About Deadlines

It’s late Sunday night and my plan to write a week’s worth of posts has been foiled by the usual assortment of weekend activities plus the addition of a time-suck we in the freelance editing world call “gettin’ paid.”

For a freelancer, deadlines are no respecter of nights and weekends. I might be able to steal another day or three if I really thought it necessary, but depending on how tightly the book is scheduled through the rest of the publishing process, doing so could put the release date in jeopardy. (Okay, that’s a worst-case scenario, but keep in mind that the author may have already pushed for an additional month or three just to finish a deliverable manuscript.)

So I stayed up late last night and worked through much of the day today, fine-tuning a line edit on a novel. From here, it will go off to the publisher and start making the rounds there – copyediting, proofreading and eventually out the door to the printing press.

Deadlines are a tricky business. While each publisher has a formula that gives them a reasonably good idea how long it will take for a manuscript to go from acquisition to completion, there are a ton of things that can mess with that plan, not the least of which is the author’s inability to meet the first deadline. Keep in mind that publishers have many books going through the system at the same time. Moving one deadline back a month may not seem like a big thing, but this change has a ripple effect on the copyediting and proofreading schedules, among others.

Publishing houses are run by people with actual souls, so they know there are all kinds of good reasons for someone to miss a deadline, but compassion doesn’t keep them in business – a workable business model does. And that model is built on a foundation held together by deadlines.

This brings us to the writer’s dilemma. What can you do to be sure you’ll meet your deadlines? The first book is almost never a problem. After all, you’ve been working on it for three or five or ten years. But the second? The third? You have, at best, a year to finish it. Sounds like a lot of time, doesn’t it. Well, it’s not. [Check back later in the week for tips to help make your second novel outshine your first.]

The best advice I can give is to be realistic when determining the deadline in the first place. Publishers will probably want a book a year from you. And that’s perfectly doable…if you have lots of free time to wrestle with not only the writing itself, but also writer’s block and writer’s doubt. Talk with your signifiant other (or your goldfish if you live alone) and come up with a good plan for stealing time well in advance of the deadline to get things in good order. Remember, the better the manuscript is when it touches the editor, the more time that editor can spend making it excellent instead of merely publishable.

Well, my posting deadline is fast approaching and I need to get some sleep so I’m going to tie this up with one last thought. Remember that phone call your parents forced you to make to Mrs. Flibberty down the street? You know, the call where you had to fess up about breaking her window? The phone call to your editor to ask for more time is a lot like that.

Only worse.

Meet your deadlines. Even if you have to stay up really late and work weekends.

Oh, and here’s one more reason to meet your deadline: You do want to get paid, don’t you?

You could win fame and fortune. Seriously, you could. Or maybe instead you’ll win this contest I’m hosting. But to win, you have to enter. Look, it’s only 200 words. You can crank that out in half an hour. And besides, your old English teacher called and told me you have to enter. It’s half of your semester grade. Click here to read all about the contest.

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