The Thin Dead Line

Writers talk about their deadlines all the time.

“I have so many deadlines!” “I don’t think I’m going to make that deadline.” “At least your deadline is later than mine.”

I think we often forget how very important those deadlines actually are, even aside from the fact that we signed a contract saying we would meet certain deadlines and by the time the book is turned in, have usually already received money for it.

Things to remember: it isn’t just our editor who’s waiting for that manuscript. There may be a copy editor, and a proofreader, and perhaps a whole string of production people who all need those pages at a certain time, so they can do their work and then send the book-in-progress along to its next stage. All of those people have managing editors watching over them to make sure they make those deadlines.

Besides all that, there’s the physical printing of the book, and shipping it to warehouses, and shipping it out to stores from the warehouses, all so it can go on sale on time and the writer can have a lovely release day with cupcakes and balloons.

While the writer is writing and complaining about deadlines, production is already in progress. Harlequin, my publisher, requests “Art Fact Sheets” from the author months before the manuscript is even turned in – for example, a book due in February might require Art Fact Sheets, which include a synopsis and character descriptions, to be completed in August. This is so the art department can get to work on the cover, any special fonts or interior art, etc.; this same information can be used for numerous marketing purposes, including overseas sales. If the AFS aren’t completed, a large number of people can’t do their work.

Additionally, it’s in the writer’s self-interest to meet deadlines. The writer who turns in late is not just hurting her own reputation; she’s shifting the routine of whole departments, sometimes forcing them to reschedule things in their own lives to compensate, because the books have to come out on time. Production staff can cope with all sorts of delays, of course; things happen, books have problems; but they don’t have to like it. And next time, they might not want to go out of their way for you.

Finally, meeting deadlines is just polite. If one thinks of missing a deadline as being rude to exponential numbers of people, suddenly it’s a lot more personal. The writer and the editors and the production staff are a team. If one element isn’t there at the right time, it all collapses. Writing is a solitary activity. Print publishing is not.

Edited to add: Useful post on deadlines by agent Jessica Faust.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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5 Responses to The Thin Dead Line

  1. Marie Tuhart says:

    Victoria, love the post. Deadlines are very important and not meeting one can be critical.

  2. Kate Pearce says:

    Now you've made me feel guilty for all that moaning about deadlines I do LOL

  3. Victoria Janssen says:

    I think moaning is okay if the book gets in on time or if you have a real excuse!

  4. Ashlyn Chase says:

    HI Victoria,

    I'm dealing with my first "real" deadlines now.
    I just finished my edits and my book was off to copy editing and proofreading on time. Whew!

    Book two is not going as well as book one. At least in my mind. My critique partner assures me it's fun and interesting, but I'm already sweating the deadline. It was originally 12/31 and when I mentioned that I could do a better job if it was pushed back a bit, they extended it to Feb 15th. I feel better and maybe by doing that now instead of at the last minute, I didn't inconvenience anyone. At least, I hope not!


  5. Victoria Janssen says:

    Good luck! I figure if you really do need more time, best to let them know as soon as possible – months ahead probably helps a lot!

    I've been counting on knowing I will have a revision period as well. It helps me stress less about the original draft.

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