Monday, August 10, 2009

Reasons to Make Your Delivery Date (Or, Please Don't Be Late, Even Though We Always Are)

Ok, I'm having the worst trouble with one of my authors, who went through a minor family problem earlier this summer and who says she's simply not in the right "frame of mind" to finish the last two chapters of her manuscript right now, and she'll get back to me when she's feeling more up to it. (Can I just mention? Her contractual delivery date was May 1, 2009.)

All right, I want to be sympathetic and understanding--I really do!! I'm a compassionate person!! But I'm also compassionately interested in the author's career. (Not to mention my own, which is obviously hinged around the success of this one specific book!!!)

Here are the reasons it's in the author's best interest to make their contractual delivery date, not in any particular order of importance:

1) Long Leads. For those not familiar with this term, it's what magazines require if they're going to review your book. Magazines set their monthly columns well in advance, so if your FINISHED materials aren't at the magazine 5 months in advance, you can kiss any magazine reviews buh-bye.

2. Blurbs. When you have an early completed manuscript, you have time to do a blurb campaign with it--and those can take ages. (Getting famous people to read books=not quite as easy as it sounds.) But hey! Who needs any copy on their book cover? I think those blank covers with nothing but an image or a quote from the author's own introduction are sexy. Totally.

3. Rights Sales. Foreign publishers, especially if you're looking for same-language co-pubs across the Atlantic (eg if I'm looking for a British publisher, or if a British editor is hoping for an American publisher), requires a rough manuscript or submittable materials A YEAR in advance if they want to make a big deal out of things. They'll need a finished manuscript AT ABSOLUTE LATEST 6-8 months before the home country pub date. (I'm not even going into Australia here--that's an even more complicated kettle of fish, and even more of a reason to get stuff in on time--Ozzy friends, I'll come back to you later.) There are also audio, book club, and large print sales, all of which need to be fully executed well in advance, because all of those groups ONLY want to publish simultaneously with the originating publisher. They need your materials SIX MONTHS IN ADVANCE or there's no way they'll take you; competition is simply too steep. But hey! Who wants their book made into an audio book, anyway? Listening to things is stupid. And who wants their book translated into French? No one even likes France, as a whole, I've found.

I should also mention here that rights sales precipitate buzz--meaning, weird as it may sound, a rights sale may get you publicity coverage, or drive review interest. So yeah.... another opportunity maybe not to blow.

4. In-House Interest. If your manuscript is in in a timely fashion, perhaps people at your publishing house besides your editor--your publisher, your publicist, your sales people--will actually have a chance to read it, instead of just talking about it vaguely. Don't you want the people who are selling and publicizing your book to actually know what it's about? Just a thought.

5. Events. Most venues book up FOUR MONTHS in advance. Some book up even earlier. But hey, maybe you didn't want to do any readings, anyway.

6. Pre-pub reviews. There are four pre-pub venues, and I bet even non-book people could name at least one. They are Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. They're the definitive sources you see turning up on Amazon and book jackets, and they are what wholesalers, indies, libraries, and distributors use to determine how many copies they're taking well in advance--which majorly affects your print run. And, by the way, they don't consider anything they haven't received FOUR MONTHS in advance. But hey! Who wants to sell to libraries, anyway? Who needs a big print run?

Rar. Ok. I'm down off my little soapbox now. But Author o' Mine, if you're out there reading--please go finish your effin' manuscript, k?

43 comments:

Jim King said...

What a great post. Explains, in your own inimitable style, why there's such a significant (from the writer's perspective, anyway) time gap between manuscript acceptance and book release. Thank you.

Brian F. said...

Sing it, sistah!

CKHB said...

Now even I want your writer to finish... to do all the work on a book and miss those opportunities? NOOOOOO!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've never missed a contracted deadline. I've broken some of my personally assigned deadlines. I can understand family issues,though. I suppose it depends on the type of family issue.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Families can be such a pain and can derail so many good things. I hope your author gets cracking and remembers why she was writing in the first place.

That being said, I've hit times in my life where putting one foot in front of the other was the best I could do each day.

Cassie said...

It's not just pre-pubs that need a galley or manuscript four or more months out. A lot of magazines do too. So you can tell 'em no New Yorker, Atlantic, or even New York Times review without a galley AT LEAST three to four months out.

