Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Dreaded Deadline

Published veterans, newbies and industry professionals explore the reasons why meeting a deadline is about more than fulfilling a legal clause in your contract.

Yep, it's deadline time. Glue your backside to the chair, chain yourself to the desk in the dungeon, give your kids, Fido, and your telephone to your critique partner (sorry, but this includes the cell phone, all other means of outside communication, and . . . oh, no!!! the e-mail), buy your husband sports tickets or your wife a trip to the day spa, turn off the TV, turn on the coffee maker, put your fingers to the keyboard and get it done. So now that you know how to meet your deadline, this article is finished.

Just kidding. Nobody can tell you how to meet your deadline. It's an individual thing, and there's no right or wrong way to do the dreaded D. So, forget the how-to and skip over to the why-to, which, in many cases, including your editor's estimation, is more important.


GET ME TO THE JOB ON TIME

"Meeting my deadline is a sign of professionalism. I'm very new at this . . . way too neurotic not to meet my deadlines," says Harlequin author, Laura Iding. It's just as important as meeting any other business-related deadline. Would you routinely miss deadlines in a normal day job if you were due for a performance review? Why would writing on a deadline be any different?"
Good question! Why would it be any different? "This isn't unlike starting a new job, where you're an unknown factor," says author Stephanie Feagan. "Are you the type of employee who arrives on time, works hard all day, and leaves only when the work is done? Or are you the type who slides in twenty minutes late, takes a two-hour lunch and leaves ten minutes early? First impressions are hard to undo, and as a first time author I found it of supreme importance to prove I had what it took to be a second time author . . . and third, and fourth, etc!"

True story time. Years ago, a struggling new writer was trying to make his dent in the publishing world. Lucky guy got the contracts easily because he was writing in an untested niche, meaning a wide-open field for him. Problem was, he blew on by his deadlines, and not by a little. He shot way past the 6-week extension option in his contract and went on and on and on... Just think pink bunny beating on a drum, that's how far he went. Two books, and he was out. Another publisher risked a contract on him. One book and finito there, too. In his writing niche he earned a reputation and today, of course, he's not a writer.

"I think meeting deadlines at all times is essential," says author Jennifer St. Giles. "When you put your name on a contract and make a promise to a publishing house, you've given your word to produce a certain product by a certain date. This is your business and now your integrity is on the line. Everyone interested and involved with your book at the publishing house will be aware of how reliable you are in fulfilling your obligations."

Raelene Gorlinsky, Managing Editor for Ellora's Cave Publishing, knows the lasting effects on an author who doesn't get to the job on time. "An author who develops a reputation within the industry for not meeting dates is sabotaging herself or himself. Editors won't want to deal with them. They will set deadlines way into the future or add lots of padding in the schedule because they don't trust the author to meet dates, which basically means the author will be waiting a longer time for the book to be released." Apart from getting the reputation as a deadline sluggard, there's also the money end of it. The longer your book is put off by the publisher, the longer you have to wait for the royalties to start rolling in. Gorlinsky describes her ideal author as, "One who works out a sensible schedule with me at the start of the process, and sticks to it."

DRAWING THE DEADLINE

Chris Keeslar, Senior Editor at Dorchester, echoes Gorlinsky's description of an ideal author. What he wants to see is someone who is, "Self-aware in terms of ability to produce, early and honest." Sounds simple, doesn't it? Know your capabilities and be honest about them in your discussions with your editor. "Because Dorchester is a smaller house and we have a quick turnaround, we're probably a bit more lenient on deadlines than at other places - - at least in terms of originally setting them. At the same time, it's probably a bigger deal to miss them here, as we don't have a huge margin of error. Usually, I simply ask a writer what he or she feels comfortable with, share any pertinent information (like, if turning a book in earlier or later would be helpful, and for what reasons) and then we set a date."

So, how do you establish a deadline for yourself? (And for those who haven't had their first contract yet, almost all publishers will work with their authors on deadlines.) Says harlequin/Silhouette author Kylie Brant, "I think it's all about knowing yourself - - how you work, how fast you produce. Then factor in your family obligations, adding extra time for those unforeseeable emergencies, to come up with a deadline that you and your family can live with."

