Let’s talk delays, shall we?

Publication delays. The stuff that make sphincters pucker and leave authors and editors running for the Maalox. In a word, they suck.

Big time.

Why? Because everyone has agreed upon a pub date and everyone goes to work on writing, marketing, and promoting based on that date…the sales and marketing teams, the editor, the author, the cover designer, the catalog folks. Everyone.

And when there is a delay, you can bet your last Twinkie there are people looking for someone’s head to lop off. So whose head goes rolling down the street? The author? The editor?

The Author

When a contract is signed, there is an agreed upon date when the author needs to supply the finished product. But what if the author has personal issues and doesn’t get the manuscript turned in on time? It happens – authors get sick, have operations, writer’s block (gah!), personal issues – and it gets in the way of completing the story. In all cases, it’s incumbent upon the author to relate the problem to their editor and ask/beg/plead for an extension.

I had a case like this happen last year, and it was a nightmare for me because I had to rearrange my editing schedule three separate times due to delay after delay. It also didn’t make my promo and sales folks very happy, either. And the catalog scheduling had me pulling out my hair. Do I include the title, or do I leave it out in case my tardy author requests yet another delay? Which, of course, frustrated the bejabbers out of my distributor’s sales teams.

There are also times when the author drags her feet with the editorial suggestions and misses their deadline. This can throw scheduling off kilter if it’s a tough manuscript – meaning that there is a lot of editing/rewriting going on. In these cases, your editor has probably begun to mainline cheap gin.


The editor is the casing for the Uranium-235 and holds igniter explosives. When an author delays, the chain reaction reaches critical mass and all those lit fuses come exploding back to the editor. And, trust me on this; it’s about as much fun as being run over by a herd of hormonal wildebeests with a craving for chocolate.

Outside of disaster, illness, tragedy, it is incredibly unprofessional for an author to delay a project.

The Editor

The other person responsible for delays is the editorial/production side of things. Many delays are tactical. Your editor may have decided on a pub date, but upon further discussion with their marketing and sales teams, it might prove wiser to delay it so the book’s release can coincide with something going on in world events – something that wasn’t apparent at signing.

Not all manuscripts come together quickly during the editing process, and your editor might delay due to editorial issues. I’ve received edits that I felt needed further revising, so I sent the author additional suggestions on how to improve the story. This eats up precious time if you’re working against a tight clock.

Delays might result in the editor having a large workload, and your manuscript might be put into a holding pattern until it’s your turn in the queue. If the workload is really huge, that holding pattern could impact your release date – but it would be unusual because editors are very cognizant of what manuscripts they have on their plate and plan accordingly. Sure, things can mess with that – say, if you have a book that’s time sensitive and you need to crank it out pronto. So that manuscript moves to the front of the queue, and pushes yours back.

But this is unusual. Let me repeat that. It is unusual.

For most of you, your publication date won’t change. But, as I’ve outlined above, it can, and does, happen. But there are some cases that are so extreme and mess with an author’s head so badly, they should be labeled Extreme ClusterF&%*s.

I look no further than the case of Ian Tregillis. His post about his experiences with getting his trilogy published is the stuff that nightmares are made of. I do hope you take the time to read it because there are some object lessons in there. Frankly, my heart nearly broke for him.

It’s important to know that nightmares like Ian’s are few and far between. Was his a case whereby a perfect storm resulted in the ultimate publishing screw up, or was this editorial apathy at its zenith? The editor was duly chagrined to have let Ian’s books fall through the cracks and apologized profusely and graciously. That said, I have my own thoughts about this king-sized mess, given the information at hand.

What I do know is that I’m beholden to a lot of people when I sign a book, so it’s virtually impossible for me to let anything fall through the cracks. I always have someone on my back about what they need from me to further the production process because they run on tight schedules – be it catalog production, marketing, promotion, cover design, or sales.

I, too, have a personal life that is filled with three kids, a husband, two dogs, parents, blah, blah, blah. In truth, no one gives a rip about my personal life, nor should they. What goes on in my off hours shouldn’t impact my professional life, except illness or a death. But at that, these wouldn’t impact my professional life to the point where I was hopelessly behind in my duties. My first duty is to my authors, and this means I often work until 9 at night and weekends. In short, I do whatever it takes to stay ahead of the game. Or at least caught up.

So how does one let a project fall so destructively behind schedule? Three times? With three books? I’m sure that nothing insidious or malicious was ever intended, but I can’t help but be gobsmacked there wasn’t some sort of intervention that would have relieved the editor of his duties so that Ian’s series could finally see the light of day. One thing appears obvious – the editor was overwhelmed and ill-prepared to fulfill his responsibilities. And that is just plain wrong. I don’t care about someone’s reputation or expertise. It means nothing if they can’t get the job done.

