By Mark W. Danielson
For authors, deadlines are expected. For mystery authors, dead lines are good if they kill your antagonist, or bad if they kill your story. Since we have all had our share of successes and failures in writing, this seems like a worthwhile topic to explore. Your publisher’s deadline may stir productivity, but if you haven’t prepared for it, what you turn in may be less than your best writing. Face it, authors are disciplined, but personal issues such as health, children, jobs, and whatever else we face in our daily lives can distract us from creating all that we must. I dare say that most authors, even some of the biggest in the business, have at one time or another submitted stories that weren’t ready. Perhaps they expected their editors to throw it back in their face, but in some cases, it got published as-is. Stories like this are easy to identify. They start off very well, but suddenly the pace changes, it sounds rushed, and its anticlimactic finish makes you feel cheated. I suspect the reason for this so-so novel is the author had not adequately prepared for the deadline.
The problem with turning in less-than-optimum work is the author may have fulfilled the obligation, but the sour book may not sell enough copies to pay for the advance. It doesn’t take long before books like this end up on deeply discounted displays faster than a bad big-screen movie goes to DVD. Soon after, the author can expect to be dropped by the publisher. With stakes this high, why would anyone turn in substandard work? The solution is to pace your writing. Do a few pages every day. If you skip a day, then make up for it. Allow sufficient time for the editing process. This isn’t college. You can’t cram for a novel like you would a final exam.
Stephen King’s book, On Writing, suggests that you write your manuscript straight through and hide it for weeks or months. If you can afford the time, I recommend stashing it for six months. It is amazing how different your “perfect” manuscript looks once it has fermented. During this time, clear your head by writing about something else. If you can think of this approach as a novel production line, then you’re on the right track. If you aren’t ready to begin another novel, then write short stories, blog articles—anything that will take your mind off your last project. When you revive your novel, edit it and then stash it again so you can give it a final fresh review before sending it to your professional editor. Remember that editing is an on-going process. Remember that if your editor isn’t thrilled, your book won’t go anywhere. Also remember that publishing house editors are the ones who determine whether your story is marketable. You only get one shot so your manuscript had better be perfect.
If you haven’t read On Writing, buy it. If you have a copy, re-read it while your manuscript ferments. Authors learn from each other and it’s rare when someone like Stephen King is willing to share his insight. Pace your writing, review it often, edit, let it ferment, then repeat as necessary. That’s the formula for killer submissions.