Friday, August 23, 2013

Getting Down To Business: The Slippery Slope of Deadlines

Columnist Donna Alward is back this month with her Getting Down To Business column and a chat about handling deadlines... and the importance of meeting them.

Deadlines. Talk to any writer and you'll get a variety of reactions when you say that word. If their schedule is okay, it might be a shrug as a deadline is simply a goal post. If the book's ticking along beautifully, they might smile a bit and say they're on track. Some people work well with deadlines - it keeps them motivated! But it strikes fear in the hearts of others. Panic. Pandemonium and hyperventilating. :)

One of the most exciting things after you sell your first book is being able to say you have a deadline. There's a sense of purpose and importance about it. And as the deadline gets closer and you're writing your second book and you're not sure you can replicate the success of your first book... it gets a little hairy. But it's all good.

Sometimes life gets in the way. Illness, accidents, renovations, a family move... you name it, it happens. And the good news is editors know this. They (surprisingly!) have lives too!

But I also have some strong feelings about deadlines. Like...contractually I made a promise to deliver a product on this particular day. And if I don't deliver it, I a)should have a good reason and b)need to make sure I know when I'll be delivering.

My last book I delivered at 10 p.m. on the day it was due. I worked my tail off for two months finishing that story, and it took me all day that last day to do a final read-through before sending it. What would have happened if I hadn't sent it? Probably not much. Except I made a promise.  I wasn't even comfortable with that, to be honest. Usually I'm a few days or a week early.

In this business, it's not a bad thing to be known as someone who keeps promises and delivers when they say they are going to deliver. If you earn a reputation of being that person, then your editor can go to her team and say "relax. She always delivers on time." There is more than one person waiting for your story to arrive. A lot of planning goes into releasing a book, so being late affects the whole production schedule.

Also, if you're known as someone who meets their deadlines and there's a time you can't deliver, you're probably not going to get much grief because it happens so rarely.

My current book? I'm a little behind. It's a different sort of project and I've had to nail down some extra details. Then there's the fact that it's summer, everyone is home, and we've had company for a few weekends. Am I way behind? No. But it was starting to look like I was maybe not going to meet my deadline and I was feeling pretty uncomfortable about it.

I checked the calendar and realized that my deadline date is the Sunday of a long weekend, so I e-mailed my editor and asked if the Wednesday following that weekend would be okay - really only one day after the holiday weekend anyway. She let me know she's on holidays that week, so the following Monday would be great. Voila! An extra week and a whole lot of breathing room to get this done and done right (hopefully!). Phew! It's never a bad idea to just run it by your editor. Communication is a good thing. If you're having problems, they can help you

Here's the thing. Most often, deadlines have a little wiggle room built into them for contingencies anyway. So a day or two isn't going to be a big deal.  Just be sure you communicate with your editor. I know I've sent an e-mail a few days before a book was due and explained that I was just writing the last chapter and would they mind if I took an extra few days. Hey, it's the last chapter. I'm clearly going to finish it and it won't be long. Has this ever been a problem? NO.

Would I want to be months late with a book? NO to that as well. Not even weeks.

So the lesson here is to really think hard before agreeing to or setting your own deadlines. Whenever someone asks me, I tell them to take what they think they can do and add one month. If you hand a book in early, yay! Better to be early than late. And if you need the extra time, it's nice to know it's there. Because while there is wiggle room, it's not always easy to shift things when a book comes in too late to make its scheduled slot, with the production deadlines that go down the line.

I have a lot of deadlines this year and I'm having to really focus to make them all. Sometimes I think I was stupid to agree to this much work, but then I know that a)when opportunity knocks, you sometimes have to answer and b)this is not a forever schedule, just an 18 month one. :) I also know if I fall behind on one deadline, it'll domino into my others and I don't want that to happen either!

I was recently asked a question about how I have my ducks in a row and things planned and I realized this is what I like about deadlines. I have a stop date. I know what I have to do and by when. It does in fact keep me motivated and I like to chart my progress. I'm a list checker, so when I complete a project and send it I can cross that deadline off the list. It feels good to do that. But not everyone can work that way. Some find the pressure of a deadline detrimental to their creative process. If it is better for your productivity to NOT focus on your deadline, then do what you have to do.

As long as you deliver on time. :)

Donna's newest release is in fact a reprint of FALLING FOR MR. DARK AND DANGEROUS, found as a bonus book in Diana Palmer's DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH in the Bestselling Author's Collection, out on August 27th.


  1. You know, it's funny. I'm a Project Manager in real life so I work on deadlines ALL the time. And I agree - you have to do whatever you can to meet it - you gain a great reputation that way! You will be someone that others want to work with.

    I just wished I followed through on my self-imposed deadlines with writing more often ... :) Good news is, if I work that way in my day-job, when I get PAID to write, it will probably trickle over .. hopefully.

    Great post Donna - and you ALWAYS amaze me with how you juggle everything!!!!

  2. As a procrastinator, deadlines are critical. I need the threat of a wall and knowing someone expects something from me by a certain date is enough to get me in gear. Feet to the fire and all that. :)

    And like Nikki, I am in awe of how you make everything work!