If you prefer to download this compilation, click here.
There have been several discussions on how long fantasy authors usually take in finishing their sequels after the debut of a series. While authors themselves do not owe their fans a deadline (or an explanation for any delay), fans do grow weary if they wait too long, and well, they just gotta learn to move on with life or read another book instead of waiting or complaining.
There should also be a clear distinction between when an author finishes his or her sequel and when that sequel gets published, as there is still a time gap between those two - so a caveat here is that it may not entirely be the author's fault if the eagerly anticipated book reaches the shelves or your e-store late. However, yes, it is highly likely that the long gap in time is due to the author's turnaround. So what I've done is basically scour the web and put together a sort of reference to some of our favorite fantasy authors and how long each of them took to complete (and publish) sequels to their famous fantasy series.
Many fantasy authors (with some notable exceptions) normally take between 2-4 years from the time they finish their first debut fantasy novel to the time they get noticed and their debut novel gets published. During these "difficult and struggling" years, the author normally would proceed to work on other titles, short stories, graphic novels, raise a family, or work on their sequels. The more established ones may be developing an older series into a television show or film, doing consulting work, giving talks at conventions, attending book signing tours and contributing to anthologies.
Urban fantasy author Jim Butcher for example: when he finished Storm Front (originally titled Semiautomagic), his first The Dresden Files' novel, it didn't get published until 2-3 years later. During this time, he completed its sequel, Fool Moon, and the third book, Grave Peril. When Storm Front was published in 2000, Fool Moon and Grave Peril were published shortly thereafter in 2001 because he had already completed them.
This is quite common with fantasy authors and their debut follow-ups; they may have written not only their debuts but their sequels before any of them got published (unless of course, a fantasy author's debut was so good, they got discovered fairly quickly and published the same year they finished writing it). One example is Young Adult grimdark author Leigh Bardugo, whose debut novel Shadow and Bone, from the Grisha trilogy, was published in 2012, apparently within the same year she started looking for an agent.
1940s to the 1970s
When J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937, the publisher Allen & Unwin asked him for a sequel. Initially, Tolkien had wanted to publish The Silmarillion, but the editors rejected his drafts, citing 'more hobbits!'. So at 45 years old, Tolkien began work on The New Hobbit, which subsequently became The Lord of the Rings (LotR), writing in various stages between 1937 and 1949. The three-in-one book, comprising of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, didn't get published until 1954, when Tolkien was 62 years old. That's a big gap, but considering the amount of research, characters, language, plot-lines and volumes (9,250 pages) in the sequel, one can only guess what went through Tolkien's head when it was finally completed and out in book-stores. Some experts suggested that many of the readers who read, loved and praised LotR when it came out were once children who had read The Hobbit, so the timing of LotR's release was apt from that perspective.
Tolkien's journey from debut to sequel is somewhat different compared to C.S. Lewis. Lewis' 7-book Chronicles of Narnia series was published between 1950 and 1956 (he had written them between 1949 and 1954). This means by the time the third or fourth book in the series was published, he had already completed the last three to four books. Of course, from a word count perspective, Tolkien had an estimated 40% more words to write (if we're comparing just these two series, and pleasantly ignore the fact that they had a damn hell a lot of other things to do as people!).
Here's a quick approximated word count review. Note that approximated word count can either be based on what I've found from reddit/user forums, blog posts and fan-made excelsheets (I kid you not) on these different books, or based on an estimate generated by readinglength.com. They're never going to be exact and accurate, so refer to them with half a spoonful of belief.
Note that these word count lists do not take into account that during these years or intervening years, the authors may be writing other novels, short stories, graphic novels, poems, etc. which may or may not be relevant to the series:
J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth series:
The Hobbit (1934) - 95,356 words
The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) - 187,790 words
The Two Towers (1954) - 156,198 words
The Return of the King (1954) - 137,115 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1934-1954) - 576,459
C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia series:
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) - 38,421 words
Prince Caspian (1951) - 46,290 words
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) - 53,960 words
The Silver Chair (1953) - 51,022 words
The Horse and His Boy (1954) - 48,029 words
The Magician's Nephew (1955) - 64,480 words
The Last Battle (1956) - 43,333 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1950-1956) - 345,535
When asked what inspired him to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first novel in The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis said he was inspired by the Mourne Mountains, near the village of Rostrevor near Belfast, Ireland. The Cloughmore Trail in Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor, now hosts The Narnia Trail for fans of the series.
