Thursday, September 2, 2010

This is Why You Always Meet Your Deadlines

In case you hadn't heard, Yahoo! sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski (say that three times fast) has been sued by Penguin Books for failure to meet his deadline regarding a book about former North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano. The original manuscript delivery date? August 1, 2007.

Wojnarowski was originally offered a cool $400,000 (of which he received $140,000), but his repeated delays caused Penguin to reduce the total advance to $325,000. Now, over three years later, they've canceled the book and are taking Wojnarowski to court to recover the $140,000 they already paid him.

I wish I could say this kind of story was uncommon, but honestly, the only unusual aspect is the filing of a lawsuit. Books are delayed by months (sometimes years) all the time, and failure to meet deadline (sometimes more than once) is not unheard of. I think, however, that publishers' patience is particularly short in the midst of the recession, so I wouldn't be surprised if they were to become even less lenient about missed deadlines, particularly for books bought for six- or seven-figure advances.

The reasons for delays can range from author laziness to the publisher's disapproval of various drafts (that is, sending them back for rewrites) to changes in current events that warrant substantial revisions (generally affecting only nonfiction). Remember, too, that most advances are cut into pieces: often one installment is paid on signing, another on receipt of the manuscript by the publisher, and occasionally a third on or around the date of publication. If you're getting $400,000 and you've already gotten $140,000 just for signing a piece of a paper, one can see how your motivation might be temporarily shot.

That said: this business is slow enough as-is, so as début writers who always want to make the best of impressions, it's in your collective best interest to get your manuscripts and revisions delivered on time. Always be professional, always be on time, and always ask your agent or editor if you have any questions about deadlines, timelines, or any of the other myriad -lines to which you might be subject.

16 comments:

  1. At my old house, we had an author that was ten years overdue. They still planned to publish him. The only reason the book got cancelled was because the editor left and her replacement didn't care about the book or (rightly) believe the author would ever deliver. IIRC, he got to keep the initial 10 grand they paid him as it was too much of a hassle to try and get it back after that long.

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  2. man, all I want is a friggin agent!

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  3. I've gotta say...if this delay is due to laziness, that guy is an idiot! If it's due to rewrites and stuff like that, well I can see how it's not entirely his fault. Still....I've never even seen a number that high before! I'm almost ready to side with Penguin from what little I'm seeing in this post.

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  4. Wow. Just goes to show you how perspective can change things. As an unpublished an un-agented novice writer this seems completely unthinkable to me.

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  5. I've yet to miss a deadline--wait; I write on spec, so my books are all finished before I get the contract. I do have a deadline for turning my copyedits in, and no way would I think of missing it.

    Now, on the flip side, I have a contract with a publisher who's put the book on hold due to internal staffing issues. To me, that sucks. They won't commit to a release date, nor have they even sent the book to an editor, and it's been over a year.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  6. Crazy!

    I never missed a paper deadline in my life in college or hs, so I imagine I would be pretty good about deadlines for a publisher.

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  7. Hmm, I wouldn't think of missing a deadline, even if it does mean you have to turn in slightly inferior work. If they think the work needs the time, I hope they'd grant it to me.

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  8. A few days late, okay I can see that. Extending your deadline a month or year, fine. Three years? Um...

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  9. Thanks, Eric. Great article!

    Tim Keeton
    (Undead)Poet / Wizard / Teller-of-tales

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  10. I write fiction and also dabble in freelance article writing. I am a contributing writer at a local magazine. 12 hours before the magazine was supposed to go to layout, the editor called in a panic. A writer flaked and didn't submit their work. So I stayed up that night to get the articles written.

    Whenever you flake on an editor, someone else has to clean up your mess. And while that person is happy to do it (I got paid, plus got a two page spread, plus got the reputation of being the girl to call in a crisis), it's at the expense of your reputation.

    If you can't make a deadline, let folks know well in advance. The tighter the deadline, the more time folks need to know you can't make it.

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  11. Begs the question: considering that advances are ultimately recouped anyway, why are they going to already successful people who don't need advances to live on while completing their books?

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  12. J. Nelson Leith: "considering that advances are ultimately recouped anyway"

    But they aren't. Most books don't earn out their advance. Publishers pay a big advance because if they didn't, the book would go to someone else.

    On the other hand, if you're a nobody author, you're not going anywhere else, so the publisher will pay you whatever they happen to have in their pockets at the moment.

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  13. Well, I hope the publisher gets it back. Even if the journalist ever finishes/finished this book, the publisher missed one heck of an opportunity. This was a timing play. This book was only worth the money paid in this contract if it could be completed by this time.

    For those who are not sports fans, Jimmy V died in 1993 after a battle with cancer. Shortly before his death, ESPN and Jimmy V started a foundation for cancer research funding.

    In the summer of 2007, ESPN radio and television did a massive kickoff for what has become an annual tradition. A V Foundation drive for cancer research. That first auction had some truly amazing items including a round of golf with Tiger Woods (before his reputation was ruined) and network broadcast from your home for one of the top sports morning shows (Mike & Mike.)

    At the time, there were a lot of people who didn't know or remember his story at the time, and wanted to learn more about this amazing individual when they learned about him. Timing the book with this charity kickoff would have been tons of free publicity for the topic.

    Now I still greatly admire the man. But I have read and heard so many great stories about him, that I'm not sure that I would buy a book about him if it came out today. At the time, I would have.

    The moral of this story. Make sure you understand what's driving the value of your contract advance and your deadline date. A book about Jimmy V in 2010 is not worth the same as a book in 2007 to a publisher.

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  14. But they aren't. Most books don't earn out their advance.

    That's because the book isn't considered to have earned out until it nets the advance and an amount assigned for overhead.

    It's kind of like how most Hollywood pictures aren't officially considered profitable--the accounting practices tend to reduce the profitability of each product, regardless of the overall profit status of the imprint or house.

    Rarely does a publisher (or a studio) actually lose money on a book (or movie).

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