On Deadlines

August 5th, 2009 · 5 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

As belts tighten, publishers are considering the extremely drastic (and ungentlemanly!) action of canceling contracts for late manuscripts. On presumes the photo Dan Brown associated with the article is merely for decoration. (As an aside, the fantastic Mary Beth Lucas, my journalism instructor, put the fear of deadlines into me something good!)

“What has happened is that in the cold light of morning, publishers are looking at all these expensive deals they made based on the inflated marketplace, and now the bill is coming due and they don’t want the contracts anymore,” said one top agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I buttoned up all my contracts—I amended all of them way before the due dates came. Once the author delivers on time, then the publisher has to find something unacceptable in form and content, and that’s a much more serious thing to do. At that point there’s a whole process that they have to go through, and it’s much more challenging for them to find something in breach.””

File Under: Quote of the Week

5 responses so far ↓

  • grrrr // Aug 7, 2009 at 10:21 am

    why is holding writers to deadlines a bad thing and ungentlemanly? a partner in this case writer should live up to their part of the deal. should writers receive special treatment? in any business, if you contractually agree to do something, you do it or face the consequences outlined in the agreement. don’t get this post.

  • ReacherFan // Aug 7, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I think deadlines are good and bad. Yes, writing is work, but unlike journalism, where the story is a matter of fact and data, fiction is an internal creative process that can’t be forced.

    I have written for publication and also for work as an expert witness, where there are court ordered deadlines that MUST be met. I don’t have that luxury of being 10 minutes late. But I also have a very specific set of facts to work with. I am not inventing plots or creating characters. Even so, it’s just so easy to get lost in your own words, especially when you’re writing long documents with diverse bits information that must be woven together to make a coherent whole for someone without experience in the field.

    I do know this – a. I can’t force the words no matter how hard I try. b. If I make make myself self write when my mind isn’t on it, I just throw it away. c. It takes many drafts before I find I the flow I want. d. A good editor is work their weight in gold.

    For many years I built and kept large perennial beds. There is not a garden book out there that doesn’t say the first rule of gardening is to be ruthless. I find being ruthless about my writing helps too. Hacking out all those sickly plants that the softer side wants to nurture is good experience for red-lining your own work.

    As for Dan Brown, I’m fairly sure if his publisher wants to cancel his contract because he’s late, another publisher will pick him up in a heartbeat. I’d rather be late and offer a quality product, than on time and have something I’d like to take back and rewrite in print.

  • Theodore Savas // Aug 7, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    We have been the beneficiary of what we think is going to be a big book for us next year that was contracted with an east coast publisher who cut loose the author. The publisher used the deadline as an excuse (the editor had left but had given the author another six months, not in writing), and a couple other rather ridiculous reasons.

    Fine with us. We picked it and were happy to do so. I have noticed a substantial uptick in manuscript submissions.


  • Deborah Talmadge // Aug 8, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    The bar has been raised for writers. We have to step up our game if we are going to compete. Perhaps great writing will be the result.

  • Kassia Krozser // Aug 10, 2009 at 9:36 am

    I am amused and bemused by this story. Mostly because I was raised to meet deadlines. And, of course, I know how loose they are in publishing. I thought I’d respond to a couple comments, just because they’re worthy (and conversation starters all on their own).

    @theodore — that is both funny and awesome. I think there will be more stories like yours.

    @reacherfan — You’re right. On one hand, the creative process takes as long as the creative process takes. This wouldn’t be a problem if the author wrote the book, then sold it to the publisher. It becomes a problem when the publisher hands over an advance and plans schedules around the author delivering the book on schedule. Marketing plans are developed, sales materials are created, and schedules are set. If the author then slips on his or her deadline, the impact can get expensive. In the case of Dan Brown, I am sure his publisher will recoup whatever cash they’ve laid out over the past several years (this book was due a few years ago). In the case of other authors, it’s not so easy to get this money back. Remember, if there’s a hole in the schedule, then it must be filled, meaning more shuffling, new materials, other marketing.

    While I know many, many authors who work hard and have disciplined themselves to meet deadlines, the fact is that for many others the process is different. Publishers have some culpability here as they’re the ones who are paying these advances without a guarantee of anything…including the fact that the book will meet the standards necessary to be worth the investment.