Terry Brooks enjoyed that dream scenario 35 years ago. Now, with the impending release of The Annotated Sword of Shannara: 35th Anniversary Edition, we asked Brooks to tell us what surprised him most as he revisited his era-defining classic. I think fans will really love his insider account of the book’s initial publication:
It's hard to find anything new or surprising about a book you wrote and published thirty-five years ago and have revisited and written about repeatedly since. But when you are asked to provide annotations for a new edition, you have to reread the book once again and every time that happens you necessarily relive the events surrounding the writing process. Every scene and character reminds you of where you were and what was happening in your life.
But what surprised me the most? Not unexpectedly, it was the same thing that surprises me every single time - the fact that Sword of Shannara got published at all.
Sure, it was a first book and it went in over the transom. Yes, as a newbie writer I knew no one and was just learning the craft. Okay, I didn't have any particular expectations for the book and mostly just wanted to find out if I had potential as a writer and maybe get my foot in someone's door. I just wanted my efforts to be validated in some small way. Of course, I got much more than I expected. Sword got picked up, published and sold many more copies than I had any right to expect. End of story.
Only not quite. Turns out there is more. I didn't know any of what follows at the time. I only learned it much later from another editor at Del Rey. It was surprising (read 'astonishing') then, and it still seems so even now.
When my manuscript came in over the transom to Judy-Lynn del Rey, she gave it to Lester (del Rey) to read. Science fiction was her specialty, not fantasy. She was Editor-in-Chief at what was soon to become Del Rey Books, but Lester wasn't working there yet. He had been asked and was mulling it over. So he read Sword of Shannara and saw an opportunity. He had been of the opinion for a long time that the publishing world was missing a good bet. No one was doing much with epic fantasy. The general opinion was fantasy would not sell in large numbers, so there wasn't much of a market for it. Sure, Tolkien sold well - The Lord of the Rings was huge. But that was Tolkien, and there would never be another. Lester had a different view. He believed that fantasy could sell in bestseller numbers, Tolkien or not, and that The Lord of the Ring's popularity showed that there was a huge unfulfilled market for fantasy in general. It just wasn't being addressed.
Sword was clearly a Tolkien-type fantasy, which was exactly the model he was looking for. So he went to the publisher of Ballantine Books, who was Judy-Lynn's boss, and told him he would take the job as editor working with his wife if he would agree that the newly created Del Rey Books could make Sword of Shannara its first original publication. An agreement was reached, and the rest is history.
Of course, there were a couple of years of rewrites and some pre-publication hand-selling and deal making involved, but that's another story for another time.
NOOK owners: go to shop and search for “Terry Brooks” to download his bestselling epic fantasy novels.
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