The Winds of Winter, the sixth novel in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, has been highly anticipated for years, especially now that the HBO series has grown so popular. (The last book to come out was A Dance With Dragons, in 2011.)
On his Livejournal(!), Martin apologized for the delay — especially because it now means that The Winds of Winter will come out after HBO's sixth season treads much of the ground the book is going to tell:
You're disappointed, and you're not alone. My editors and publishers are disappointed, HBO is disappointed, my agents and foreign publishers and translators are disappointed... but no one could possibly be more disappointed than me. For months now I have wanted nothing so much as to be able to say, "I have completed and delivered THE WINDS OF WINTER" on or before the last day of 2015.
But the book's not done.
He went on to explain that he was given a couple of different deadlines last year, the better to finish and publish The Winds of Winter before the HBO show returns in April, and just couldn't make it to the finish line. "If truth be told," Martin wrote, "sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn't."
Surely it must have been surreal to go from writing A Game of Thrones on his own time and at his own pace to rushing to meet overwhelming demand for a bona fide phenomenon.
So what's the final verdict, Martin?
"I can't tell you when it will be done, or when it will be published."
Indeed, sometimes the writing goes well, and sometimes it doesn't.
The Winds of Winter is not coming.
The delay means readers no longer have the upper hand on those who only watch the show
For those who've read the books, this delay presents a unique problem. The first book (A Game of Thrones) came out in 1996. Those who have been watching the TV series since the beginning — and even those who haven't — have been ahead of the series for years. Said Martin, "For years my readers have been ahead of the viewers. This year, for some things, the reverse will be true. How you want to handle that ... hey, that's up to you."
The key here, though, is Martin's mention of "some things." As he points out, the HBO series has already diverged greatly from the books. A Song of Ice and Fire is not Game of Thrones; the television characters are following a similar path to that of the books, but certainly not an identical one.
Still: When the sixth season premieres in April, book readers will no longer have the luxury of knowing which twist is coming when. And as Martin points out in his post, it's true that readers got some practice being surprised with the fifth season, which even went so far as to kill off characters that hadn't been killed (yet?) in the books. From this point forward, though, they'll have no choice but to share the trauma of a sudden decapitation, bloodbath wedding, or whatever fresh hell Martin is cooking up for us with The Winds of Winter.