Uber-late manuscripts and what they cost you
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Books & Such agents and staff are on a writers’ retreat with our clients at the Monterey Plaza Hotel this week and lavishing them with attention. (See photo below showing our clients on the hotel’s terrace at our last retreat.) We’ll be re-posting blogs that received a goodly number of visitors and garnered considerable conversation.
Let’s say you missed your book deadline not by a few days, not by a few weeks but by a few months…or years. If you’re seriously late, a whole host of departments in the publishing house pay the price for your missed deadline. And so do you. The book won’t receive the editorial attention that would make it a better book, and marketing has committed to a marketing/publicity plan that will have to be trashed because the book is no longer coming out in the season it was scheduled for. Everyone loses now.
Your marketing dollars have been spent and can’t be retrieved. So your book now has no marketing budget left for when it really releases. Bookstores have placed orders, but now the publisher’s sales reps have to explain that the book will be releasing later. The sales reps’ efforts are lost. The bookstore’s decision to buy your book proved to be a bad choice (and the bookstore’s buyer will remember that you can’t make your deadlines)…See the ripple effect? It’s not pretty.
If you end up writing the book of the century…too bad, the publisher and the book buyers won’t be able to gear up for the big burst necessary to get your stunning book noticed. So much for missed deadlines not being a big deal. The ultimate losers? The publisher, who becomes less and less likely to garner enough sales on the project to make a profit (and who has been carrying the first portion of your advance as a loan to you); the bookstore buyer, who took a chance on ordering your book but learned not to do that again; and you, who fell out of favor with the publisher and everyone employed therein.
A few weeks ago, one of my clients, who is late, late, late on a deadline, emailed that he was vacationing in Paris, sipping an espresso and pondering his manuscript–but not actually working on it. To whom did he send this email? To several individuals at his publishing house whose jobs would be more secure if the author would come through with what is supposed to be an important book. (I was cc’d on the email. ) I understand that the author was assuaging his guilty conscience with the missive, but still, the communication did more damage than it did damage control.
So what’s with this callous view toward deadlines? First, let me say that life happens to everyone, including authors. Sometimes illness, moving to a new location, writer’s block, and accidents interfere with the best laid plans to complete a manuscript on time. That’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m thinking about the authors who have lunch with their friends, blog and tweet endlessly, take vacations, make sure their houses are decorated just so and their gardens are pristine but never manage to fit in time to work on their manuscripts until a couple of weeks before the due date. Then, it’s a mad dash to the deadline, which often is missed. And the work is less than it could have been. I wish that modus operandi were unusual, but it’s not. I recall one publisher saying to me, “What really kills me is when an author is late on a deadline, but every blog I read has a comment from that person, or they’re commenting on all kinds of professional loops. I’m thinking, if you just wrote that number of words on your manuscript, you’d be that much closer to handing it in.”
Yeah, everyone in publishing notices if an author is showing up online but no manuscript is showing up at the publishing house. I can only conclude three reasons, from my observations, as to why deadlines are seriously missed:
1) procrastinating is a common ailment among writers. Any activity is more appealing than putting butt in chair and actually working on the manuscript;
2) authors are inherently optimistic (and sometimes unrealistic) when they commit to a deadline by signing their contract;
3) advances have lost their meaning. Why did advances come into existence? So authors would have sufficient money to set aside other financial pursuits, enabling the writer to concentrate on writing the book contracted. Hello! If the author can’t meet his deadline, why does he think his publisher should pay him an advance for his next book? Or even offer him another contract? Well, publishers are beginning to ask themselves that very question. As a matter of fact, in this economic slowdown, a number of publishers have remembered that their contracts enable them to cancel publishing a book, if the author misses the deadline. (The details of just how late an author can be are spelled out in each contract.) So some authors are receiving a nasty surprise when they turn in their late manuscript. The publisher is saying, “No thanks.” (I’m happy to report this hasn’t happened with any of my clients.) On a side note: Some of you might be thinking, I certainly could live off the advance my publisher paid me. True, the median size of advances is going down, but still, the advance is an advance payment on royalties that you receive to help you to be free from other concerns to write the book.
Now, talk to me: For unpublished writers, do you set deadlines for yourself? Do they help you to complete the stated goal?
For published authors, what do you do to make sure you’ll have your manuscript in on time? If you’ve missed a deadline, did you see any fallout from it?
Now that you’ve read my blog, do you think there was some fallout, but you hadn’t realized it?
Question for all: What keeps you from writing?