1970s to early 1990s
The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of fantasy authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, Raymond E. Feist, Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks and David Eddings. From Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, Brooks' The Sword of Shannara in 1977, Eddings' Pawn of Prophecy (and Feist's Magician) in 1982 and Pratchett's The Colour of Magic in 1983, that period was certainly an amazing and resurgent time in the commercialization of high and epic fantasy, where story-telling, magic, prophecies, gods and the poor kitchen-boy-becomes-hero-or-king themes were the talk among school-boys and girls.
Most authors, like Feist, Brooks and Pratchett are/were fantasy storytelling stalwarts who managed to churn out 3, 4 and 5-book series after series based on their respective fantasy worlds on a near annual or 2-year basis. Eddings himself had an equally consistent run with his series, capping his last work for his fantasy world in 2006 with The Younger Gods for The Dreamers series (he passed away in 2009). Pratchett had four different sub-series from his Discworld running between 1989-2011, adding two more till 2015. His final Discworld book, published posthumously, was 2015's The Shepherd's Crown for the Young Adult Tiffany Aching sub-series.
Le Guin herself wrote and published the 7 novels for The Earthsea Cycle between 1968 and 2001, but remained actively engaged with her fans with poems, non-fiction works and short stories (the last being the Earthsea short story, Firelight, posthumously published in the Paris Review in Summer 2018) before her death in 2018.
Among the names mentioned from this era, Brooks and Feist continue to burn the torch brightly, with Brooks' latest work being the upcoming The Stiehl Assassin (4 June, 2019) from The Fall of Shannara series, and Feist's latest being King of Ashes (2018) from The Firemane Saga (with two more books in the series planned).
This is an era that marks the passion all of these authors have and had for their respective worlds and imagination, and their persistence certainly paid off with the amount of fans they have, even after some of them had passed on from this world. One giant emerged towards the end of this era - Robert Jordan - when he debuted The Eye of the World for his The Wheel of Time series in 1990, releasing its sequel The Great Hunt in the same year. A year later, The Dragon Reborn was published, then a year later in 1992, The Shadow Rising. Jordan's books are no mere short-reads too - each of his books average between 250,000 to nearly 400,000 words!
Another giant emerged about the same time as Jordan. Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series floored the scene, starting with The Dragonbone Chair in 1988, with the sequel, Stone of Farewell, two years later, then To Green Angel Tower three years later. The latter was memorable, especially because it came in at nearly 1600 pages and was split into two parts - Siege and Storm. Williams' series was praised by George R. R. Martin, who cited the series as a key influence of his own epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Beyond this series, Williams also wrote sci-fi with his Otherland series, standalones Tailchaser's Song and The War of the Flowers, and the Shadowmarch series. Williams has followed up his beloved series with The Last King of Osten Ard, which is a return to his original Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series.
