Sunday, April 3, 2011

Deadlines Versus Dead Lines


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.

8 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

Excellent advice, quick editing might pick up typos, but you'll miss those important plot problems.

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Mark W. Danielson said...

Editing is like working out at the gym, Charmaine. It's a necessity, is often painful, is never really over, and you reach a point when you say it'll have to do. :)

Ben Small said...

King's book is the best I've seen, although I skip the part about how he got started.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I thought Kings autobiography was fascinating. There seems to be a link between very successful authors and difficult childhoods. Gee, if only my parents had been more hateful toward me . . .

Earl Staggs said...

Mark, I'll hate you if it will help.

I don't read Stephen King's books simply because horror and such is not my thing, but I loved "On Writing." I especially liked the parts about his early years, how he got started writing and all that.

I also like what Orson Welles used to say in those wine commercials. "We will sell no wine before it's time." Writers should feel the same about their books. Too bad they can't always.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I remember Orson's quote well, Earl. :) Good advice.

I'm with you on the horror stuff, too. Creating mayhem is easy, but since I don't have the guts for horror, there's no need to hate me. :)

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice, Mark. I might add that when you take the manuscript out from wherever you stored it, read it as though someone else had written it. It's then easier to spot less than stellar phrasing and plotting. I also read King's book on a regular basis.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I agree, Jean. If you're brave enough, try reading your manuscript to a willing victim. If they cringe, something needs to be changed. If they fall asleep, your problems are bigger. :)