. Parallel universes are tricky but nice to use for the “what if” – like what was done in “Redshirts”. (But what is cause and what is effect? Do we have a free will?)

    That said – not many stories depict main characters with mental problems like being bipolar or having panic anxiety – and still being functional. Closest I can think of is Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan.

  25. I bet Bruce Sterling regrets saying “No more Shaper/Mechanist stories, EVAHHHH!”

  26. So, there’s something I wondered: those surplus chapters. They’re good, you say? And they’re written, you suggest? Also, rumor has it that there are people in the world that enjoy reading good things that you write, yes? Cause I’m pretty sure I’m one of them.

    If all that is true, is there any chance we can somehow red them? For, you know, money or some money-analogue, as is the tradition of our people? I mean, they’re *right there*. And we’re just over here. The distance seems so very very small…

  27. I enjoyed the short episodes of THD on I could count on a treat of a complete work on the way home from work once a week.
    By the way, Lock In is at the top of my alternate Hugo list (in the sterling company of The Three-Body Problem).
    Got your back, dude!

  28. @John Scalzi and John Barnes: I was half joking. I take it that out of contract for someone like John means “just haven’t pitched a new project to them yet, I expect them to buy it”. I think its just 1 person who talks about your declining sales.

    I recently read an interesting blog entry by Charlies Stross. He talked about how if he (like most authors) miss a deadline, the release dates of their books get pushed back. Only “special” authors get to keep their release dates. Congratulations on this John. Looking forward to this book. Stross has some really good Blog posts related to writing.

    Slightly off topic, but still about Old Mans War Universe.

    There is actually something about the Human Division I had been meaning to post, but hadn’t found the right blog post to put it in. I saw an interview you did at some con (it was on youtube) where you said you thought you had the word ‘said’ too much in The Human Division. It was only on noticeable on audio. I actually thought that when I read it. I didn’t want to say anything because I thought people would think I was an idiot. Rather interesting that you said the same thing. I am not sure its that you have ‘said’ too much. I think that your Old Mans War books tend to have a lot of dialogue in them.

  29. So you’ll be out of contract, do you have any “attack of the book” flash ideas or new story brainstorms you want to tease for future books?

  30. I’m actually reading The Human Division for the first time right now. J’accuse! You wrote the entire series (or at least made Dani Lowen a Hematolgist/Nephrologist and her father’s chief of staff a James who uses the typical American nickname) for a single line. “I have no idea Jim… I’m a doctor, not a private investigator.”

  31. Wonderful post on the writing process. I tell my English students over and over to over-write their papers, then go back and cut out the weakest parts to get back down to the required word count. Their final paper will be better for it. I tell them professional writers do this all the time. Your blog gives me actual evidence! Yes!

  32. “The difficulties with the novel meant that for the first time, I blew a book deadline, which kills me”

    I had to laugh here. At one point, I was one of three co-authors on a textbook. My four chapters were finished (mostly) on time. The other two authors’ work, not so much. Here it is ten years later and we are still waiting on the final author to finish his parts…

  33. Sounds like an ideal time to start reading the OMW series then. And I noticed this morning that UK kindle people can get OMW itself for 99p this month .

  34. I LIKE the idea of novellists being courted by agents/publishers as big news, equivalent to sports. Can we get some crumbly old guys who are past their prime to sit around a table and talk about how it was different in their day, then cut away to younger folks stood in publisher’s lobbies, talking with authors on their way out of meetings?
    We could have a fantasy Publishing House competition, where you create your own stable of authors and the person whose fantasy publishing house gets the most literary awards gets to be interviewed about whether or not e-publishing will cause the death of print….

  35. So glad to hear the book is done. Getting momentum is a tough thing and having to do it 4 times, I can only imagine. I liked what I heard on the JoCo cruise and if the rest of book is of similar quality, it was worth the wait.

  36. Clearly John has been dropped by Tor not for poor sales, but for missing a deadline. This is a horrendous faux pas that, so far as I know, has never before been committed by a working author. Hang your head in shame.

    In shame, I say.

  37. I’m truly shocked to know that Zoe’s Tale took 9 months to write. Much as I generally like the Old Man’s War series I felt like Zoe’s Tale was not only remarkably short on original content, being the same series of events from a different viewpoint with little revelation changing the interpretation of those events as a result of the alternate viewpoint, but also fairly mediocre in the actual structure and dialogue writing too. I had always assumed it was knocked out to meet a X books in Y time contract at the last minute.

    Anyway I’m thrilled that we are getting a new look (with original content too!) Old Man’s War work. I’d much rather author’s write what compels them instead of grinding out a series infinitely until it the lustre wears off enough that it starts making me question the good stuff that lead the series off.

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