RITA winner and harlequin Medical author, Marion Lennox, certainly knows the value of including the unforseen extras in your deadline schedule. "I always add three weeks panic time when negotiating a deadline. Panic time depends very much on family commitments. I add one week per kid and one for the dog. My husband says (sadly) that I ought to factor him in somewhere, but I point to our joint overdraft and tell him we'll have our joint crisis outside of my writing time."

Rebecca York finds herself dealing with deadlines between two different publishers. "Since I'm working for both Berkley and Harlequin, I'm working on books for both at the same time. I have some leeway in my schedule. I try to schedule books far enough apart so I won't go crazy getting them done. I also try to make sure that I don't have two books due the same month." Rebecca warns, "Don't forget to factor proposals into the (deadline) mix. If you want to keep having work, you need to turn in proposals." Excellent point, and one that sometimes gets lot in the deadline shuffle.

Silhouette Executive Editor, Mary-Theresa Hussey recognizes that expectations go both ways when deadlines are set. "When going to contract, we ask the writer to set the deadline for when the book will be done. For a one book contract, figuring we have the proposal already, we expect the deadline to be three or four months. We would also figure in due dates for future proposals, completes, or leave time for allowances to deal with other projects due to us--and also with some life issues. Some authors have less time to write in the summer as their kids are out of school.

Some authors ignore the month of December, realizing they will not do work then. Some authors find May and June to be their most difficult writing months. Hopefully the author will be honest with herself and allow some time to write the project, let it rest, and then revise it before sending it in for the editor's review."

TEETERING ON THE DEADLINE EDGE

For whatever reason, your deadline is looming and you're simply not going to make it. Will your editor notice?

All the way around, the answer is a resounding Yes! "Does an author want to run the risk?" asks Keeslar, who admits that he is always juggling deadlines and authors. "I've built in a tracking system to keep myself informed about who's turned in the projects and who hasn't." Ditto from Hussey. "Editors follow different ways. When I go to contract, I put all the delivery dates for proposals and completes in a log by calendar date. And I'll be able to tell when something is overdue."

In other words, you're not going to slip by. Editors do notice, and when they do - - "Well, depending on the seriousness of the failure, they wouldn't get bought again," says Keeslar. "At least, not by me. Of course, this is if the author didn't warn me and have a good excuse." Hussey, like Keeslar, looks at a failure to meet a deadline in terms of future projects. "One deadline can be understandable, though we much prefer honesty as soon as possible as to when the book will actually be in. An author who consistently misses deadlines will less likely be scheduled until the book is in house, meaning longer delays between publication." Aha! The money thing again.
"She's more unlikely to be considered for special projects- - in particular those which need a guaranteed delivery date." That all translates into both status and reputation on the decline, which is a serious risk in an industry where there are hundreds, maybe thousands of writers lining up to take your place.

So, what if you're teetering on that deadline tightrope and about to fall off? "If an author knows she's going to blow a deadline for whatever reason, my advice is to let your editor know as soon as possible, so she can make arrangements on her end," says Harlequin author, Nicole Burnham "Let her know when you will get the project in, and stick to it (and beat that date, if at all possible.) And realize that, as in any profession, if you constantly miss due dates, you risk looking unprofessional and/or losing your job." Recurrent theme? It sure is. "Tell your editor early," says Lennox. "Don't wait until the last minute. You might be tearing your hair out but the way to kill your career is to make your editor tear hers out as well."

Editors will be sympathetic if you're honest. "I believe that all editors understand that life doesn't always cooperate with deadlines," says Linda Kichline, Senior Editor & Publisher, ImaJinn Books, "so letting the editor know as soon as possible is the best etiquette. We'd much rather have a late manuscript than one that appears to have been hurriedly written. You can generally tell when an author has either hurried to make a deadline or hasn't taken the time to proof their manuscript." Sounds like they might catch on if you'll pulling together five chapters the night before the book's due, doesn't it? Says Keeslar, "All of us have unforseen circumstances crop up in our lives. And I'm fairly flexible about a deadline, as long as I've been warned in time. I have a million tasks and I have to schedule my time effectively. So the trick is: Let me know as soon as you know you're going to be late - - and BE HONEST. It's worse to have someone be late and keep lying to you about when the book is really going to come in. Then there's no way to get done everything that needs to be done."