A. Grey said...

This sort of thing frustrates me. I know what it's like to juggle family problems, and while I don't have kids, I have horses, which really isn't much different.

The thing is, I'm pulling all-nighters and slaving, just trying to perfect myself to the point where I can secure an agent or publisher. You can be DAMN sure that once I DO manage that, nothing but fatality, or terminal illness or other natural disaster is going to keep me from making a deadline. The whole point is to make this my profession, so I intend to act professional about it.

Laurel said...

I know this sounds judgy but I don't get this. So many of us want to be "professional" writers. As in, writing is our job. I have never had a job where I could miss a deadline by 3 months no matter what was going on with my family. Maternity leave was about the closest I came and even then I still checked in on email and made a few phone calls.

I don't always feel like going to work, either, but sometimes I have to. And every now and then those turn out to be the best days.

Indigo said...

Why would any author want to take the chance of screwing themselves over at this point in the game? An employer at a regular job wouldn't put up with excuses either. Life happens, you have to learn to roll with the punches. Hope she does read this and gets the hint. Indigo

Stuart Neville said...

I just finished the 1st draft of my second book over the weekend, and it's due in September. That only leaves me a couple of weeks for revision. I'm printing it out right now. I'm finding the mouth of a deadline a scary place to be, particularly as this is the second blog post I've seen on deadlines in the last week - and the other was a lot scarier, saying the recession means some editors are just dropping books that have run late.

eluper said...

I am jumping through hoops right now to get my MS ready in time for all this stuff. I have not missed a deadline yet (YAY!) and I can already feel excitement whipping up whenever I talk to anyone at my publisher. You must know what you're talking about, EA!

~Aimee States said...

Two chapters.

Three and a half months late.

I can't wrap my head around that at all. Even if half my family went down on a plane with my entire senior class, I'd be able to pen some damn fine eulogies.

And no, I'm not a sociopath.

suelder said...

I find it interesting that people (generally) don't understand professional behavior. There can be some seriously unprofessional behavior in my workplace - but those aren't the people who get ahead.

Those of us who bring work home, get up early and get the job done, period - it's noticed.

I can't imagine that publishing/ writing is any different.

JES said...

Small rodents are so cute when they're standing on their hind legs, hissing and spitting and baring their teeth. :)

Seriously, though, this does sound like a huge problem. And you didn't even mention anything about production schedule of the book itself. My impression of such things is that everybody (well, not everybody, but you know what I mean) needs to stay more or less in lockstep -- very much the potential for domino-style collapse if any component gets too far out of whack. Just in your case, I'd think your calendar would look something like "receive X by 5/9/09, pass it to the next step by mm/dd/09, move on to project Y the next day..." Which means you end up twiddling your thumbs at some points and being hugely (maybe impossibly) overloaded at others.

It's sort of a management problem. Wonder what the management gurus like what's-his-name, the Five-Minute Manager guy -- wonder what they'd say?

Lexi said...

A. Grey - children are a whole different ball game from horses. Or dogs, cats and hamsters. Trust me on this.

That said, two chapters? Dear me.

THE INTERN said...

Wow.

That list should be copied and e-mailed to every author along with their book contract.

INTERN's delivery date for her book is in 18 days. It's finished. But STILL.

Christina G. said...

Oh, ouch.

As a writer, I've been there. On deadline. Completely uninspired. But I still got it done, you know? I've found, more and more, I *can* write when I sit down and force myself, even if I didn't think it was possible.

Additionally, I work at a newspaper, so my editor will open my file and take the unfinished work if I'm not done on time. She'll update it later.

Two questions:

1. Are the last two chapters totally necessary?

2. Will your author still work with you later if you pry it from her uninspired hands?

~Jamie said...

This is so frustrating to someone trying to break into the publishing industry. Here we sit, working our asses off to try to get our books read by agents, and that author's got it ALL!

How about you let one of us living in query hell right now give her a call... maybe remind her how easily replaced she is? :)

Whirlochre said...

We have to allow ourselves some leeway when it comes to family matters otherwise we run the risk of turning into Christmas Eve Scrooges every time disaster strikes.

There is, however, a difference between acceptable leeway and leeway that looks more like a freeway, and only the two of you can figure that one out.

