Editors who have worked with authors as long as I have (18 years and counting) often keep lists of the zillions of excuses and (yes, sometimes legitimate) reasons as to why authors miss their deadlines. I swear, at least 50 percent of all authors miss their deadlines on a consistent basis. Of course, all editors want to believe the authors who promise to meet their deadlines. Sadly, though, most editors have been disappointed so many times that they’ve become very cynical about the whole deadline issue. At the beginning of a project, whenever an author says to me, “I’ve never missed a deadline,” all it tells me is that he or she is almost guaranteed to miss a deadline.
There are, of course, plenty of legitimate, mundane reasons for missing a deadline, such as the author becoming ill, or computer-related problems. Heck, I’m a writer myself, and I’ve missed a couple of deadlines due to unforeseen circumstances (power outages and such).
Then there are the more dramatic reasons, like, “My dog died,” or, “My grandmother died,” or, “My wife went into labor.” Let’s face it, folks -- some things are just more important than meeting a writing deadline. These are all perfectly good reasons to miss a deadline -- assuming the authors giving the reasons aren’t lying through their teeth. Yes, some authors do lie. I once had an author who was a little too fond of the “grandmother died” excuse. Either his grandmother had a knack for coming back to life, or he had six grandmothers who all died the same year.
Nothing quite catches an editor’s attention, though, like a truly weird reason -- or excuse -- for missing a deadline.
For instance, there was the author I had who missed a deadline because he closed his garage door on his head.
Then there was the author who had a tree fall on her when she was out walking her dog.
There was also the author who missed his deadline because he got deported.
And then there’s the excuse I heard TODAY: Apparently, the author missed his deadline because two weeks ago, he spilled something on his kitchen floor. The floor was ruined, so he began pulling it up to repair it. It’s been taking much longer than he anticipated to repair his kitchen floor, so he absolutely will not be able to finish his writing until next Friday.
That has to be one of the weirdest and lamest excuses I’ve ever heard for missing a deadline -– and I thought I’d heard ‘em all. And what the heck did this guy spill on his floor, anyway? Alien acid?
Perhaps the authors who have mental blocks about meeting deadlines should look to the authors who bend over backwards to meet their deadlines. Yes, those types of authors do exist. Over the holidays, one of my authors suffered a heart attack. In spite of that, he kept writing, and succeeded in meeting his January deadline. I offered to extend the deadline for him, but he wouldn’t accept it. He said he didn’t have anything else to do, anyway, because he was stuck in bed.
I once had an author for whom DEATH wasn’t a deterrent from meeting his deadline. He died halfway through writing his book. His wife stepped in and finished writing the book for him, saying that working on the book had been so important to her husband that she wanted to make sure the writing was finished. She met the original deadline, and she did an absolutely superb job with the writing. Her husband would have been very proud of the finished book.
Those are extreme examples, of course. Most deadline issues aren’t nearly as dramatic. Deadlines, after all, are merely a necessary evil in the publishing world. They’re set up to ensure that the publishing companies release enough product on a consistent basis to bring in revenue and keep the companies in business. As long as there are publishing companies, there are going to be deadlines -- and there are going to be authors and editors battling to meet (or miss) those deadlines. You can also bet there are going to be editors who keep compiling lists of reasons as to why authors miss deadlines.
At the top of my list is a quote from a truly wonderful author who gave me one of the most disarming reasons I’ve ever heard for missing a deadline: “I’m really very sorry I missed my deadline. I am an idiot.”