The Creative Lifecycle of a 'Garth Nix' Book

Garth Nix, BYU Children's Literature Symposium, July 2005

I'm going to talk today about a strange journey that I have now made many times, along the twisty path from a half-grasped idea to a finished novel. Before I begin, however, I thought I might tell you a little about myself.

I was born to poor but honest parents: my father was a woodcutter and my mother a witch . . . actually that's someone else's story. I'll start again, confining myself to some salient facts.

The first of these facts is that Garth Nix is my real name. I know it sounds like the perfect pseudonym for a writer of fantasy, but it is the name on my birth certificate, and I am one of a long line of Nixes that records indicate goes back to around 1830 in Australia, and to 1136 in England.

My name is also unusual because you can find both my given and last names in the dictionary. A 'garth' is a walled garden or a walled courtyard. 'Nix' has several meanings. One, of course, is 'Nothing' but I prefer to skip over that one. A much more interesting and more appropriate reference is that 'Nix' is also a Teutonic name for a merman or water-sprite. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has the best definition:

in Germanic mythology, a water being, half human, half fish, that lives in a beautiful underwater palace and mingles with humans by assuming a variety of physical forms (e.g., that of a fair maiden or an old woman) or by making itself invisible. One of three attributes may betray the disguises of nixes: they are music lovers and excellent dancers, and they have the gift of prophecy

Apart from being a Nix, I am also an Australian. I was born in Melbourne in 1963; I grew up in Canberra, the federal capital; and I have lived for most of the last 18 years in various parts of Sydney. Though I have been inventing stories and writing ever since I was a child, it's only in the last four years that I have been (mostly) a full-time writer. Many of my books were written when I still had demanding full-time jobs, generally in the book publishing industry, most recently as a literary agent with the Australian branch of that venerable agency Curtis Brown.

I mention that I wrote at least six of my novels when I was in full-time employment, because I've been rather struck of late by how many people — particularly young people — think you need to write full-time to be an author, when in fact the great majority of authors have always had other jobs. Usually you need another job in order to actually eat and have somewhere to live, but a day job doesn't prevent you writing. Even if you only write on Sunday afternoons and the occasional evening, as I used to, you can still finish a book in a year or 18 months.

My publishing background is perhaps also of some interest to some of the audience. I'll only be talking a little bit about the business or commercial aspects of writing today, as I want to focus on the creative side. However, I do have an unusual perspective for an author, as I have been a bookseller, a sales representative, a publicist, an editor and an agent. As it happens, I am still a silent partner in the literary agency Curtis Brown Australia, so under this warm, authorial exterior something of the cold, reptilean agent remains, to be summoned forth at need.

I am always rather surprised to discover that over the last 20 years or so, I have written 14 published full-length novels (plus another that remains unpublished for good reason), and I have very recently – as in last Monday – completed the revisions to one more. These published novels include The Ragwitch, Sabriel, Shade's Children, the six books of The Seventh Tower series, Lirael, Abhorsen, Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday and the just-completed Sir Thursday. I've also written four chapter books, which I'm pleased to say will be published by HarperCollins here in the USA in 2006 or 2007, probably as an omnibus volume: these books include Bill the Inventor, Blackbread the Pirate, Serena and the Sea Serpent and The Princess and the Beastly Beast. My most recent book and the one that I have been on tour for in the last week and will be in the week ahead is Across the Wall, which contains a new novella set in the world of the Abhorsen trilogy, plus a selection of my short fiction and other work that has been previously published in various magazines and anthologies.

You would think that having written quite a number of books I would have a good idea of how I actually do it. But I have to confess that every time I lay down my pen or take my hands from the keyboard that final time, with a finished manuscript in front of me, I wonder how on earth I managed it. How did it start? How did I last the distance, which has on occasion been many years. How did it all come together?

Well, even after thinking about it at great length for this talk, it is still pretty much a mystery. But it's a mystery that I can take apart to some degree and perhaps, in talking about each part of the creative lifecycle of one of my books, I'll come to understand it a bit better as well.

