by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

On Friday, John provided a great blog post responding to specific questions regarding the agent/publication process. One of these questions considered the issue of deadlines – something I want to expand upon today. Deadlines, both those imposed by editors/publishers and those self-imposed, are (I think) one of the defining elements of being a professional (as opposed to hobby) writer. As we certainly can’t rely on like so many college students do nowadays.

Deadlines make you both accountable and responsible. But what does that really mean when you aren’t as yet published? It means you know that in order to achieve your larger goal (writing the novel, getting it published etc.) you need to divide the task into manageable chunks and (here is where it gets tricky) you need to meet the deadlines you impose upon yourself. Otherwise you’re just like the billions of amateur writers whining about how ‘one day’ they will write a book but (insert excuse here…) they never seem to get around to it. In today’s post I want to deal with both publisher as well as personal deadlines.

Publisher Imposed Deadlines:

As John said in his blog post on Friday, these deadlines are pretty much inviolable. If, as the author, you miss these then there is a cascading effect on the whole publication cycle. Worse case scenario the publisher views it as a breach of contract and pulls out of the deal. Best case scenario you inconvenience a whole lot of other people. So if you do need to extend, you’d better have a pretty good excuse. 

My rather strict view of deadlines also extends to how you fulfil them. I’ve heard of an author who views the submission date with her publisher with a bit of a shrug – sure, she gets them the manuscript, but she’s not too concerned about making it perfect as she knows the editor will get back to her with comments, so she views the deadline as a necessary evil and continues to work through the book even while waiting for the editor to peruse and comment upon it. I differ on this in that I go into each deal with the belief that, whatever I submit has to be as damn-near-perfect as it possible. To me this is how professionals fulfil their obligations – not with a half-hearted shrug but with a commitment to demonstrating their craft to the highest degree possible.

Of course when it comes to an authors first book, the initial draft manuscript is what was acquired but any amendments to this (based on editorial feedback) should be treated with the same level of professionalism and adherence to deadlines. If an editor doesn’t provide a deadline (which would be highly unusual) then I would request or set one – that way the author remains on track and accountable to a timetable.

So what do you do if you have to seek a deadline extension?

This is where a good agent can act on an author’s behalf to mitigate against this – but the author must still have a genuine excuse for seeking an extension given the potential impact it has on the publisher. When it comes to agents, I would also recommend setting deadlines (for the agent as well as yourself) to ensure there remains a level of responsiveness and accountability that demonstrates an author’s professionalism.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

As a professional writer I like to set myself specific goals for my WIP to keep me on track. Typically I lay out a timetable to complete certain chapters or parts of the books to ensure I don’t face the overwhelming panic of producing a novel. When the tasks ahead are in manageable chunks the path seems far less onerous (or scary). The first thing I do is also set the date I want to get the draft manuscript to my agent and then work backwards from there. 

Sometimes I give my agent an initial deadline for the first 5-10 chapters and the proposed plot outline so I can get his read/feedback on the project ahead. Then I always tell him the date I propose getting the complete manuscript to him – it helps establish my own timetable as well as alerting him to my goal (and, I hope, demonstrate I am tackling it in a serious, professional manner). 

As a terrible procrastinator, self-imposed deadlines are vital to keeping me on track as a professional writer.

So what about you? 
Do you set your own deadlines? Do you meet them? 
Have you ever had to negotiate for a deadline extension from your publisher and if so, how did it go?

12 thoughts on “Deadlines

  1. Good stuff, Clare. Now here’s a question for you: I’m one of those “new writers” facing the hoped-for prospect of having a publisher set a deadline for getting revisions back. At the same time I have a working life outside of writing. How do I effectively communicate to the editor and/or my (future) agent the realities of my life and that I don’t always control how much time I’ll have available to do those revisions (to say nothing of all the platform-building and -maintaining stuff I’m supposed to be doing at the same time)? Or do I just suck it up and give up those annoying time-wasters like sleep, eating, bathing, shopping, and the like?

  2. Great post, Clare. Before I sold, I wrote everyday, usually a few hours after my work day & longer on weekends. I didnt have a goal, other than to keep my head in the story & make progress. These days I keep a spreadsheet of each book’s daily word count goals so I have a visual record of my progress. I work toward getting the final book in early. And yes, I agree that it needs to be as perfect as I can make it. I shudder thinking about anyone turning in a book, thinking en editor would “clean it up.” I used to send it to my agent early, but sometimes tight deadlines don’t allow enough time.

