Most writers know that as a part of the book publishing negotiations, a delivery date is established in the publishing contract. I usually leave this date entirely up to my clients, telling them that they should take a realistic amount of time to complete their manuscripts.
Most opt for a year or twelve months from their receipt of the publisher’s on-signing money. Sometimes they will go for less, especially if the subject matter is a timely one or if there is a competitive book in the works.
And then there are those who take well over a year to complete their book and then wonder why they have to wait yet another year before it is published. (This of course is the way traditional publishing works – a general rule is that there is a 12-months lag between manuscript acceptance and book publication).
But what happens when the author is late? I thought about this when I ran across this piece which appeared in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.
Usually the first thing that happens when authors tell me they are going to be late with their manuscript is that I go to the publisher and with the author’s agreement establish a new delivery date. “Extensions” as they are called are not at all unusual, but the publisher is generally not willing to grant more than one or two at most. After these are exhausted, more often than not, the publisher will cancel the contract if the manuscript has not been delivered, and as a result, the author has to pay back all of the monies he or she has previously received.
Sometimes though, as in the piece above, the publisher tolerates an author being late, hoping that when the manuscript is finally delivered, it is so good that it is well worth the wait. I actually have a project which is currently about seven years late, so late, in fact, that the acquiring editor left the company for a new career for a number of years and then decided he really wanted to be an editor so he returned to the same house to find that the manuscript was still not delivered. This is one of those cases where the hope is that the final result will improve with age.
My own feeling about late deliveries is that they are unfortunate but often unavoidable. The most important thing is that the author do everything he or she can to effect the ultimate delivery of a solid manuscript which the publisher will be happy to publish – even if it is seven or ten or fifteen years late.
I wonder what you think about the question of the timeliness of manuscript deliveries? Should the author be allowed an unlimited number of extensions? Should they be penalized for being late, even once? Or is a good book worth the wait?