I've broken my novel writing process or lifecycle down into nine steps. It was eight, but I massaged it to get nine. Some of you may wonder why. I shall answer by quoting an edited selection of entries about the number nine from one of my favourite reference books, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.


Nine, five, and three are mystical numbers—the diapa'son, diapente, and diatri'on of the Greeks. Nine consists of a trinity of trinities. According to the Pythagorean numbers, man is a full chord, or eight notes, and deity comes next. Three, being the trinity, represents a perfect unity; twice three is the perfect dual; and thrice three is the perfect plural. This explains the use of nine as a mystical number, and also as an exhaustive plural, and consequently no definite number, but a simple representative of plural perfection. (See DIAPASON.)
(1) There are nine earths. Hela is goddess of the ninth. Milton speaks of "nine-enfolded spheres." (Arcades.)
There are nine heavens. (See HEAVENS.)
There are nine orders of angels. (See ANGELS.)
There are nine worthies (q.v.); and nine worthies of London. (See WORTHIES.)
There were nine rivers of hell, according to classic mythology. Milton says the gates of hell are "thrice three-fold; three folds are brass, three iron, three of adamantine rock. They had nine folds, nine plates, and nine linings." (Paradise Lost, ii. 645.)
Fallen angels. Milton says, when they were cast out of heaven, "Nine days they fell." (Paradise Lost, vi. 871.)
(2) Examples of the use of nine as an exhaustive plural:—
A cat has nine lives—i.e. a cat is popularly supposed to be more tenacious of life than animals in general.
(3) Nine as a mystic number. Examples of its superstitious use:—
The Abracadabra was worn nine days, and then flung into a river.
Cat. The whip for punishing evildoers was a cat-o'-nine-tails, from the superstitious notion that a flogging by a "trinity of trinities" would be both more sacred and more efficacious.
Fairies. In order to see the fairies, a person is directed to put "nine grains of wheat on a four-leaved clover."
Hydra. The hydra had nine heads. (See HYDRA.)
Styx encompassed the infernal regions in nine circles.
Toast. We drink a Three-times-three to those most highly honoured.

Both seven and nine resonate with Western minds, which is why I chose to have seven bells for the Abhorsens and the nine bright shiners, and why I have nine stages in the lifecycle. (As someone is bound to ask, Brewer's has some good stuff on the number seven too.)


(Greek, hepta; Latin, septem; German, sieben; Anglo-Saxon, seofan; etc.). A holy number. There are seven days in creation, seven spirits before the throne of God, seven days in the week, seven graces, seven divisions in the Lord's Prayer, seven ages in the life of man, and the just fall "seven times a day." There are seven phases of the moon, every seventh year was sabbatical, and seven times seven years was the jubilee. The three great Jewish feasts lasted seven days, and between the first and second of these feasts were seven weeks. Levitical purifications lasted seven days. We have seven churches of Asia, seven candlesticks, seven stars, seven trumpets, seven spirits before the throne of God, seven horns, the Lamb has seven eyes, ten times seven Israelites go to Egypt, the exile lasts the same number of years, and there were ten times seven elders. Pharaoh in his dream saw seven kine and seven ears of corn, etc.

The nine stages in the lifecyle of my novel creation are:

1. Daydreams and Musing
2. A Small Vision
3. Building the Bones
4. That First Chapter
5. The Long, Hard Slog
6. Sprinting Home
7. Rest and Revision
8. Revulsion and Dejection
9. Parting Company

I've said 'one of my novels' because every writer works differently. Often there are great similarities of thought, technique and practice between writers, but there's always something different as well. This may range from such mundane things as the number of hours spent writing to the weird superstitions writers are fond of developing, like only being able to write when wearing a particular shirt, or with a particular pen, or in the dark with torchlight . . . or all three. It's a good idea to try and overcome these superstitions or habits by the way, as all are really avoidance techniques.