    So for the procrastinator in me, having daily word count goals work best for me. I actually love this method. I can easily see progress. If I want to take a day off, I adjust my word count to make up for it until I’m on track.

    Funny thing though. Just noticed this week as I’m crunching on deadline. When I get to the end, I slow down. My inner procrastinator kicks in because I don’t want it to be over. I don’t want to leave the characters & the world behind. I do this with a good book too. I want to savor every word. Crazy.

  3. I’m fortunate to be in the “self-imposed”deadline phase of my writing life. It has taken me a number of years to keep to my own deadlines.

    Some self-imposed deadlines are hard to guage. For example, I set a goal of finishing my current manuscript by end of this month. Problem is, though I know I’m near the end of the book, I don’t have a feel for how much more word count it’s going to take. But I hope my instincts are right about setting a March 31st date because I HATE to not make my goals.

    I’ve done enough deadline busting in the past.

  4. To me, one of the joys of self-publishing is the lack of deadlines. I have no trouble keeping to bite-sized bits of work each day. To set an arbitrary deadline only creates pressure I don’t need, since I’m not making an appreciable sum of money from the work. I sometimes set soft targets, but never hard deadlines.

    I also understand this would be different if i had a contract. In that case, i agree with John: once a deadline has been set, I’ll do whatever is necessary to meet it. That being said, if an editor offers me a small advance, then the negotiated deadlines will need to be easily accommodated.

  5. Clare, this is a wonderful post, from the first sentence to that great, great sign. I totally agree with you. Get it done. And as John Gilstrap would say, “If failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.” Thanks.

    BTW, there is a wonderful book concerning procrastination titled, oddly enough, PROCRASTINATION, by Jane B. Burka and Lenora M Yuen. It is readily available on Amazon and via e-book. PROCRASTINATION includes advice on identifying the problem and the reasons for it and taking steps to overcome it. It changed my life.

  6. Awesome post!

    I missed a deadline on a novella and lost my place in the rotation. Then there was an upheaval at the pub house and it sat on the shelf until the contract expired. So, yes, I now do much better with deadlines. I was also forged in Federal court where one day late can mean your case.

    One of the reasons, other than genuine professional curiosity, I asked is there is a writer I am following. She scored the brass ring with her non-fic: high end agent and a book deal with a Big 6 that was reported in Publisher’s Weekly.

    The writer has disappeared out of the public eye. She’s blown off her 100K+ hit a day blog, her FB, Twitter, even mentions on the web vanished 6 months ago. Her fans are begging for even a “hello” from her.

    On her agent’s website “rights list” that I dug off the web, the first deadline was 03/2012. Then it suddenly changed to 06/2012. So, I was curious if there was potential trouble on the horizon. Of course, there are a million legit reasons, but this is a book scheduled to drop for Christmas gift giving.

    So, gleaning from the info, yes, a black cloud could be out there.

    Thank you so much for the info and the pep talk about self-discipline.


  7. Ross, first off you and your agent need to make sure the publisher is aware of what deadlines are possible without you giving up your life entirely! So it is part of the negotiation process and editors, though they have timelines also want a decent book and don’t want to drive their authors into the ground!

  8. BK and Dana, I agree it is also important not to place pressure on yourself needlessly but goals are still important and for me at least deadlines are the only way I get the job done!

  9. Terri, I’m not sure what that means but it sounds like the author may have got overwhelmed with the pressure. Jordan, to too often find inertia kicks in – that’s when I have to light a fire under my bum to get the ms finished on time! Joe, I will have to look up this book…ones day:) JSB, love that quote from Douglas Adams!

  10. Nobody likes it when the audiobook narrator gets behind schedule, because you really can’t just talk faster without changing the entire effect of the book.

    Although a Daniel Silva novel performed by the chipmunks may well be a great tool for peace in the Middle East as the enemies of Israel would be unable to fight when they laugh themselves into a coma.

  11. Clare, I LOVE deadlines. They anchor me to my priorities. I don’t wear a “Squirrel” charm bracelet for nothing! LOL!

    I have never missed one, and God willing, never will. Given that life and tragedies do impose on one’s plans, unless the reason is truly founded, I think it’s poor business not to deliver when expected. I want to keep the editor coming back for more.

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