Whether you want to be traditionally published, self-published, or you are published, there’s one thing you need to understand about yourself as a writer.
How fast you can complete a book from the plotting stage to the polishing stage.
If you’re just starting out, this can be a hard thing to determine. So, you’ll have to ballpark it. How long did it take you to complete your first novel? If it took you a few years to write, ask yourself why. Did you let life get in the way of your writing time? Are you working two jobs, raising five kids, and actually need to sleep more than a few hours each night? If you were honest with yourself, could you have found time to write? How would this be different if you had a deadline to meet?
Don’t worry. I’m not judging you. Actually, if you don’t have a deadline with a publisher or your readers (if you’re self-published), you can write when you’re inspired to do so. Enjoy it while you can. Because once you have a publisher or a readership, people will expect you to deliver ON TIME.
Missing a deadline can cause harm to more than just your career. It can harm others too.
If one of my clients doesn’t deliver his manuscript to me on our agreed-upon date, I probably won’t be able to fill that time slot and will be affected financially.
If you were supposed to hand in your manuscript to your agent by a certain date and didn’t, you might miss out on an opportunity to sell your book to a publisher. Your agent, believing she would have your MS ready to go by the time she met with the editor of The-Greatest-Publishing-House-Ever, would no longer have your book to offer. It would be too risky for her to promise an unfinished manuscript to the publisher. If your agent, in her excitement about your book, had already teased the publisher about your book, this could be uncomfortable for her at their meeting. She has to somehow explain why your MS isn’t finished without making either one of you look bad. AWKWARD.
If you don’t hand in your MS to your publisher by the deadline, you could suffer legal and financial problems. You’ve signed a contract and agreed to this deadline. Missing it could mean anything from them giving you an extension to them dropping your contract and/or suing you. Don’t forget, this industry is small and people talk. There’s a chance your reputation will be tarnished, and you’ll have a harder time, if not impossible, getting a contract with another publisher.
If you’re self-published, don’t think you can get off any easier. If you announce an upcoming release date and don’t launch your book on that day, some readers will be upset. You promised to deliver on this date and you didn’t. That’s unprofessional no matter the reason. In this case, if you publish your book within a few days, you can probably recover. But, I’ve seen indie authors tell their readers it’ll be another month or two before they’ll be ready. Not impressive.
The bottom line is you don’t want to miss your deadlines. The more you understand how you work as a writer and how fast you can complete a novel, the easier it will be for you to meet your deadlines. However, it’s a good idea to plan for the worst. If it takes you four months to plot, write, edit, revise, and polish your novel, you might want to allow an extra few weeks or even a month when setting your deadline. This gives you some wiggle room if you get sick, a relative passes away, your spouse loses his/her job, or any other major event that could hamper your writing time and affect your deadline.