Check out the approximated word count of some of the books we've mentioned:
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series:
The Eye of the World (1990) - 305,000 words
The Great Hunt (1990) - 267,000 words
The Dragon Reborn (1991) - 251,000 words
The Shadow Rising (1992) - 393,000 words
The Fires of Heaven (1993) - 354,000 words
Lord of Chaos (1994) - 389,000 words
A Crown of Swords (1996) - 295,000 words
The Path of Daggers (1998) - 226,000 words
Winter’s Heart (2000) - 238,000 words
Crossroads of Twilight (2003) - 271,000 words
New Spring - prequel (2004) - 110,000 words
Knife of Dreams (2005) - 315,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1990-2005): 3,414,000
Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar Saga:
Magician (1982) - 292,157 words
Silverthorn (1985) - 129,571 words
A Darkness at Sethanon (1986) - 159,313 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1982-1986) - 581,041
David Eddings' The Belgariad series:
Pawn of Prophecy (1982) - 104,000 words
Queen of Sorcery (1982) - 128,000 words
Magician's Gambit (1983) - 122,000 words
Castle of Wizardry (1984) - 149,000 words
Enchanter's End Game (1984) - 148,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1982-1984) - 651,000
Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series:
The Dragonbone Chair (1988) - 288,695 words
Stone of Farewell (1990) - 282,750 words
To Green Angel Tower (1993) - 550,275 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1988-1993) - 1,121,720
Tad Williams' The Last King of Osten Ard series:
The Witchwood Crown (2017) - 336,400 words
Empire of Grass (2019) - 287,100 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2017-2019) - 623,500
Terry Brooks' original Shannara series:
The Sword of Shannara (1977) - 265,000 words
The Elfstones of Shannara (1982) - 206,000 words
The Wishsong of Shannara (1985) - 180,000 words
First King of Shannara - prequel (1996) - 167,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1977-1996): 818,000
Terry Pratchett's Discworld
The Colour of Magic (1983) - 73,000 words
The Light Fantastic (1986) - 71,000 words
Small Gods (1992) - 90,000 words
Ursula K. Le Guin's The Earthsea Cycle:
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) - 56,533 words
The Tombs of Atuan (1971) - 45,939 words
The Farthest Shore (1972) - 60,591 words
Tehanu (1990) - 99,200 words
Tales from Earthsea (2001) - 128,960 words
The Other Wind (2001) - 89,280 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1968-2001): 480,503
Mid-1990s to mid-2000s
As we moved into the mid- to late-1990s and 2000s, we began to see fantasy authors unafraid to test audiences' expectations by pushing the envelope on what's rote, what's trope and what's definitely not either of those two. George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones debuted in 1996 with his shocking character deaths, while J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (it was renamed Sorcerer's Stone in the US) was released in 1997 to a fairly untapped young adult market.
Robin Hobb's The Realm of the Elderlings mega-series of book trilogies and tetralogy, beginning with her debut Assassin's Apprentice from The Farseer Trilogy in 1995 also did not disappoint. She went on to publish almost a book a year from this mega-series with a break (for the series) between the Tawny Man Trilogy in 2003 and The Rain Wild Chronicles in 2009. The mega-series wrapped with The Fitz and the Fool trilogy with Assassin's Fate in 2017.
By 2005, Rowling had almost completed her 7-book Potter series, with one finale to go, Martin had just published A Feast for Crows (the 4th book in his series), Jordan has just published Knife of Dreams (the last of his work before Brandon Sanderson took over and completed his remaining three books) and Eddings had just published his penultimate book, Crystal Gorge, under The Dreamers series.
It was definitely a great time for fantasy, as Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film series came out during this era (released from 2001-2003), the Harry Potter books were made into films (released from 2001-2011), James Cameron's sci-fi/fantasy Avatar was released in 3D (2009) and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series was going to be made into a HBO TV series (first season in 2011). If you were a fantasy author then, you were probably in high demand.
One author who garnered a large following during this period is Steven Erikson, whose Malazan Book of the Fallen series debuted in 1999 with Gardens of the Moon. He went on to publish the ten-book series over twelve years. He was very consistent with the series, publishing one book a year with a two-year wait between House of Chains in 2002 and Midnight Tides in 2004, and Dust of Dreams in 2009 and The Crippled God in 2011.
His consistency is definitely right up there with Rowling's completion of the Potter series. She finished (and published) her 7-book series in 10 years (1997-2007), which gave the films the needed material to stay true to the books and her fans as they were scripted and produced.