Stage one: Daydreams and Musing

To return to the nine stages. The first, 'Daydreams and Musing' is about ideas. Many people think that coming up with ideas is the hard part of writing, but that is not so. Ideas are the easy, fun part. This is basically because ideas in themselves are not enough, they are one of the raw materials of a story -- like rocks that may or may not contain a useful gem. Even when you have found that gem, after sifting through tons of rock, you still have to cut and shape it.

I gather my ideas from everything that goes on around me, from everything that I observe and experience, either directly or vicariously. From my own life, from other people's lives, from reading, from television, from the Internet. I might get ideas from observing people in the street; from incidents in or details of history; from myth and legend; from landscape; from the living natural world; from the sciences; from all the fiction I've ever read.

By 'ideas' I don't mean fully-fledged plots, situations or characters, for these are expressions of ideas, things that are worked up from ideas. The fleeting bits of information that lodge in my head could include 'ideas' like:

• The look of the sky in summer when a light rain is falling at sunset
• Two old men bickering light-heartedly on the street about something that occurred forty years ago
• The Venetian agents who stole the body of St Mark from Alexandria
• A cracked speedometer in a car
• The noise bath-tubs make as they are emptying
• Mynah birds turning on an injured fellow

These are all just random things that cropped in my head. I like to think of my mind as as kind of reservoir that is constantly being topped up with all kinds of information, which I am unconsciously sifting all the time for ideas that might be useful.

While the reservoir is constantly being topped up, my subsconscious and sometimes conscious mind is at work on both sifting ideas and connecting them up into larger rafts of ideas that may form the basis of a story. This is essentially daydreaming, taking thoughts and seeing where they might go and how they might connect with other thoughts.

At this stage, it’s nothing but daydreams and musing. Nothing concrete, in story terms. But as those ideas float around in my head and new ideas are added, at some point there will be a kind of critical mass and a bunch of disparate ideas will join together and well up to the surface, ready to move into the next stage of my novel-writing lifecycle.

Stage Two: A Small Vision

My novels usually begin for me with some kind of image that captures the beginnings of character, setting and story. It's rather like having a still from a film – where I know nothing about any other part of the film. All I have is this image, and a sense of the mood that it evokes.

This scene will come from the ideas that have joined together and made me pay attention to them. Taking my earlier examples, my initial scene might be something like this.

Two old men are watching the rain from inside a car (with a cracked speedometer) as the sun sets in the distance, discussing their famous expedition to Alexandria to recover the body of St Mark and take it to Venice. The mood is somber and melancholic, something terrible is about to happen. The men discuss some kind of treachery, an organization that has turned against them, friends who have become foes. Suddenly there is a noise like a bath emptying, but higher-pitched and more terrifying. The men look at each other in fear and then they and the car are caught up in a bizarre vortex as if being sucked into a black hole. It spins off into the sky and car and men are gone, leaving only the rain and the sunset.

That is probably the first scene of my book, but it might also be the last one, or somewhere in the middle. The two men may be my major characters, or they might be part of the supporting cast. At this stage, I don't know. All I have is this scene.

But the scene tells me quite a lot and it also gives me a lot to work on. If the men stole the body of St Mark from Alexandria in 828 AD, what are they doing in a 21st century car? Clearly they are time travelers of some kind. They belong, or belonged to an organization that most likely is a time travel organization. But what kind of organization? Why are the men now its enemies? Have they been killed by this vortex or translated somewhere else in time?

Uusally I will play around with this 'small vision' for some time, and look at the thoughts and ideas that it throws off. Sometimes, the original scene I've imagined will never be in the book at all, it will just be a foundation that remains out of sight.

If for example, I want to write a young adult novel — which to my mind is essentially an adult novel that will appeal particularly to teenagers — I'll probably want a young adult protagonist, someone who is aged between say 15 and 20. But I've got two old men in my original image. Perhaps this means this scene will be a prologue, setting up the background or back story for my novel.

