Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Today I’m in a mood. Thunderclouds have gathered over my office, and I’m not feelin’ groovy, even if I do live in California. I’ve observed that authors express less and less concern about making the deadlines they committed to in their contracts. Here is a case in point.
One of my clients, let’s call her Sandy, casually mentioned to another client of mine that she had never made a deadline on any of her five contracted books. Hey, it was no big deal.
My second client, whom we’ll call Ray, a new author with his first contract, called me to ask if deadlines are taken casually by everyone in publishing.
I clarified to Ray that deadlines are to be taken very seriously. Sacrifices need to be made to make deadlines; one’s professional reputation is on the line (speaking of lines); publishers pay attention when deadlines are missed. (And I’m pretty sure Sandy’s publisher won’t want to publish her next book since she’s caused such mayhem by missing her deadlines.)
Note: I’m not writing about justifiable reasons for missing a deadline. We’ve all experienced the unexpected that makes a tossed salad out of our lives. Instead, I’m writing about those instances in which the author put off doing the work of writing the book until it became inevitable the deadline would be missed.
Someone pays for your missed deadline
The bottom line (another kind of line) is that someone pays the price if you miss your deadline. The further from the deadline you turn in your manuscript, the more people pay the price, and the higher the price.
The first person is your editor. It will fall to your editor to make up the time you consumed. Because the editor’s projects are lined up by the production department, if your project comes in late, the editor still has to finish your manuscript on time or the next project (which might have come in on time) will release late. So the editor burns the midnight oil the author failed to burn. Under this kind of pressure, the editor won’t give your book the editorial work it needs. The editor’s mindset will be to attend to the most obvious areas but to ignore the more nuanced editing.
Marketing has committed to a marketing/publicity plan that will have to be trashed because the book is no longer coming out in the season it was scheduled for. Most of your marketing dollars have been committed and can’t be retrieved. So your book now has little or no marketing budget.
Bookstores have placed orders, but now the publisher’s sales reps have to explain that the book will release later. The sales reps’ efforts are lost. When your book does release, the reps need to present your book again, but buyers might well decide to pass on it the second time around. If you end up writing the book of the century…too bad, the publisher and the book buyers won’t be able to gear up for the big burst necessary to get your stunning book noticed.
The publisher becomes less and less likely to garner enough sales on the project to make a profit. Not to mention that he has been carrying the first portion of your advance as a loan to you and he has no hope of that money being earned until your book releases.
So what’s with this callous view toward deadlines?
These authors lunch with their friends, blog, Facebook, and tweet endlessly, take vacations, make sure their houses are decorated just so and that their gardens are pristine–but never manage to fit in time to work on their manuscripts until a couple of weeks before the due date. Then, they madly dash to the deadline, which often is missed. And the work most certainly is less than it could have been.
I can only conclude three reasons, from my observations, as to why deadlines are seriously missed:
1) Procrastinating is a common ailment among writers. Any activity is more appealing than putting butt in chair and actually working on the manuscript;
2) Authors are inherently optimistic (and sometimes unrealistic) when they commit to a deadline by signing their contract;
3) Advances have lost their meaning. Why did advances come into existence? So authors would have sufficient money to set aside other financial pursuits, enabling the writer to concentrate on producing the book contracted. If the author can’t meet his deadline, why does he think his publisher should pay him an advance? Or offer him another contract?
Publishers do ask themselves those very questions. As a matter of fact, a number of publishers have amped up the punishment inflicted for a late manuscript–severely reducing payment when the manuscript is turned in or even cancelling the contract. (These measures are spelled out in the contract.)
So some authors receive a nasty surprise when they turn in their late manuscripts. The publisher says, “No thanks. We don’t choose to publish your book.”
What should you do when you realize you’re going to miss your deadline?
As soon as you know that the manuscript just can’t be ready on time, call your agent (or call your editor, if you don’t have an agent). The longer you wait to confess, the more repercussions for the publishing house. Phoning the day of the deadline won’t do. Confessing a month before the due date is better. (Come on, if you haven’t started writing it with one month left, and you know it takes you three months to complete a manuscript, you really can ‘fess up earlier.) Publishers won’t be happy the deadline will be missed, but with advance warning, they can adjust the production schedule and have some flexibility to figure out what to do.
How to avoid missed deadlines
Aside from the obvious point of starting to work early enough to actually write the book, I’d suggest these straightforward solutions:
Estimate how much time you’ll need to devote to research. This will keep you from becoming heady with the joys of searching through piles of facts and keep you pressing forward with a set date when you must start to write.
Give yourself a word count diet. How many words must you write everyday to meet the deadline?
Allow time for the manuscript to sit, undisturbed, before you return to it for at least one round of revisions.
Count on life to interrupt your productivity. With months or a year or more to write your manuscript, life will bring the unexpected–illness, a major move, the loss of a loved one. Plan for at least one month to be lost to unforeseen circumstances.
Now, talk to me:
What do you do to make sure you’ll have your manuscript in on time?
If you’ve missed a deadline, did you see any fallout from it?
Now that you’ve read my blog, do you think there was some fallout, but you hadn’t realized it?
What keeps you from writing?
What happens when you miss your deadline? #writing Click to tweet.
How to avoid missing a deadline. #publishing Click to tweet.
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