Yesterday was a doozie of a day: I’d scheduled meetings nearly back to back, allowing what I optimistically believed was just enough time to dash from one to another, pausing briefly at the office between my uptown morning and my downtown afternoon to attend to some administrative details. Alas, it was not to be. My train was late, which made me late for my first appointment, and each subsequent meeting ran later and longer and put me further in arrears.   In any event, Thursday is my day to post to the blog, a date shared with the always punctual Mike (sigh) and clearly, I missed my deadline. Worse yet, I’m now repurposing my dog-ate-my-homework tale as some sort of object lesson. Shameless.  Because much as it may not seem that way, trade publishing is, in fact, a deadline driven business.

Although books have a long incubation period, it’s a carefully mapped one. Delivery dates in contracts are taken seriously, and managing editors, the formidable people charged with keeping the trains running on time, are a zealous lot. Understandably so, and for a glimpse of what they do, have a look at this. http://youngtopublishing.com/2011/04/pub-perspectives-managing-ed/

Publication dates are planned, sometimes to the hour, and a finished book is built upon a vast array of deadlines, including but not limited to: the delivery date—the contractually agreed-upon day that the author must send a full manuscript to her editor;  the “transmittal” date, when a revised manuscript is handed over to the production department; plus deadlines for tip sheets (one page cheat sheets created for all upcoming titles for in-house use); author questionnaires; excerpts for  the“ reading notebooks” sent to sales reps;  galley copy;  catalog copy;  cover blurbs, etc. etc,  Few of the dates are soft targets, and meeting them is important. I exhort my clients to be punctual not only to appease managing editors, but because once a book is scheduled, it’s in the author’s best interests not to have it “fall of the list.”

This can be hard. Writing is not building widgets. Output is erratic. For every author who is brilliant with a deadline (here journalists really shine) there are authors for who find handing off their manuscript, proclaiming the book “Done,” is nearly impossible.  I have literally had to pry a flash drive from an author’s reluctant hands lest he give it “just one additional polish.”  Can anyone identify with this? Indeed, I wonder where you fall. Good with deadlines? Loath to let your baby go?  Don’t worry, your answers will not be held against you.

7 Responses to Deadlines

  1. Melissa Alexander says:

    I meet my external deadlines. Always. I work as a writer (instructional designer) in the corporate world, and I have a LOT of fast, short deadlines. I *thrive* on them. If I don’t have a fast-approaching deadline, I’m not particularly motivated to work.

    I previously published a nonfiction book. It took me forever to write the first several chapters and the proposal because I didn’t have an external deadline. The proposal was accepted within two weeks, and suddenly I had a REAL deadline. I wrote the rest of the book within a matter of weeks, and I hit every subsequent deadline on the nose. Loved it, and had no problem letting the book go.

    I’m working on a novel, and I’ve gotten enthusiastic responses from agents and editors at conferences and in contests… but I just can’t make much progress. I don’t have a real deadline, and so it gets knocked down in priority. If I can ever get this book finished and sold, I’ll be set, because I’ll have someone else setting the deadlines.

  2. Heh, heh…I will share with you this little anecdote: Last January when Jim and I had our yearly project projection call, I asked him if there was anything he’d like me to do better this year. He said, “Could you maybe think about hitting at least ONE of your delivery deadlines?”


    “Am I really that bad?” I asked.

    “You’re my second worst client. Ever.”

    Double gulp.

    I guess you don’t earn the nickname, “Last-minute-Laurie” without good reason.

    Anyhoo, I’ve been working my butt off ever since trying to make up time and deliver on schedule. Still not there yet…but I’m closer and gaining ground. Next year I definitely want to be no lower than third to last. Maybe even fourth to last. Maybe I’ll even get one out of the three manuscripts due to my editor ON TIME! She’ll keel over in a dead faint of course. I’ll blame Jim. :)

  3. Hillsy says:

    Being relatively new to this submission lark I’ve beeing dealing with this all week. Think I managed something like 4 ‘polishes’ in 5 days or something stupid like that….=0)

    After that initial panic, I actually found the deadline helped immensely with the editing. I knew I had to let it go at some point so it actually gave me license to stop tinkering for tinkering’s sake and sign the damn thing off. Being a maladaptive perfectionist it was actually like having a burden lifted to be able to say “I definitely HAVE to stop now”.

    Just fingers crossed I didn’t do one ‘polish’ too many.


  4. I was always great at meeting deadlines as a journalist, even though I kept giving it that one last read right up until the last minute. I turned in my first book in February right on deadline, and that was fine. It was non-fiction, and I had read it so many times, I was actually kind of sick it at that point. But then when the editing part came around, I did have the urge to keep giving it one more read! It was hard to let it go — especially when I had to give the final OK for it go to go press. It comes out next month, and I’m slightly terrified that it’s going to have some glaring problem. So, yeah, the closer I got to the end, the more I wanted to hang on to my baby.

  5. TryThis Again says:

    Although maybe I am more of a loather than a handing-it-over-er…when it comes to deadlines, I always like to work in a pre-deadline of my own, that allows me to fuss with it a little more, before it’s actually due. The best of both worlds.

    The thing about a deadline is, it forces you to choose A over B…there are so many creative avenues to explore, and the beginning of a project is always more fun than the end, so why not just keep beginning things, and never finishing? So a deadline forces the issue – the answer is always: Work on A. Now is not the time to take on mural painting, ballroom dancing, furniture refinishing, etc. If you want to throw some gladiola bulbs in the ground, okay. But otherwise: A, A, A. Now I’m itching to reference Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter…unintentional prototype of the American female novelist. With the substitution of a single word, we get:

    “But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here, in New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her novel.”

    Wanda B. (maybe I should make that Wanda A.)

  6. Emily says:

    The thing about writing for quick turnaround [journalism], is that there is always something else to do next. I found that made it easy to let go. Also, I didn’t have the last word, editors and proofreaders, next in line, really have the last word [unless they want to argue some point — and let’s face it — most of the arguments about commas, or dashes, etc. don’t really have a FINAL word — hence the value of a style manual for every effort].

    My uncle was a fine-art watercolorist who had regional success in his Third Act. I loved what he said about selling his paintings, “When I finish a piece, it has already taught me all I’m going to learn from it. I might as well make money on it then.”

    I feel that way about everything I ever had in print, it taught me all it could and I let it go.

    But…what if I actually finish a novel? Will it be the same?

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