I'm going to presume that it is. So I have a potential prologue with two time travelers recalling their mission to Alexandria in the guise of Venetian merchants. But I don't feel like writing a time travel story. My story instinct tells me that having them in the car is wrong. So I revisit my small vision, imagining it somewhat differently. Let's say the two men are on the deck of a ship. They are Venetian merchants. It is 868 AD, their trip to Alexandria was forty years ago. The vortex still appears and either whisks them away somewhere or destroys them. And this event is observed by my protagonist, the hero of the coming tale.

I usually have very limited knowledge of my characters when they first come into a book. I think about the sort of person who would be good to have in this story, and I get a vague idea of what they are like and perhaps of their physical characteristics. All I need at this stage are a few 'starter' details, enough for me to get on with the storytelling.

In this case, I think my hero will be a ship's boy who is up the mast when the vortex takes away the two merchants, one of whom is his master and benefactor (and you see I've just decided they are taken away, not killed). To make things interesting, I think this magical vortex will touch on the boy as it departs, giving him some powers and some maladies. And perhaps it will also touch on the boy's pet monkey, who will likewise be gifted and cursed.

At this point, as these ideas are coalescing into something resembling the outline of the story, I will write them in a notebook and there, it's very likely, they will remain without anything further being done to them.

Even if I do follow up this particular story kernel, it might be some considerable time later. I usually spend a year or so after this original 'first image' comes together in my head, thinking about it from time to time, exploring the possibilities that stem from the basic idea and letting the whole lot ferment.

At some point, this fermentation will bubble over and I will sit down to develop this first image and the ideas connected to it into an actual story outline, moving along to the next stage in the lifecycle.

Stage Three: Building the Bones

A week, a month or even years after that initial 'small vision' I will usually sit down and try and work out the bare bones of the story and how I am going to tell it. I look back at the notes I've taken and I dredge up all the salient points I've been thinking about it. Then I sit down and write a chapter outline. This is quite a simple affair. I write a paragraph for each chapter, describing what happens.

I sometimes wonder why I bother to do this, as my chapter outlines rarely bear any close resemblance to the finished book. I've usually departed from the outline within a few chapters and by the time I'm halfway through a novel there is often almost no correlation between the outline and the actual story.

In retrospect, this chapter outlining serves two purposes. One is that it makes me think about the overall structure of the novel, which I think kickstarts some subconscious process that will continue through the writing, monitoring the narrative structure. The second purpose is that it serves as a psychological prop. If I have a chapter outline, I presume I know where I'm going, even when I don't really. In this sense the chapter outline is like a very out-of-date map. Most of it is wrong, but there will be some landmarks on it. So if I get terribly lost in my book, I can always go back to the outline and though most of it will be wrong, I might see some important plot point or notes for a character that will help me get back on the narrative road.

Using the ideas I've mentioned and the small vision, my chapter outline might begin something like this:


A magical vortex kidnaps two Venetian merchants, Antonio and Salerino from their ship on a rainy evening. The event is observed only by Adrian and his pet monkey, Morocco, who are both touched by the vortex. It imbues Adrian with a gift and a curse, and Morocco likewise. Gift is being able to talk to the wind. Curse is recurrent dizziness and fear of heights. Adrian thinks his master has been killed. There is a bloody stain upon the deck.

Chapter One

Adrian is arrested for the murder of his master. He and Morocco are put in prison, summarily tried and sentenced to death. Adrian thinks he is going mad when the winds talk to him. The Sou-Easter tells him is master is alive, held captive in Alexandria. Adrian and Morocco discover they can communicate after a fashion via the winds. They plan to escape.

And so on.

After the chapter outline is done, or possibly while I'm still working on it, I will actually sit down and begin to write and the novel will enter Stage Four of its lifecycle.

Stage Four: That First Chapter

Though I've called this 'That First Chapter' I nearly always have a prologue in my books and that is the first thing that will be written. It's not unusual for me to write the prologue at the same time as I'm working on the chapter outline, and in some cases I've written the prologue immediately after my initial 'small vision'.