Here are the approximated word count of some of these books:
George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series:
A Game of Thrones (1996) - 284,000 words
A Clash of Kings (1998) - 326,000 words
A Storm of Swords (2000) - 404,000 words
A Feast for Crows (2005) - 300,000 words
A Dance with Dragons (2011) - 422,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1996-2011) - 1,736,000
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series:
The Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone (1997) - 76,944 words
The Chamber of Secrets (1998) - 85,141 words
The Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) - 107,253 words
The Goblet of Fire (2000) - 190,637 words
The Order of the Phoenix (2003) - 257,045 words
The Half-Blood Prince (2005) - 168,923 words
The Deathly Hallows (2007) - 197,651 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1997-2007) - 1,083,594
Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy:
Assassin's Apprentice (1995) - 157,000 words
Royal Assassin (1996) - 260,000 words
Assassin's Quest (1997) - 339,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1995-1997) - 756,000
Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen:
Gardens of the Moon (1999) - 204,000 words
Deadhouse Gates (2000) - 267,000 words
Memories of Ice (2001) - 355,000 words
House of Chains (2002) - 302,000 words
Midnight Tides (2004) - 267,000 words
The Bonehunters (2006) - 358,000 words
Reaper's Gale (2007) - 382,000 words
Toll the Hounds (2008) - 389,000 words
Dust of Dreams (2009) - 370,000 words
The Crippled God (2011) - 380,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (1999-2011) - 3,274,000
Late 2000s to end 2020
We're now moving into an era of the think different generation. As the trending hashtags - eg. #POC, #WOC, LGBTQ, #ownvoices and #metoo movements - started to filter through social media and captivated ideas and ideals, so too did we see fresh new ideas take root in the books that came out around this time. Protagonists no longer needed to always be male, so we began to see more female protagonists - queens, princesses, assassins, pirate-girl, village-girl, you name it, there's a book for it. They do not need to be fair-skinned, so we began to see more colored heroes. They do not need to be straight, so there are stories where protagonists are bi- or homo-sexual. It's definitely a welcome shift within the larger circles of fantasy story-telling, and there are many readers who want these.
One female author who stood out is N.K. Jemisin, whose Broken Earth trilogy (2015-2017) won back-to-back Hugo awards for each of her books three years in a row. This also illustrated her consistency and commitment to the series, which revolves around women from different societal classes, with special powers to manipulate the earth. We also had Joe Abercrombie, whose The First Law Trilogy (2006-2008) put the characters like Logen Ninefingers and Sand dan Glokta through morally ambiguous pathways, interspersed with high-octane action. It's kind of like how Ser Jaime Lannister or Theon Greyjoy from Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, went through character experiences and crisis, becoming stronger than before, not just physically and mentally, but morally and ethically.
Then came Patrick Rothfuss, whose The Kingkiller Chronicle, set the story within a story itself. He's so far finished the first two of the series - The Name of the Wind (2007) and The Wise Man's Fear (2011) - with his third - The Doors of Stone - anticipated without a firm release date yet. The gap between the release of his books did generate some heat from his doubters (the same with George R. R. Martin's last two books in the series), but Rothfuss' stories in the first two are captivating and memorable - I doubt it's that easy to forget them even when the 3rd book's out much later.
Of course, this is the era we got to know Brandon Sanderson, whose work in completing the final three posthumous volumes in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series was widely reported. Prior to that, Sanderson had published his well-loved Mistborn series (2006-2008), went to work on Jordan's books, then followed-up with the Wax and Wayne series (2011-continuing). In 2010, he embarked on perhaps one of his most ambitious and best works to date - a ten-book series called The Stormlight Archive - with the first three books published between 2010 and 2017. Unlike Mistborn, where he averaged one book a year, Stormlight shows a longer gap in-between books. Beyond Sanderson spending time to also write other series and science fiction (his Skyward series) as well, look at the word count below and you'll understand.
We're close to the end now and we're left with two other fantasy authors. The first is Mark Lawrence, who writes not just fantasy, but contemporary and science fiction. Lawrence's three trilogies so far, starting with The Broken Empire (2011-2013), then The Red Queen's War (2014-2016), and now The Book of the Ancestor (2017-2019), show remarkable consistency in his output (or publication timings). It's as if we can expect Lawrence to produce a fantasy novel once a year without fail, be it a standalone or a part of a new three-book series.
