Category Archives: deadlines

Penguin sues authors

When I started working in publishing (roughly 100 years ago) the business was still one of “gentlemen’s agreements,” of editors coddling temperamental authors, and agents selling books based on a persuasive conversation rather than book proposals (look up Swifty Lazar, if you don’t believe me).  Too, it was always a tenet of agenting that despite the terms in a publishing agreement, there were ways around everything, from an onerous option clause to the repayment of an advance for a cancelled book.

This all worked, of course, because publishers have traditionally been unwilling to persecute their authors (very bad p.r.).  Given the conventional wisdom that authors are fragile, creative souls with no real grasp of practical details—like deadlines or basic accounting—even with cutthroat agents involved, the optics of going after someone publicly for non-delivery and non-payment did not work in a publisher’s favor.  So, often, authors got away with not repaying advances based on flimsy loopholes and how skilled their agents were at scaring or shaming the publisher.

But, times have gotten tough in recent years.  Margins are tighter as a result of the e-book revolution and the Justice Department has decided to stick its nose into publishing practices that many argue it has no knowledge of or understanding about.  So, it’s not entirely surprising that Penguin has taken the rather shocking step of suing a number of high profile writers for non-payment.

On the one hand…well, yes.  If you sign a contract that specifies that you need to repay an advance under certain conditions and those conditions come to pass, any legitimate business would go after you to recoup their money.

On the other hand, this makes me sad, because it feels like yet another of publishing’s intangibles has been sacrificed to the bottom line.   To me it seems that this takes us many more steps away from the days when publishers went out of their way, financially and otherwise, to enable an author—even the most wayward of them (see The Lost Generation)—to thrive creatively and produce the kinds of literature we’re still reading today.  Did they lose some money? Sure, but I’m pretty certain Scribner (and Random House and S&S, etc.) is still collecting on its investment.

What do you all think of this action by Penguin?




The ominous delivery date and what happens when you don’t make it

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?



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.

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.


Writing to extremes….

by Miriam
Life at DGLM has been so hectic today with back-to-back meetings and important literary agent things to do that I’ve not had time to come up with a blog topic, much less write one for your amusement, annoyance, and/or edification. So, in desperation, I looked up writer’s block in Google Images and I found the following from AmazingSuperPowers by Wes & Tony:
A little extreme, but I get it. Haven’t you ever gotten a little crazy when a deadline’s looming and you’ve got bubkis?


by Lauren

As we leave you for the holiday weekend, a cautionary tale:  Apparently Penguin is suing an author to recover the signing payment on a contract they’ve canceled for failure to meet a deadline.  It must be said, that deadline was in 2007, and there were presumably multiple extensions that got them here, so Penguin has been quite accommodating.  And that signing payment is not exactly chump change.

As a person who is ever so slightly panicked at the prospect of finishing my to do list before leaving for the holiday weekend, the notion of breaking a contract for non-delivery strikes fear into my heart, but for those of you who need that extra bit of danger before something seems real, it seems this might just be it.

But hey, a three day weekend is a great time to hunker down and write, right?


Everyone’s got something to say

Ah, NaNoWriMo. That time again already?

For those not already in the know, that stands for National Novel Writing Month. Launched in California ten years ago, it’s essentially a communal writing experience. Over the course of one month (no more!), people are encouraged to write a 50K word novel. The program emphasizes “quantity over quality,” which I find pretty delightful. It celebrates the fact that writers write, and for a lot of people, it’s the first chance they have to finish a novel. Because whether it’s good or bad, the act of completing a novel is, in itself, something to celebrate. I know a lot of NaNoWriMo participants past and present, and it’s always great to see the enthusiasm that comes out of the process.

Of course, there’s also something intimidating about NaNoWriMo: the aftermath. Apparently 676,900,348 have already been written by participants this year. Lord, December’s going to be a busy reading month…

So have you all already joined in the fun? Are you working your way through your 50K words? And if so, what are you doing on our blog? Get back to work!



Staying on deadline

Leon Nefaykh over at the Observer has some very good advice for authors: with publishers’ budgets increasingly tight, don’t assume you can just get an extension if you miss your contractual deadlines. As we’ve all been telling clients over the last year, now is not the time to take for granted that you’ll retain your publisher’s goodwill if you can’t fulfill your obligations. Deliver on time, and if you’re concerned that you won’t be able to, talk to your agent right away so that we can try to work out an extension for you before you’re in breach. (As with all contractual matters, it’s important to come to us with this problem, not your publisher directly.)

But don’t leave that conversation for the last minute: you don’t want to find out a week before your due date that you’re nowhere near finished and going to have to meet the deadline or find your contract canceled—and your signing payment due back to the publisher.