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Have you seen all the previous chapters, or is the author just saying he/she only has two more chapters to go? Sounds fishy ...

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

I agree with you completely. Failing to write two chapters 3+ months after your deadline because you are not in the right frame of mind? I'm guessing that they would not be all that happy with you if their publication date or (gasp) their royalty check were held up for three months because someone wasn't in the right frame of mind to cut the check. Just saying...

Stuart Neville said...

Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, particularly for those posters saying "Well, if I had that opportunity, I wouldn't..."

I don't want to comment on the specific case our beloved hostess mentions, but I do know what it feels like to be staring down the barrel of that deadline, and the constant state of panic that comes as it draws closer. It doesn't make the writing any easier. I've been like a bunny in the headlights for the last six months trying to write this bloody book.

Where the first one just fell out of me in ten weeks, this one took the guts of a year.The reasons for that are many. Twelve months ago it seemed like I had f-o-r-eeee-vvvv-eeee-rrrr to write it. Surely it would be as easy, maybe easier, to write as the first one.

Nope, it wasn't. It was like pulling teeth. Remember, you've got your whole life to write book #1, but only a few months to write #2.

The reality or writing a book under contract is very, very different from the way you write a book without a deal . Until you've signed something that legally obligates you to write a book, you are fuelled by hope and dreams and desires that are hard to name. But when you have a contract, your primary fuel is fear. Fear doesn't burn as well as hope.

But I learned a huge amount from the experience of writing book #2. I'm pretty sure #3 (which I can't wait to start) will be a much smoother ride, now that I can apply that hard-earned knowledge.

But, having said all that, I'm still going to hand in book #2 more or less on time. My point is, I understand why an author might struggle with the pressure of a deadline. Then again, there's a fine line between genuine struggle and taking the piss...

JES said...

Well said, Stuart.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, about the title of your post. What if my publisher waits 6 months to assign an editor to replace the one he laid off? Is my 2-week-late ms really that late?

Eileen said...

What Stuart said.

There is a real challenge in forcing yourself to sit down and keep moving forward even when you aren't feeling it and it seems like your muse to a trip to Vegas and ran off with a dancer.

However, I haven't missed a deadline yet and don't plan to start. I remember all too well what it was like waiting to get an agent and a deal. I feel far too lucky to be on this side of the fence. I want to do everything in my power to stay here.

~Aimee States said...

I get the arguments FOR Stuart, but they sound more psychological than functional in a general sense. Really, the sophomore album is a b*tch, I get it. But DO it(And you did, kudos).

Anonymous said...

OK... question... What happens if the editor is the one taking a long time to get back to you on revision/editoria letter.. way past your deadline? Does that mean your manuscript is still late because you were waiting on editorial letter? Will you miss out on all that stuff too? Or are there allowances for this?

Ebony McKenna. said...

Another reason why you want to meet delivery date - the publisher might cancel your contract!

http://www.observer.com/2009/books/note-authors-make-your-deadlines

Loved these bits -

"None of the agents interviewed for this story would provide actual examples of late books that have been canceled recently on the basis of late delivery, even as they asserted with total confidence that the practice is becoming more common. "

and

"Publishers, for their part, aren’t copping to the charge (at least not when The Observer asks them about it), and while many of the editors and executives reached for this story said they’d heard about other houses canceling books because they were late, all of them emphasized that they themselves had not been party to any such incidents."

I_am_Tulsa said...

Wow! Learned a lot here! Thank you!

magolla said...

Okay, I'm all for sympathy, but come on! Three months?? Give her a hard deadline and tell her if she misses it, you will require her to send the advance back. Remind her that this is 'her' job and it is up to her to meet her obligations. It's time for this author to pull up her big girl thong until it hurts.
Give her some tough love, Moonie!
Signed,
Ms. Hormonal Cranky-Pants

Margaret Yang said...

I learned a lot from this post. The author who is late was just an example to illustrate the point.

It showed, in great detail, why it is important to make your deadline. Deadlines aren't arbitrary, they are necessary to make other wonderful things happen.

moonrat said...

Margaret--thanks!! That was really my hope :)

A. Grey said...

Lexi, I won't argue, since I haven't the experience, but let me ask you, have you, or do you own a horse? I promise, they might not flush toys down the toilet, but it's easier to wrangle 30 lb children into a bathtub than coax a 1300 lb animal into ANYTHING it doesn't want to be in...

