Deadlines are serious

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

Many authors seem to think that deadlines are flexible dates. They’ll come to their agent asking for the agent to get an extension the day before the book is due without any doubt that the extension will be granted.

We agents feel very nervous when we get these emails or phone calls from our clients. Here’s why:

1) Most contracts call for the book to be due on a certain date and if the book isn’t turned in by that day the publishing house has the right to cancel the contract–if that happens the author has to pay back the entire advance. I’ve never had this happen and we all hope it would only happen in an extreme case, but by missing your deadline you put the book deal at risk and if you’ve already spent your advance the risk is even greater because you might not have the money that will be required of you if the publishing house decides to pull the plug.

2) It reflects badly on the author as a professional and puts future contracts at risk. If the author can’t keep a deadline, it shows that that author’s word isn’t as reliable as another author’s might be, so if it comes down to a decision between two books, the publishing house is more likely to offer a contract to an author who turns in his/her books on time. In the same way, it can damage an agent’s reputation too. By bringing an author to a house we are vouching for them as reliable, wonderful people and we feel let down when our clients don’t stick to their agreements.

3) It throws off the schedule set by the publishing house at the time the offer is made. Many departments in a publishing house have set their schedules to fit that book in and when it’s late everyone’s plan is thrown off. This is especially painful for publishing houses when they’ve already been advertising a book’s release and the due date needs to be changed. Marketing dollars have been wasted in this case, and that money isn’t going to be replenished for when the book is finally scheduled to release so the book is more likely to flop.

4) If the publisher says no and they won’t extend the deadline, there’s no time to finish the book when the agent is alerted last minute that there’s a deadline problem.

Now, there are always circumstances that can’t be helped and deadlines are missed. To avoid this as much as possible be sure to start writing your book soon after the contract is signed. Don’t wait to start until the last minute. Allow for a buffer of time to account for the unexpected.

Starting early will also allow you to see early on if the deadline is a problem. That way you can alert your agent and publishing house with enough time for the missed deadline to be less of an issue.

Also, if you think a suggested deadline is going to be a problem at the time the offer is made, don’t sign that contract until your hesitation is addressed. It’s much better to get the date adjusted before the contract is finalized.

Remember to take your deadlines seriously so that you can be the best writer you can be.

What other ramifications can a missed deadline have?

What systems do you use to help avoid missing a deadline?


Deadlines are dead lines. Take them seriously. #agenttip from @rachellkent Click to tweet.

How does missing a deadline hurt you? Via @RachelLKent Click to tweet.

36 Responses

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  1. Terrance Leon Austin says:

    Thank you for the post Rachel. I will utilize this important information in the near future. Taking the time to post the business aspects of publication is in fact representation to many of us as new writers. Thanks again, and GOD BLESS YOU.

  2. Rachel, It was only after I became a published author that I fully realized the massive undertaking necessary to turn a book from manuscript to finished product and the importance of adhering to a schedule in the process. Thanks for emphasizing this. Deadlines aren’t approximate targets. They’re important, and the quicker an author realizes this, the better it will be.

  3. Jeanne T says:

    Rachel, thanks for the reminder about keeping deadlines. I knew some of the reasons you mentioned for keeping a deadline, but others were new to me.

    In general, I perform best under deadlines, so I like them. I try to set small, measurable goals to work toward meeting deadlines. When I write them down or tell others about these goals, they keep me accountable. And like you said, I begin planning right away when I know I have a deadline because I don’t want to get stuck at the last minute and then miss it.

    Thanks for this post today.

  4. Missed deadlines can ruin a career. I’ve seen it happen in the academic research world, where young professors thought they were immune – and lost projects because the funding agencies (having been burned before) chose not to extend deadlines.

    Word got around, and these unfortunates found funding difficult for future projects. Funded research is needed for tenure, and therefore…adieu.

    The same thing happens in publishing – a first-time author who misses deadlines will be less likely to have a second contract – and if a contract is pulled, word will get around. Hello, self pubbing, at that point.

    Professionals make deadlines, and amateurs make excuses. It’s really that simple.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      That’s a great line! “Professionals make deadlines, and amateurs make excuses. It’s really that simple.”

      Thank you!

  5. Jill Kemerer says:

    Good points, Rachel. I think if a writer has a major life woe that throws her writing schedule off a cliff, she should be communicating this to her editor and agent well BEFORE the deadline. If a major life problem isn’t a factor, what is the excuse? You signed a contract. Get it done.

    This is a business, and lots of writers desire to work with traditional publishers.

    I always set personal deadlines. Sometimes I’m too aggressive and miss them by a week or two, but that’s the nice thing about personal deadlines–they’re flexible! Setting daily and monthly goals increases my production. πŸ™‚

    Have a great weekend!

    • Jill Kemerer says:

      Sorry, Rachel, I realize I sound really snotty here! Hopping off my high horse… πŸ™‚

    • Rachel Kent says:

      You are right! And by setting little personal deadlines you are training yourself to meet the real deadlines when they enter your life.

      It is true that there are times that missing a deadline can’t be avoided and thankfully these requests are usually met with grace by the publisher.

