Dave, I’ve been slogging through writing a book for rather a long time now, and with various health issues and some technical glitches (I had my computer broken for a month, for example), I’m concerned that I won’t be able to hit my delivery date for the manuscript. Did I mess up with my original schedule in the contract negotiation phase? Is this really a problem, or is the managing editor going to whine, but it’s really not a big deal?
To answer this one, I thought it would be interesting to just ask a book publisher, so I forwarded your question along to Whil Hentzen, head of the boutique publisher Hentzenwerke. Here’s what he had to say:
It’s obviously helpful for you to have started with an accurate schedule in your negotiations, but the more important thing now that you’re in the midst of your project is not the schedule you proposed, but that you meet the schedule. I can’t stress this enough. (Particularly because I’m a software developer too, and I know exactly what the life is like….)
If you say you’re going to have the book done by 10/1, have it done by 10/1, period. Your publisher will make a number of committments, some monetary, some legal, based on that date. Hopefully, they will be able to get orders for your book based on that ship date. If youre book is late, those orders will get cancelled and your book will NOT see the light of day. And that publisher will NOT ever work with you again. I’ve had several books of mine (both as an author and as a publisher) cancelled because of this.
Give yourself some breathing room. Allow for an emergency or two. Figure on being sick for a week and not being able to find the keyboard, much less being able to type on it. Plan on your boss telling you that feature X of your software dev project is crud and you have to spend a week of all-nighters fixing it (which means no book time that week). If none of these things happen, hey, then you deliver ahead of time (which NO ONE complains about) or you’ve got extra time to make your book just that little bit better.
You also mention that that your computer died on you for a month, which caused you no end of grief, I’m sure. Pardon me for being blunt, but that is the second stupidest thing I’ve ever heard someone say. A MONTH?
I can see how your machine dying just before you backed up today’s work could put you behind a day or two. But a Month? If you make your living in front of a computer… why don’t you have a BACKUP computer? They cost $300 at Wal-Mart these days. Not having a backup is simply unprofessional.
That’s like having an employee tell you that they won’t be in to work for a month because their car died and it’s going to take a month to fix it. Arrange alternate means, for Pete’s sake.
Anyway, back to the original question – make your schedule, have a chapter or two in the bank before you commit, give yourself some breathing room, and no matter what, keep your word – deliver when you said you would.