Mark said...

Sometimes I can't write; I try, but there's nothing there. Granted, I'm not published, and I'm assuming there would be some incentive if there were a deadline, and maybe a nice check, and an actual *book* at the end of the road.

But even so, what if there's still nothing there? what do you tell the author? Suck it up and write something anyway? I've always worked under the assumption that something on the page that's bad and needs to be fixed, is preferable to a blank page.

Pamala Knight said...

Was that a rant? I don't think I've ever seen you in such a snit but it was totally well done. Now, even I'm frustrated with your author. She should get cracking on her deadline lest some other person who does know how to keep to a schedule, replace her.

Anonymous said...

To the person that was wondering about an editor that took a long time to get revisions to one of her authors?

My editor took forever to get to my revision letter and so I got rescheduled. Or it could have been the other way around - I got rescheduled, thus she didn't work on my revision letter until much later.

Either way, my book got pushed out and I got bumped down on the list. I'm sure this is an extreme case, but then again, I'm not so sure.

-Anonymous Author

jellybean said...

Deadlines don't fall out of the clear blue sky. How much lead time did this author have? Was the deadline set six months in advance? A year?

I know some people don't like deadlines. Tough. Then do something else. Surely one can plan out the time to deadline to leave enough fat to edit and/or deal with emergencies (exceptional circumstances, well, excepted).

Mark me down on the pitiless side.

Pubbed Author said...

I have to say, before selling I said the same thing as many commenters here: never will I miss a deadline! It was my one mantra.

But since having a few books under my belt and having one that took quite a while to go from rough draft (turned in by deadline) to copy-edits (4-5 months late) I've found that it's not just authors missing deadlines, but editors. So when your editor takes three months to do an edit, leaving you with 1 week to turn a major revision around... that's just not really feasible. I think it has to be both sides working together and part of the means the author knowing the repercussions and hard deadlines (the author needs to know that if you miss Y date, you get pushed back/miss ARC production, etc).

With the book that was late to copy-edits I constantly asked what deadlines were non-negotiable and what were the repercussions of being late and was always told "it's okay, don't worry."

When the editor says "I need this by X date" and then doesn't even send it to you to start work until after X date... you begin to wonder what deadlines are soft and which aren't.

This isn't to say that I won't continue to strive to hit my deadlines, but just to point out that it's not always as easy as "author missed deadline, there is no excuse."

And I very much appreciate hearing what those repercussions of being late are -- I feel like authors often aren't brought into the loop enough on those sorts of things.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the flip side: giving authors 4 months to write a 400 page book from first blank page to ARC-ready final MS while allowing publishers 15 months to get "little piggy" to market is self-defeating and incomprehensible. No wonder so many published books feel rushed and under-edited.

Coral Press said...

Everyone has great insight on this. I think the main issue is the amount of time the client is taking. I don't know how people take on this monster of a process on their own, without a team behind them to get them in gear.

Then again, maybe part of that team was the family the client is having trouble with.

I'm glad you are so genuinely invested in her career - have you tried sending a gift to coax the chapters out of her??

Maria said...

Owned horses. Kids and horses are not the same.

:>)

joelle said...

Intern said: That list should be copied and e-mailed to every author along with their book contract.

I just want to say I think this is an excellent idea. Cause you know why? I just finished copyedits and I didn't know any of this. I mean, I knew to meet my deadline because there are a lot of people whose next steps rely on me doing my job, but no one's told me any of this stuff and I read a lot of blogs and haven't seen most of it. I say, send it on! That's one reason I linked to it on my blog. We DO need to know! Especially us debut novelists.

Jolie said...

"No one even likes France, as a whole, I've found."

inorite? I mean, freedom fries.

This sounds like a case of the author being inexplicably depressed/anxious in the wake of what should have been manageable stress. And I do mean inexplicably. She probably doesn't have a good explanation even to herself. I was in that place after I got mono in college, and I was only sick for about a week and a half (I mean, my mom took me to the hospital, but it wasn't THAT bad). The post-mono portion of my college transcript shows the effects of that one week and a half.

I wish I could tell you something more useful than that. Sometimes people just succumb to weakness. Therapy helps.