  6. Love this post, Rachel. Deadlines are so important. At times I’m not as productive without one, so I have to make them up.

    I had to move a deadline for a ghostwriting project and it made it harder to get paid for the completed work afterwards. Expensive lesson learned.

  7. Thankfully, deadlines have been drilled into me since college (and before that too, with homework all throughout school). I majored in journalism. πŸ™‚ So all of my jobs out of college have revolved heavily around deadlines. πŸ™‚

  8. Soooo, Rachel, did umm, someone with the initials ‘MK’ slip you this post? Just curious. No reason. Just, like, ahem, shooting the breeze…

  9. Great reminder, Rachel, of the ramifications of missed deadlines…an unhappy situation for all involved!

    A dear friend of mine recently demonstrated her dedication to meet her contracted deadline…I so admire her ability to focus and produce what she had agreed to do!

  10. Sharla Fritz says:

    Thanks for this post. I too, did not understand all that went into the book AFTER the words were written. The publisher puts a lot of work into the book after the author has turned into the manuscript.

    To help me fulfill my deadline, I have asked for a little more time than I think I will need. That way, I have a buffer if something comes up that prevents me from writing for a week or two.

  11. Sharla Fritz says:

    Thanks for the reminder Rachel. I too, did not realize all that goes into a book AFTER the words are written until I had my first book contract.

    To help me meet my deadline, I have asked for a little more time than I think I will need. That way, if something comes up that keeps me from writing for a few days or a week, I have a buffer.

  12. Jaime Wright says:

    Sort of like not saving your homework until the night before and realizing the 15 pages you thought you had to read was more like 151 pages? Great post!! Deadlines can be intimidating but are so necessary. 100% cool though to know the ramifications of NOT meeting a deadline. I always wondered what they might be.

  13. Leah E. Good says:

    Thanks for the post, Rachel. Deadlines are so helpful to me. Needing to have something finished by a certain time always makes me more productive.

  14. I love deadlines.

    I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

    (Douglas Adams)

  15. Sherry Kyle says:

    I’ve had two babies, I mean novels published, and each one is different. Besides the first deadline of handing in the completed manuscript, there are other deadlines as well, (macro and micro edits, book cover questionnaire, influencer list, etc.) and missing one definitely throws off the publishing/marketing schedule. When I received the macro edits for my debut novel, I had major surgery just three weeks prior and was “under the influence” of pain killers. The second book’s micro edits came the week of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. Life happens, but sticking to a deadline is crucial. Great post, Rachel

  16. Honest people keep their promises. Of course a major emergency might prevent that, but such things are rare.

  17. Elissa says:

    It’s helpful for a writer to actually know how long it will take to write the manuscript, rather than just agree to whatever sounds good. Not everyone writes at the same pace.

    A second book may not take as long as the first, but don’t assume so. Far better to say, “I need 12 months” than to agree to six because you’re sure the second will be a breeze.

    As you said Rachel, changing the deadline before the contract is signed is much better for everyone than waiting until late in the game.

  18. It also puts the editor who pitched the idea to the pub board under stress. It is like building a house..If the original footings aren’t dug or someone delays finishing the electrical or plumbing it throws everyone’s schedule off. Even for article writing, keeping your deadline commitment is crucial to getting another assignment and project.

    If you make someone’s job harder because of your delay..they will find someone else. If you turn it in with some room to spare.. they take notice of that as well.
    Thanks for this great post Rachel!

  19. Karen Sweet says:

    Ouch! This is so important to remember. I saw something similar happen in the corporate world – telling the boss the day before the project was due that you weren’t going to make the deadline was definitely career depressing. Thank you for the reminder. Writing is a business and hard work.

  20. Angela Mills says:

    The comments here are helpful, too. Silly me, I was thinking once my novel was done, that was it. I wouldn’t need to worry about deadlines if I finish my manuscript before I ever pitch it, right? I didn’t realize there were edits and deadlines. I’m thankful for this blog, it gives us hopefuls an inside peek as to what the industry and process is like. There’s so much to learn!

  21. Preslaysa says:

    Great post, Rachel. It’s interesting to see the domino effect of missing your deadline from the publisher’s side.

  22. Linda Adams says:

    When I worked with a cowriter, he horrified me when we started submitting to agents. I was concerned about the time we had taken writing the book and wanted to do it faster than we had. He poohed-poohed, saying that “Everything is negotiable.” I had an immediate vision of me doing all the work to meet the deadline while he simply didn’t get around to it and still got credit for the writing. (We did not stay co-writers.)

    To be fair, though, the lack of understanding about deadlines is probably because in many jobs, it can be flexible. I work in a place where people wait until the last minute to get to something and then ask for an extension. Sometimes they get chewed out for being late, but there isn’t any real consequences.

    For me, I’m not very good with time, so ever since I was in school, I always got stuff early. It was much easier being early than trying to figure out how long it would take for me to be on time. If I get something like, “Have the revisions done by Saturday” (something I did receive for an essay being published), I throw everything else aside and dive in until I’m done.