After I've written the prologue the book often stops for a while. Looking back, my usual practice seems to be to write the chapter outline and the prologue (in whatever order happens) and then to rest the whole thing for a few weeks or a few months before really starting in again.

In this 'resting time' I'm still writing. I work on short stories, or on the ideas that may or may not come together. And of course part of my mind at least is still putting together more ideas and working out the story for this current book.

With that first chapter or the prologue done, when it's time to start again the book moves along to Stage Five.

Stage Five: The Long, Hard Slog

Then I start to write again. I used to always write a chapter longhand, type it up on the computer, print it out and correct it and then start the next chapter. One advantage to this system is that the first typed version is a second draft. It's also handy if you're traveling, as you can handwrite anywhere, without having to worry about power for a laptop and so on. I've written chapters sitting on the wall of a Crusader castle, in the ruins of a Roman fort, on the headland near where I used to live, with the sea crashing below me.

These days, I only write parts of my books longhand first. Usually the prologue and the first chapter are handwritten first, and then any parts where I might be having particular difficulty.

Whether it's handwritten first or not, when I've finished a chapter, I do a wordcount (or rather the computer does it) and I enter the amount of words and the date in a running list in my writing book. This is part of a psychological process that is part self-deception and part self-encouragement.

I never tell myself I am writing a 100,000 word book. When I sit down to write, I focus on the fact that I am writing a 2,000-4,000 word chapter. A chapter is a do-able thing. It's even possible to write a whole chapter in a single sitting, on a good day. Or it might take several days. But then it's done and I write it in the book, and I add up the total so far, and as that list grows, chapter by chapter, I know I'm getting to my ultimate goal.

Even just focusing on writing a chapter at a time, it's still a long, hard slog. The key for me, getting chapters written and thus the book, is to force myself to the keyboard or to pick up a pen. Like most writers I can find any number of excuses or diversionary activities to avoid writing. To some extent I think this is necessary, but at the same time, you can't let too many days go past without getting some words done. Writing is a habit as much as anything else and it's a habit that can easily be lost.

It is in this stage that I often tell my wife that I don't know how to write books any more, that what I've already written is incredibly clunky and terrible and that I don't know how to go on. She is a publisher and so often subjected to the neuroses of authors, so I usually only do this once per book, nearly always right in the middle of it. She reminds me that I always react in the same way at the same time and that I also always go on to finish said clunky, terrible tome. I then remind myself that even if it is terrible, I am no judge at this time, and anyway it's better to have something written that can be fixed up later than a blank page. So I go back to work, muttering and complaining about my lack of ability, and I get on with it.

This return to work is usually rewarded somewhere down the track, when I suddenly find the long, hard slog is turning into something more enjoyable.

It usually takes me about 90% of the total time spent writing a book to write the first two-thirds. At some point, usually in that last third, everything suddenly accelerates. The story comes together, the pent-up power of the narrative suddenly flows and the book enters its next stage.

Stage Six: Sprinting Home

As I mentioned, somewhere about two-thirds of the way through a book, I find myself writing more quickly, carried along by a surge of extremely welcome energy.

Looking at one the wordcount and date record of one of my more recent books, Mister Monday (written in 2002) I find that I wrote the first 19 chapters plus the prologue over six months and I wrote the last 8 chapters in one month. This averages out at roughly a chapter a week for the first 20 chapters (counting the prologue) and then two chapters a week for the final eight, though looking at the dates I actually wrote the last three chapters in two days. This doesn't tell the whole story, of course, because the earlier stages of Mister Monday and planning for the series as a whole began two years earlier.

By this stage, I am usually writing at night as well as during the day. Since becoming a full-time writer, I try to keep regular office hours and I do have a separate office that is ten minutes walk away from home. (This is a luxury I'm well aware of and I often remember the days when I could only write on the occasional evening and on Sunday afternoons. But as I've mentioned before, I still managed to write a book every few years.)