Just like authors, we have a responsibility to our authors to ensure their books are well taken care of in a timely manner. The minute there is a problem and we fear a delay, we MUST communicate it to all concerned parties. We don’t have the luxury of sweeping things under the carpet because we have so many checks and balances in place that force us to pay attention. AS such, I do not buy into the possibility of a book falling though the cracks. One cannot accidentally delay a project.

I can’t say what happened in Ian’s case – or Melinda Snodgrass’ equally horrible case – because only their editor knows for certain. That it happened to two authors is a travesty. I hope Ian and Melinda recover from their experiences and go on to write more books that sell millions. And consider that they may have better success with a different editor.

As I’ve outlined above, delays happen for all kinds of reasons, but they should make a modicum of sense. If there is anything to be gleaned from this is to be proactive and vigilant at all times. At the very outset of trouble, don’t delay. Have your agent get involved and demand answers. Go directly to the publisher, if need be.

Your editor may have bought the rights to publish your book, but there is no amount of money that can repay you for a destroyed spirit.

8 Responses to Let’s talk delays, shall we?

  1. PattiZo says:

    Yet another reason for self-publishing.

  2. Chip Jacobs says:

    If that’s your inference from this post, you either read it too quickly or you are wildly delusional about self publishing. You won’t have to worry about editing delays with SP, because there usually are NO editors (or real marketing, either). Lynn is just doing what most traditional book editors refuse to do: educate writers openly with a frank discussion about the most realistic scenarios. Geez. I’d rather know about POSSIBLE pitfalls before I’m dusting the unrealistic expectations off with a literary spray wash. But whad do I know?

  3. Patti, I’m not quite sure how you could read my post and conclude that self-publishing is the best solution. There is a whole host of concerns that most self publishers are unaware of, and the result is that their books die an ugly, quick death – and also leave the author much poorer.

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    And besides, you still need to be edited…even if you’re self publishing. Trust me. You want people reading your book, right?

  5. PattiZo says:

    If I may be allowed to comment: I am not delusional in any way rrgarding publishing. Borders has closed 250 of their stores. Many of the independents have closed shop. Barnes and Noble has more space dedicated to toys and electronics than honest to goodness books.

    Many publishers are going the way of e-books. Self-publishing, once ridiculed, is nor not as “forbidden” as it once was. Am I delusional? Do I think I am going to write a book without editing or beta readers? No. Do I think I will write a book that is guaranteed to sell? No. No one is guaranteed anything in this life.
    WhatI do know is this:
    E-books are gaining a popularity, and with the the Nook, Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, and Pubit and Ipods and Iphones there is a bult in distribution system.

    Do I still need to have a darn good story, cover and beta readers/critique group to test my story, Heck yes.
    All I am saying is that self-pubishing is an alternative.

    Mr. Jacobs, I inferred a lot from the above post; I inferred the current state if oublishing that is only going to get worse as more editors are fired and less people have to do more work.

    I am not delusional at all; in fact, things have never benn made more clear.

  6. Patti, I still believe that you are taking a few things out of context. Yes, bookstores are closing and shelf space is very competitive. But I’m not sure what publishers are going the way of e-books. All of us have included e-books in lineup, but that’s simply good business sense. You still have to have an effective way to promote your book so that readers know to order your book.

    Publishers who are abandoning physical books are doing so because they lack the proper finances to remain in business. They can’t afford print runs, marketing, promotion, and probably don’t have any distribution to speak of. This is an apples/orange comparison and hardly a convincing argument for self publishing.

    You still need to get word out about your book. It’s true that a number of authors have been able to accomplish this. But for every ten or twenty, there are thousands whose books remain obscure.

    The current state of publishing is not going to get worse. It is evolving – just as it always has. There are still outstanding publishers, fabulous editors, and wonderful distribution. And debut authors are being well-published every day.

    I have no problem with anyone who chooses to self publish. As long as you completely understand the publishing industry and appreciate the expense and time it takes to sell a book, how the marketplace works, and that you’ll shoulder every bit of the burden, then best of everything to you. Most don’t have a clue.

  7. Is Maalox a US medicine for what an aunt of mine* used to call ‘the hindijaggers’ (indigestion)? It sounds like it should the name of an alien in a badly writted science fiction books.

    * She also called pernicious anemia ‘British anemia’.

  8. Hi Skippie…long time no hear. You guessed correctly about Maalox, though I really like your aunt’s description better. Hindijaggers – almost sounds like chigger bites.

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