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
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