SO, WHEN YOU DO TEETER OFF THE TIGHTROPE, WHAT HAPPENS?

Worst case scenario - Keeslar puts it bluntly. "If a book isn't turned in on time, it can be pulled from a list and not printed. The publisher fails to produce the book that hundreds or thousands of stores have ordered, money is wasted and everyone looks idiotic." For a smaller press, like Ellora's Cave, where one person may wear several hats, Gorlinsky sites, "much stress and work and annoyance" as part of her worst case scenario when a deadline is missed. "If the book comes in too late to be prepared for its scheduled release date, it will be bumped to the next available release slot that does not conflict with other releases from that author or with similar books. Then the managing editor has to find another book that is ready ahead of schedule to replace the late one." Definitely much stress and work, with a heavy emphasis on the annoyance.
Hussey certainly agrees with that. "The scenario will depend on whether the book is series, single title, and what stage the manuscript finally does come in. In one of the worst case scenarios, the book goes straight to print without ever being edited, copy-edited or reviewed by the author. There's no time to correct errors, make changes or do more than a spellcheck on the manuscript-which doesn't catch all errors." Glaring grammaticals! This may be a rare occurrence, but is that how you want your book to appear? "If the book is able to be pulled, another will usually replace it which means tightening all the deadlines of that book--and finding another book to replace that one in a ripple effect."

Besides a ripple effect on the publisher, there's a trickle down effect on the author. Says Kichline, "If an author doesn't meet their deadline, then they end up disappointing readers who are waiting for the book. Disappointed readers will start looking for others to read, and you can lose fans." Fans are a terrible thing to waste! According to Brant, "As writers, our name is our brand. We want to assure readers that they can consistently associate our name with a quality read. We also want editors to associate it with someone who is a brilliant writer (hey, we can dream, can't we?) and one who is consistently dependable."

THE DIRE CONSEQUENCES TO YOUR CAREER

"Once you've established a career you'll be scheduled into production slots," says Lennox. "Your editor will be expecting you to play your part. If there's a brilliant new author just been discovered and your editor is frantically waiting for your overdue manuscript, it makes it very easy to drop you. I've fought hard for my slots and I'll defend them to the death!"
Harlequin author Wendy Roberts echoes that! "Failing to meet deadlines could easily stall my career or kill it. The competition in this business is too fierce to play Russian roulette with your deadlines." In other words, there may be only one round in your chamber, so when you squeeze that trigger, make sure you're aiming at the right side of the deadline because there's no assurance if you hit the other side that you'll be given another shot at a slot. "Meeting my deadlines has been important because they have literally moved me beyond being published someday to being published today. Above my computer I have Harvey MacKay's words: A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline. This bit of wisdom moves me to always reach for the next level."

The next level, for someone newly published is to find name recognition and Brant sees name recognition as a huge issue in missing a deadline. "In order to build a name we have to have multiple books out a year. If it becomes known that you don't deliver on time, you aren't going to get multiple book contracts, which is about the only way to guarantee you're going to have release dates fairly close together. Your publisher may begin to plan your release dates a couple of months later than really necessary simply because they can't count on your work being handed in on time. That means a bigger gap between books, which hurts your attempts to build name recognition." Which could translate into the difference between affording a plush vacation suite on a beautiful tropical island and a no-frills room under a viaduct somewhere.

BOTTOM LINE TIME

So, why meet your deadlines?

"I do everything in my power to meet deadlines," says Burnham. "It's simply a matter of professionalism on my part. Knowing I meet my deadlines means I can poke my publishers about meeting theirs. It also means that they know I'm a 'go-to' author - - one they can go to with projects that might be of a time-sensitive nature - - because I've proven that I'm reliable. I appreciate having those opportunities."

Says Feagan, "Silhouette thought enough of my writing to offer a contract. In return, I will give them the best book I'm capable of writing, on time, with all my heart and soul wrapped up in a Fed-Ex envelope. Seems like a fair deal to me."

Sure, it may seem easy to squiggle on by the deadline a little. Maybe your editor won't notice, or maybe it won't make much of a difference if he or she does. But as Keeslar asked, "Does an author want to run the risk?"