Because I can write in normal office hours and because I like to spend time with my wife and children, these days I don't write much at home outside office hours — except in this crucial sprint to finish the book. I think there is some relationship between the energy put into a book and the energy of the narrative, and when everything is building to the climax and resolution of the story I think that for me at least, it helps to keep at it, to write fast and really charge for the finish line.

Naturally, this usually results in exhaustion and the need for rest. Which is not a bad thing, because books need that too, before you can bring a fresh eye back to the manuscript. After the mad rush, the book enters the next stage of the lifecycle.

Stage Seven: Rest and Revision

If deadlines permit, after I've finished a book I like to let the manuscript lie fallow for a while, preferably at least a few weeks. In that time I catch up on administrative things, perhaps jot down a few ideas and generally take life a little more slowly. I don't look at the manuscript at all and I try not to think about it.

Then, when the time seems right or the editor is screaming for it (with good reason, for an author's late delivery screws up everything else in the long chain between manuscript and finished book), I sit down and go through the whole manuscript again, to revise it and improve it and try and make it as good as I can before an editor sees it.

By this stage, each chapter in the manuscript has probably been individually revised three or four times and different parts of the book may have been revised many more times. But there is nothing like coming back to the entire manuscript after a bit of a rest.

Usually the revisions at this point are to the prose, to correct minor plot points or inconsistencies, and to add detail.

These days I usually have a deadline and so the manuscript can only undergo so much revision before it has to go to my editor (though my books are published in English in Australia, the USA and the UK, I make a point of only working with one editor and the other publishers take that text and make only essential changes due to different uses of the language. Working substantively with three different editors is a recipe for stress and disaster). But even if there isn't a deadline, there comes a time when you need to stop revising and just send it off, either to see if someone will buy it (as in make an offer to publish) or to deliver it to your editor.

Then comes the waiting, to see what the editor thinks and to get their editorial report or first edit. And it is during this period that the author, more than the book, enters the next stage.

Stage Eight: Revulsion and Dejection

I mentioned that halfway through a book I usually doubt my work, but I get over it and keep going. Often, when the book is done and has gone off to the editor, this doubt returns and I think that not only have I lost the ability to write, I've demonstrated this lack in the latest manuscript.

This is probably a natural let-down after working very hard on a project that has possibly gone on for a year or several years. I overcome it in three ways.

First of all, I tell myself that if the book does turn out to be terrible, then it simply means a lot more work ahead to try and make it better, with the help of the excellent editors I have been working with for many years.

Secondly, I tell myself that if even after that the book is no good I will just have to work harder to write a better one next time.

Thirdly, if even that doesn't work and I really have lost all my writing abilities, then at least I can go back to work as an agent or in PR and marketing, and I will still have written a bunch of books that have stuck around and done well.

This stage doesn't usually last too long. After I've wrung my hands and moaned about a bit, I start thinking about a new book and get interested in that and forget to be angst-ridden and melancholy. Around this time, the manuscript also comes back, with an editorial letter and either some or lots of notes in the margins or on the electronic file. This edit is what is often called a structural edit and usually it flags places where more is needed, or less is needed, or something simply doesn't work.

As I go to work on the structural edit, which is essentially a guided revision process, the book and I are already entering the final stage of the creative process.

Stage Nine: Parting Company

Responding to the structural edit and then later checking the copy-edit (which is where the prose is smoothed and minor inconsistencies are corrected) always feels like a strange afterthought to me. Emotionally I have already moved on to the next book, and the editing is purely a craft process, done with the head not the heart.

I think you need to let a book go when all the work is done, and it's important to move on. In my years in publishing I often met authors whose whole self was entirely bound up in a single book, usually their first. Their lives would rise or fall depending solely on that book's fate, and in this business, that's an incredibly foolhardy and dangerous gamble to make.

