Writing Nowadays–The Deadline of Doom

So what happens when an author misses the deadline?

Any number of things, really. The editor is stuck with a hole in her schedule, and this is bad. See, lots of things are scheduled in advance–catalog entries, cover art, marketing meetings, and most difficult of all, printing press time. eBooks notwithstanding, novels still have to run through a printing press, and only so many exist. They run pretty much 24/7, and if you buy time on one, you better have something to put in it.

For most authors, a missed deadline is not that big a deal for anyone except the author and the editor. A mid-list or new author doesn’t have much in the way of publicity or pre-arranged print runs or cover art. But there are exceptions . . .

Scholastic made a terrible error with HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. J.K. Rowling had to date turned in every Harry Potter book like clockwork, allowing Scholastic to release one Harry Potter book every year. The books’ print runs, as you know, ran into the millions, which meant Scholastic had to buy time on several printing presses across the country (including one in my hometown Ann Arbor). Harry Potter print runs also cause paper shortages because the books were so thick and so numerous. But no worries–Scholastic knew every Harry Potter book would sell like crazy, and they would easily recoup their investment. In fact, they based their annual budgets on Harry Potter.

And then Rowling got married and had a kid. She informed them that FIRE would be late. Several months later.

It nearly destroyed Scholastic. They’d been counting the money from another blockbuster J.K. Rowling novel and now they weren’t going to have it. They were forced to lay off staff and make other budget cuts. They took a hit on the printing press time. It was a huge mess.

All from a missed deadline.

What do you do if it becomes clear you’re going to miss a deadline? First up–TELL THE EDITOR. ASAP. The earlier she knows about it, the easier it is for her to work around it.

Second, always pad your deadlines. During the contract negotiation stage (and it’ll happen to you one day), you’ll be asked to figure out when you can deliver the manuscript. Look at the calendar, take into account the holiday season, summer vacation, and any time of year you always seem to be extra busy, and figure out when you’ll finish the book. Then add two months, three if you’re a slow-ish writer. This will account for emergencies and dry periods. Then, when you turn in the book early, you’ll look like an industrious hero.

Third, even if you’ve reported that you’re going to miss the deadline, do your damndest to pull it off anyway. People are counting on you.

–Steven Harper Piziks
http://spiziks.livejournal.com

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Writing Nowadays–The Deadline of Doom — 2 Comments

  1. The flip side of the coin is that, if another author misses the deadline, it may redound to your benefit. I have heard many tales of writers who got their big break because an unexpected hole in the publishing schedule opened up.

  2. I was always early on my deadlines and had ready to go MS on my editor’s desk when a BIG NAME author informed her she’d be 6-10 months late, on the deadline date. Guess you got her slot in the catalog and her publicity budget.

    On the other hand, I told my editor 2 days after my mother collapsed with congestive heart failure that taking care of her would eat into my writing time. But I’d still be working.

    As my deadline approached I called said editor and asked what was the latest possible date I could turn in the book. She replied “When it is done.” She’d pulled it from the schedule the moment she heard about my mom knowing what it would do to my brain and my life. She didn’t tell me she’d pulled it, so I’d keep working (and maintain a slim grasp on my sanity). So I busted my butt and got the book in only 6 months late. Editor rescheduled it in the next open lead list spot the day she got the MS. Pay back for earlier promptness.

    That is the only deadline I have ever missed.