Rebecca York sums it up best: "If you are a professional writer, you should strive to stay professional - which means getting your work done when you say you will do it. A professional novelist meets her deadlines."


MISSING THE DEADLINE MEANS . . .

Simona Salter, Senior Product Manager for Harlequin, has a unique perspective on what missing a deadline can mean in terms of the entire publishing process:

a. Impact on Other Authors - Each month's lineup is balanced and when one title needs to be pulled out it affects scheduling, as we need to find another book to take its place. In this case, a missed deadline directly impacts other authors as they are asked to shift and accommodate.

b. Impact on Production & Printing - Production deadlines may be missed and / or delayed as the replaced title is readied. As new covers may need to be created, copy written, etc., the risk to not meeting printing deadlines is high and has both financial implications as well as the doubling of efforts required by our teams to ensure another title goes out in its place.

c. Impact on Readers - Due to lead times in publishing, a title is promoted to readers and the trade far in advance of publication. Readers eagerly await the next title from their favorite author, and follow the scheduled publication dates. Unfortunately, when a deadline is missed, a reader does not have the opportunity to buy that title and can be disappointed.

d. Impact on Marketing & Promotions - Titles can be featured in specific promotions to the reader & retailers that are advertised well in advance of on sale dates. When a title misses its deadline - although the promotion must still occur - a new title needs to be selected and fast tracked through the production process in order to fit within the promotion. This can prove to be challenging as promotions are tailored to specific titles resulting in the missed title not being featured & having to adjust the promotion to fit the new title.

e. Doubling of Effort Required - A deadline only has to be missed by two weeks for there to be an impact on the effort required to get the book on shelf and on time. For one spot in the publishing calendar, everything needs to happen twice when a deadline is missed - from editorial to production to marketing. Although efforts on the missed title will be realized once rescheduled, the impact of a missed deadline is immediately felt as timelines are shortened and teams have to start over again to ensure we deliver to readers' expectations of having a great book on sale at that point in time.

So what does Doin’ the Dreaded Mean? Two words - Your Career!

(This article originally appeared in the Romance Writer’s Report, 2004) Dianne Drake is dotting the i's and crossing the t’s on her 23rd release from Harlequin, happy to be meeting her next deadline with a few days to spare. Dianne also is hard at work planning a new venture with award-winning author and literary agent Lois Winston (Ashley Grayson Literary Agency). In September, Dianne, Lois will launch Beginning Writer Workshops, a series of monthly online workshop, aimed at helping beginning and newer writers find their way in fiction and nonfiction writing as well as the publishing world. Their website www.BeginningWriterWorkshops.com Watch for it! In the mean time, look for Dianne’s latest releases:Dr. Velascos' Unexpected Baby - Harlequin Mills & Boon Medicals - hardback 4/09, paperback 6/09 ; Found: A Mother for His Son - Harlequin Mills & Boon Medicals - hardback 7/09, paperback 9/09. And, coming in the spring of 2010 - The White Elk Series. Visit Dianne at www.DianneDrake.com or email her at Dianne@DianneDrake.com.

4 comments:

Audra Harders said...

Great, great reminder Donnell!

Publishers bank on the writers they contract to show professionalism in all phases of their writing lives. Make sure the lines of communication stay open and honest.

Don't agree to a deadline that you think will please the editor, then miss it because it was unrealistic. From what I understand, editors will gladly accept a honest *I can't meet that date* over a thoughtless *sure, anytime, I can do it anytime you like* every time.

Trust is such an important factor in any relationship.

Thanks Donnell!!

Helen Hardt said...

Great article, Donnell! I can't imagine ever missing a deadline. Most editors are very good about giving the author ample time for reivisions and edits.

Donnell said...

Hi, Audra and Helen: When I read this post from Dianne Drake I absolutely took it to heart like you,Audra. Published or pre-published we have to work our lives around deadlines. I love how Dianne presents both sides, from the publisher, editor or author, deadlines can't be avoided! Thanks for reading ;)

Jenifer said...

Most editors are very good about giving the author ample time for reivisions and edits.

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Jenifer
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