George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is one of the most successful novel cycles in modern times, having sold over 90 million copies worldwide. The success of Game of Thrones certainly helped with that, although Martin’s series was always a big deal, right from the beginning.
And we know that because publishers were vying for the rights to the series from the very start, back when Martin still envisioned this thing as a trilogy (the tale grew in the telling, just a wee bit). This info comes from longtime fantasy and sci-fi publisher John Jarrold, who told a story on Twitter about when he was trying to secure the UK rights to A Song of Ice and Fire on behalf of Random House back in the ’90s.
To hear Jarrold tell it, the auction went on for “several days.” The bidding war was real, with every major sci-fi and fantasy publisher in the UK putting in an offer; Jarrold can’t remember a time since when this has happened.
And this was all based on just 90 pages of a proposed trilogy. Even back then, Martin was a pretty big name in sci-fi and fantasy publishing, although he was best known for his sci-fi and horror stuff. And considering how huge A Song of Ice and Fire became, the interest was clearly warranted.
Years before Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire still set off a bidding war
In the end, the bidders were whittled down to two: Jarrold and another anonymous party. Although Jarrold put in “[b]y far the highest final offer I ever made in 15 years as a publisher,” he was beaten out by Malcolm Edwards at HarperCollins, which publishes A Song of Ice and Fire in the UK to this day. Afterwards, Martin sent both men “lovely letters.” It must feel good to have people fighting to publish your work.
According to Los Siete Reinos, things were far less dramatic in the US: Bantam Random House was the publisher of A Song of Ice and Fire from the very beginning and continues to be to this day.
Now the focus turns to The Winds of Winter, which I’m sure all of these companies are just dying to publish. They’re waiting along with the rest of us.