Now, I don't wish to prejudice my relationships with any individual publishers, because there is no suggestion that mine have been any more dilatory or careless than anyone else's. My schedules are everyone's schedules. So the following question is addressed to the publishing industry as a whole, to wit: am I the only person in our business who thinks that these delays are, to put it mildly, f*cking ridiculous?
I can't speak for other thriller-writers, but I put a lot of effort into coming up with ideas that feel contemporary and if possible slightly ahead of the game. There are elements in Assassin, for example, that were quite original when I first conceived them, but have now passed into the realm of the everyday. That may, in some sense, be a good thing: readers won't have a hard time believing things they now know to be possible. But I have the lifelong journalist's love of speed: I want to get the story out as fast and as fresh as possible. I hate seeing my words decaying over time like piping hot gravy congealing into unpalatable fat.
What frustrates me even more is that these antiquated schedules, essentially determined, so far as I can see by the available slots on supermarket and bookstore-chain shelves make no sense at all in an age of instant digital publishing. Very soon I will have on my computer the final, copy-edited, proof-read manuscript for my next book, Dictator. There is no technical reason why I could not put it online a minute later. Now, I'm not in the business of making my work available for nothing, any more than Tesco, Ford or your friendly local plumber are. But the point remains: there is no need for delay.
What's more, there's a fantastic opportunity here. Publishers and authors alike spend a lot of time fretting about the impact of the internet and digital technology, but less time embracing the ways in which it could revolutionize our trade, and art for the better. I'd love to be able to write books the way that Dickens and Conan Doyle did, in serial form. I don't know what the deadlines were for 19th century magazines, but I'd hazard they worked on lead-times of days, rather than months. So Dickens was able to respond to current events and affect debate by being absolutely of his moment. How ridiculous that we have gone so far backwards since then.
But what fun it would be to use modern technology to recover the immediacy and relevance that our distant predecessors took for granted and make fiction a vital, contemporary, spontaneous part of our culture once again!