Re my last entry, Beat Deadline, Faster Publication? Chris Webb asked “I’d be interested to hear your advice on the more common occurrence – when an author misses the deadline. As you know, this can really complicate matters with our bookstore partners – monthly open to buy dollars, promotions, etc.”
The answer is worth its own entry. I blogged about some of this last year, You’ve Signed a book contract, now what?.
Let me say up front that this is a more critical issue with tech books because we’re dealing with tighter schedules all around (in both writing and production), and often dealing with software that’s in a state of flux itself, not to mention a crowded market of competitors.
With most non-tech titles the writing cycle is usually longer, the pub date is further removed from the manuscript deadline, and there’s generally more room for correction throughout the process, which either gives an author enough room to deal with problems or enough rope to hang himself.
Tech publishers and writers are underappreciated for being the sprinters they are.
If a client is struggling with deadlines, my advice is to take the bull by the horns. Tell your publisher and agent what’s up. Be honest and proactive, and ask for help if you need it. Suggest an alternate, more realistic schedule, and if it doesn’t work for your publisher, by all means find help — otherwise that’s likely to be your last book with that publisher.
If you can be proactive and find a solution, you’re ahead of the game. And if you can find good help, and you’re a capable collaborator (i.e. play well with others, some don’t) it’s better for your cause if you can manage the co-authorship yourself (or with your agent) than to rely on the publisher. You may earn a rep as a great administrator, which in itself can earn you some future books (or series).
The only way some authors can pick up as many books as they do is because they think are able to delegate quickly and efficiently when it’s needed.
Underpromise and overdeliver. If you feel an advance is too small to carry you through a project and that the deadline is unrealistic, say so at the start, not two months in. Saying no is often healthier than saying yes. And it’s much easier to push back at a deadline before you have a signed contract.
At bottom, if you’re late and you lose your promised ship date you always lose orders, you waste co-op money, you waste everything that your sales and marketing folks may have made possible for you. Now, if your publisher hasn’t promised books to the stores, you may have a publisher who’s content to wait for your book, but once you’re in the catalog there’s a certain amount of pressure.
And with a book that’s time-sensitive, any sales you lose on the first edition are sales you will lose on all subsequent editions because the bookseller buy-in will be smaller as a simple matter of course (we sold “x” last time, we’ll order “x” this time)
I represent a number of writers who are great at helping others in this predicament. So, for them it’s an opportunity and they always have work if they want it.
Late deliveries are certainly a bigger problem with new authors, one reason it’s often easier to work with professionals.
Publishers can also help this in some instances by being more realistic about the dates themselves, by paying proven high quality authors high quality advances, or by signing books further ahead of time, and not over-committing to customers based on bad data (see any recent blog entry on Vista or MS Office). In most cases I think quality trumps timeliness, but that only helps you when you haven’t already promised books to the retailer based on a flawed or missed schedule.