I'm all for investing all your passion and self into the writing of a book, indeed, you need to put a lot of your soul into the story. But when the writing and editing is all done, I think you need to withdraw somewhat. It's likely there will be many months before the book hits the shelves. It may even be a year away, and thinking about it and wondering how it will do and obsessing over it for that entire time is not healthy.

You need to say 'goodbye and good luck, my friend' and start on the next book. Sure, you'll be meeting again when the book comes out, and it's important to try and help it along then as much as possible, though again it's easy to lose balance in promoting a book.

I'm always really pleased to see one of my finished books. I get a great feeling of accomplishment when I hold that firsy copy in my hand, a feeling that is undiminished from the very first time, way back in 1990.

But I also feel detached, and I think that is a good thing. I probably already have a new book partly written, or at least the outline is there and the prologue. I look at this finished book and I flick through the pages, and even though I can remember every part of writing it, sometimes I read a bit and I feel like I'm reading someone else's story. A real book, not one of my own. I like that feeling, because it means I've succeeded in my ultimate ambition: writing the sort of book that I like to read.

Those are the nine stages in the creation of one of my novels. I'm not really sure whether I understand the whole process any better myself, but I hope I have provided something of an insight into my methods, techniques and eccentricities.

I'm going to conclude with a very brief look at the commercial lifecycle of one of my books, or rather the lifecycle so far. With the creative process I can say that my novels pretty much all go through the nine stages I've talked about, though there are variations in the process.

However, it is impossible to predict what will happen to that book once it gets out on to the bookshop shelves and into the hands of readers. It may be interesting for the writers among you to take a look at the life so far of Sabriel, which is probably still my best-known and most successful book.

Sabriel was first published in Australia in 1995 and it was not a big success. It got great reviews and it did pretty well, but the original edition was not reprinted.

The book came out in the USA in hardcover in 1996 and got great reviews and a lot of important listings, but it was not an immediate success. It kept ticking over, but it made no bestseller lists and was not seen by anybody as a commercial winner, but everyone kept assuring me that HarperCollins were delighted to have it because it had brought kudos on the house with its various awards listings and so on.

A second Australian paperback came out in 1996 with the US cover by the Dillons, and did well, selling out the print-run. But it wasn't reprinted and so effectively went out of print in Australia in about 1997.

The US paperback came out in 1997 and around that time we also tried to sell the UK rights to a British publisher. None of them wanted it unless they could also have the Australian and NZ rights, which I would not give them. So Sabriel was not published in the UK, the second biggest English-language market in the world.

The 1997 US paperback did pretty well, but it made no bestseller lists and was instead seen as a nice solid seller that would probably disappear in a few years. However, the hardcover was also still selling, though only at a modest pace.

Over the next few years, much to everyone's surprise, both US editions of Sabriel actually increased their annual sales. Another Australian edition came out and again though it was not a bestseller, it did pretty well and it kept on keeping on.

In 2001, Lirael came out and the sales of Sabriel went up again. British publishers suddenly became interested even if they couldn't have the Australian rights, and after a spirited auction we did a deal with HarperCollins UK.

In 2002, Abhorsen came out and went straight into the New York Times children's bestsellers at #3. Sales of Sabriel went up again, particularly of the paperback, which by the end of the year was selling almost as many per month as it had sold in its first year.

Since then, annual sales have continued to increase, and foreign rights sales have turned from a trickle to a flood. The trilogy has now sold more than 1.5 million copies around the world and just keeps on keeping on.

To put this in perspective and to show how unlikely this all seemed to be back in 1997, at that stage I believe Sabriel had sold about 7000 copies in hardcover in the USA in its first year. I thought then that this was probably pretty much all it would sell.

I'm very glad to be wrong in that prediction. Perhaps it would have eased off if I hadn't gone on to write the sequels, but as it kept increasing sales every year without them between 1996 and 2001, perhaps not.

All of which goes to show that you never know what will happen with a book. If you're a writer, don't set your expectations too high. But on the other hand, you never know what will happen and your book is its own best ambassador. With a bit of luck and a following wind, it may go places you never dreamed it could.

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