The second is John Gwynne, who so far has written two series. The first is a four-book tetralogy called The Faithful and the Fallen, and the current series is Of Blood and Bone, where he's so far published two books. Gwynne took a break after Wrath (2016), but jumped right back with A Time of Dread in 2018.
If there's one thing we can be sure of from these authors, it's consistency in ensuring that their fans can expect to see their next book in their beloved series sooner rather than later.
All right, here's the approximated word count tally of some of the series mentioned for this era:
Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy:
The Blade Itself (2006) - 191,200 words
Before They Are Hanged (2007) - 198,300 words
Last Argument of Kings (2008) - 234,100 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2006-2008) - 623,600
Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle:
Name of the Wind (2007) - 259,000 words
The Wise Man's Fear (2011) - 399,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2007-2011) - 658,000
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn:
The Final Empire (2006) - 213,348 words
The Well of Ascension (2007) - 245,172 words
The Hero of Ages (2008) - 234,908 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2006-2008) - 693,428
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn - Wax and Wayne series:
The Alloy of Law (2011) - 85,000 words
Shadows of Self (2015) - 112,000 words
The Bands of Mourning (2016) - 127,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2011-2016) - 324,000
Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive series:
The Way of Kings (2010) - 386,470 words
Words of Radiance (2014) - 398,238 words
Oathbringer (2017) - 454,440 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2010-2017) - 1,239,148
Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire series:
Prince of Thorns (2011) - 82,000 words
King of Thorns (2012) - 139,000 words
Emperor of Thorns (2013) - 135,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2011-2013) - 356,000
Mark Lawrence's The Red Queen's War series:
Prince of Fools (2014) - 119,000 words
The Liar's Key (2015) - 176,000 words
The Wheel of Osheim (2016) - 154,000 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2014-2016) - 449,000
Mark Lawrence's The Book of the Ancestor series:
Red Sister (2017) - 168,000 words
Grey Sister (2018) - 132,000 words
Holy Sister (2019) - 149,900 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2017-2019) - 449,900
N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy:
The Fifth Season (2015) - 134,415 words
The Obelisk Gate (2016) - 115,855 words
The Stone Sky (2017) - 124,120 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2015-2017) - 374,390
John Gwynne's The Faithful and the Fallen series:
Malice (2012) - 210,000 words
Valour (2014) - 172,000 words
Ruin (2015) - 245,630 words
Wrath (2016) - 203,290 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2012-2016) - 830,920
John Gwynne's Of Blood & Bone series:
A Time of Dread (2018) - 134,995 words
A Time of Blood (2019) - 139,200 words
TOTAL WORD COUNT (2018-2019) - 274,195
If you prefer to download this compilation, click here.
So there you have it. A quick overview of some of the well loved series by fantasy authors and their respective publication dates for some of these series. I know some of you will probably question the exhaustiveness of this compilation. I may have missed out a long list of many well known authors (Guy Gavriel Kay, Harry Turtledove, David Gemmel, Katharine Kerr, Janny Wurts, Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, Gene Wolfe, Stephen R. Donaldson and many, many more). I may have also missed out the other epics from Chinese classics (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dream of the Red Chamber/The Story of the Stone) or Indian epics like The Mahabharata.
Anyhow, the general idea for this post is to compile the works of some of the best known fantasy authors I usually notice as 3-, 4- or 10-book series authors. The idea is to track the consistency of their series output over the years, and maybe do some self-checks against the approximated word count they are working with. At least it'll give you an idea on their efficiency in the context of the series alone measured against the number of years they're first published and their word count. Hopefully, this post is insightful and useful.
Meanwhile, it would be great if you can offer some praise, OMGs, feedback, thoughts, critique, etc. in the comments field. Would love to hear you out if I should do more of such blogs.
Till the next musing, keep readin' like the words are bleedin' outta yer eyeballs.
About the Creator
Terry Astrial is an alias I'm using for this website & our social media channels (yep, it's not my real name). I'm born & raised in Asia.