Author career · publishing

Debut Author Survival Guide #2: Deadlines

The Debut Author Survival Guide is a series that explains everything that happens between selling your book to publication day in an attempt to demystify the process of publishing your first novel (through a traditional publishing lens). Go HERE to see the rest of the series!

Ah, deadlines. Loathe them, love them, fear them, need them–once you sell a book, deadlines become a part of the new normal that is your publishing career. It is something of a right of passage to be “on deadline” for the first time, although what is at first somewhat glamorous and important-sounding can quickly become a recipe for stress and anxiety.

You may have had deadlines before–set by you, your agent, a creative writing teacher–but deadlines set by your publisher are a different beast entirely. There is a whole process that goes into creating and marketing a book, and once you are slotted into that process, there are suddenly a lot of other people’s jobs, time, and money riding on you.

If there’s one super practical piece of advice I can give to debuts, it’s to do everything possible to meet your deadlines. Getting your drafts done on time makes everyone else’s lives 100% easier, and the easier you can make your teams lives, the better for you and your book. And early on in your relationship with your editor, it’s good to be able to prove that not only are you talented and amazing (which they know, because they bought your book) but you also work hard and get shit done. Being talented and amazing will only get you so far–getting shit done is far, far more important in the long run. And one of the dirty secrets of the publishing industry is that there are a lot of authors who do NOT meet their deadlines. But just because a lot of other kids are doing it doesn’t mean you should! Be a shining example of an author who does meet their deadlines, and your publisher will love you.

Now, obviously, when I say always, always meet your deadlines, I don’t mean run yourself into the ground and shirk all your other responsibilities and personal relationships in order to do so. Things can and certainly will come up that are entirely outside of your control. For example, your sister might contract malaria AND salmonella and have to go to the hospital the same week you’re supposed to turn in your final round of edits (not that that happened to me or anything). In cases like that, it’s perfectly acceptable to email your editor and ask for a few extra days to wrap up the draft. They’ll usually be happy to give it to you–and in a lot of cases, they’ve built in that wiggle room for you.

Another reason you might want to push back a deadline is for creative reasons–the draft isn’t going as quickly as you’d hoped, some of the problems are trickier to untangle and you need that time to really work them all out. This is probably one of the more common reasons authors push back their deadlines, and it is an absolutely inevitable part of the creative process–the fact that it doesn’t always want to work on your schedule. My advice on this is to be as communicative with your editor as possible. If a new problem in the draft arises, let them know–they may want to help you brainstorm solutions! If things are just going slower than you’d hoped, let them know as soon as you can that you would like more time, and be proactive about setting their expectations and working with them to agree to a timeline that works for everyone.

One final thing I will say (and if there are any editors reading this listen up): your editor should be the one to set the example they want you to follow. If your editor is not communicating with you about when they will get a draft back to you, what their expectations are, or not being reasonable about the amount of time they’ve given you–that is definitely worth talking through with them, and in some cases getting your agent involved. All of those things make it very difficult for you to get your work done in the amount of time allotted. The trust and commitment has to go both ways. I always appreciate knowing deadlines as far in advance as possible, and knowing around when I’ll get a draft back after turning it in, and my editor has been fantastic about communicating those things to me, and actually sticking to what he committed to. That in turn makes it much easier for me to commit to those timelines. Win-win.

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