Welcome Tessa Shapcott  (who met her deadline for the RU post with NO problem). Today we’re going to take a strong look at deadlines, love ’em or hate ’em, all writers work with them.
Deadlines. If you work in the book publishing industry, either as a writer or an editor, you can’t avoid them. If you’re contracted to write by an imprint, you’ll have delivery dates that you’re legally obliged to meet; if you’re self-published, you’ll most likely set yourself a goal to meet the most advantageous sales window. If you’re an editor, you’ll be juggling a number of authors and titles, and therefore different production schedules and publication dates. Yup, deadlines are things you just can’t avoid.
Having worked on both sides of the fence as an editor and a romance writer, I’ve experienced both the pain and pleasure of having to meet deadlines. I put pain before pleasure here, because as someone who by nature would be late for her own funeral, I’ve always found it hard to meet them. I’m sure you’ll know what I mean about the pain. For writers, delivery dates can feel like an oppressive form of bondage made to kill creativity and even one’s muse. For editors, they can be a kind of torture, because there are always a complex set of deliveries and dates to be met on an ongoing basis, like the endless unravelling of a never-ending ball of wool or string.
The pleasure? Is there any? I’d like to hope so. However much we moan and chaff at the restrictions of deadlines, they also provide a welcome framework. They make us plan and pace ourselves, and drive ourselves to do just that little bit more when perhaps otherwise we would have shut our laptops. And there’s nothing like the feeling of joy when a deadline is met and that’s one more piece finished and behind you. (Perhaps I need to get out more!)
Does it really matter if an author doesn’t meet publisher’s agreed delivery date? They build wriggle-room into publishing production schedules, don’t they? Well, it matters more than you might think and while there is a little bit of leeway on a production path, there’s often not a lot. I think it helps to remember that your editor’s life is a carefully-constructed network of deadlines and when you don’t deliver on time, she can be quite seriously impacted. Other projects are thrown out of whack, other people down the publishing food chain are affected and time may have to be bought and paid for in order to get the book out on target. In the end this comes off the publisher’s bottom line and means less money in the pot for paying things like royalties. Also, being continually late can come to affect your professional standing as a writer; publishers and editors like writers who deliver on time, and you run the likelihood of missing out on being commissioned for prestigious and headline future projects, and prime publication slots, because you are considered as unreliable.
What about self-publishing? One of the best things about doing it yourself is that you can follow your own schedule and it doesn’t matter if you don’t make targets, right? But not having a set of deadlines to meet can actually be very damaging. No doubt you will have thought about getting your book up there to meet an optimum period marketing-wise—the holiday or vacation seasons, for instance, or have plans for publishing linked titles in quick succession—and by letting things slip you could be missing out on sales. Or you could just end up in that no-man’s land of never actually getting your novel finished and published because you haven’t the incentive of a deadline.
At the moment, I’m straddling both sides of the fence and am in deadline hell. I’m working for Tule Publishing’s Montana Born digital imprint, both writing for and editing their Spring Brides novella mini-series. My own novella, The Unexpected Bride by Joanne Walsh, will available at the beginning of May, so I am frantically finishing it up now and cursing the delivery date that I must meet (of course I can’t edit my own book, so another editor will be working with me). Meantime, I am editing and guiding the other authors in the Spring Brides series, so that’s another seven deadlines to be met in quick succession. It’s a balancing act and there have been some hairy moments, but just as I am helping the other writers to keep to the agreed timelines, I have to reluctantly admit that my own editor and schedule for The Unexpected Bride are keeping me on the straight and narrow. And I know that there are a team of publishing professionals waiting on me to bring my own and the other authors’ projects in on time, so that we can meet the publication plan and maximise the books’ sales potential.
Seeing both sides of the coin have led me to collect a short list of tips for meeting writing deadlines and not becoming a deadline diva, which I would like to share with you here.
- Allow yourself extra time. Don’t write to the wire! If your contract says deliver on X, or your self-publishing goal is to publish by Y, aim to finish earlier than X or Y and build in a buffer for yourself of days or up to 2 weeks if possible. This allows you to stand back and being more objective about what you’ve written, and deal with any rewrites, loose ends or unexpected road blocks that may have slowed you down calmly. If you have the opportunity to discuss delivery, estimate how long a project will take you—be realistic when you do!—and add on your buffer before declaring your finishing date.
- Organize your time. Create a schedule that you stick to, and which is transparent to those around you, like family and friends, and lets them know that you are working. If you are having to multi-task, try breaking your schedule down and allocating blocks of time to writing or editing. Personally, I like to work for 30 minutes, then take time out for 15 minutes to make calls, answer emails and so on, before returning to my manuscript. This gives me headspace to deal with varied and conflicting tasks, yet stay fresh with my narrative.
- Keep a to-do list, which flags up character and plot issues that will need to be fixed, in order to separate writing from self-editing. In all my years of editing, I have observed that the writers who continually stop off to self-edit are the ones who have the most trouble delivering on time. Allow yourself stretches to just write. If it occurs to you while writing that something a few pages back requires alteration or modification, just make a note to attend to it during your allotted self-editing time, and then keep going!
- Avoid procrastination! Some of the most successful writers have told me that they make themselves write a certain number of words every day. I have come to know the virtue in this. Even if you end up writing something you discard, you’ve kept the discipline and momentum going, and mentally you’ve avoided falling into the deep, dark pit of non-production. Cleaning out your fridge will wait until you’ve written your word allocation.
- Get yourself a writing partner or beta-readers. Just as exercising with a buddy can keep you on track and make it fun, having another writer or a team of readers can give you structure and encouragement. And the critiquing process can help you offload all those niggles you have in your head about the characters or the plot that might otherwise churn around and hold you back.
- Communicate. If you have an editor, or if you have a formatter or marketer on your case, keep in touch with them about your progress and any problems. If you can’t avoid running over deadline, be prepared to let them know as far as you are able in good time. You will most likely find the other person is willing to negotiate and able to help you.
Do you have any tips for managing and arriving on time? Please do share them in the comment section below.
Join us on Monday for Hazel Gaynor!
Bio: Tessa Shapcott is a freelancer editor, specializing in genre and women’s fiction and also helping authors to self-publish. She also writes category romance novels. A life-long fan of romantic fiction, she spent many years working for the publisher Harlequin Mills & Boon, first leading the Harlequin Presents line and then the editorial department. She can be contacted via her website: tessashapcott.com ; or via email: tessashapcott @gmail.com.