Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Deadlines and Other Oddities

by Janis Patterson

Did you ever wonder about the etymology of the word ‘deadline’? It sounds so vaguely threatening. “You reach this line (time?) or you’re dead.” Did the kings of old give their serfs a deadline for bringing in their tributes and lop off their heads if they missed it? Come to think of it, I have known a couple of old-time editors who would have just loved the power to do that – in fact, getting one’s head (or job) lopped off on occasion would have been considered preferable to their reactions.

I wonder that those of us in the wordsmith world have not been able to find a more pleasant, less belligerent term for the time a manuscript/whatever should be turned in. Final day? Term line? End time?

Not that it makes much difference these days anyway. I grew up in advertising, back when deadline really meant deadline. Even being a few hours over the limit was enough to get you raked over the coals. When I moved over into journalism, missing a deadline could get you fired. Now it seems that a deadline is more of a suggestion than a distinct cut-off date, which is something I don’t understand. If you’re given a contract and a date your project is due, hadn’t you better uphold it?

Now there are a few reasons for missing a real deadline without notification to your publisher – death, ending up in a full body cast at your local hospital, things of that order – not that you feel you need a small vacay and will need an additional two months, or that you had another contract come up that offered more money, or any other reason, legitimate or not. If someone realizes they can’t make a deadline, they should notify their publisher immediately. I don’t see why people don’t get that.

On the other hand, there’s a lot about the other side of publishing I don’t get. Why have advances fallen, the quality of editing and proofing gone into freefall and all the responsibility for publicity fallen on the shoulders of the writers? (Unless you’re in the Roberts-King-Koontz stratosphere and, of course, generally excepting a listing in the catalogues.) Why are advances to celebrities and politicians astronomical (in the millions) when it’s pretty much accepted that their books not only won’t earn out, but will be seen on remainder tables and cut-rate bookstores for the next decade or two? This, when working mid-list writers, the ones who write the books people actually like to read and who are the mainstay of the publishing industry, find it hard if not impossible to support themselves on their writing.

I don’t understand. Too much focus on money, not enough on books, or the quality of books. Seems contra-indicative.

Like I said, I don’t understand, but I’ve got a deadline blowing dragon breath on the back of my neck and I’ve got to go work. If anybody figures it out, let me know.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wish I had the answers too, Janis!
I'd love to hear those who might :-)
Good luck and God's blessings with your deadline.

Peter Perrin said...

Tweeted it and on FB. I haven't had to deal with deadlines yet as I'm only on my first book (Not Too Old for Love). But, the first editing suggestions on it are due back anytime soon, and I'll have a four-week deadline to deal with those. Hoping to be published later this year.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I'm used to deadlines, probably why I try to do most things ahead of time. Am having difficult finishing my next Deputy Tempe crabtree mystery though.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yup, a journalist looks at deadlines in a different way--miss your slot, and you ARE pretty much "dead." And that's served me well---hasn't it you?--in book world. Without a deadline, I'd just be la-dee-dahing around.

Maybe we could call it--due date? (Although look how well that works for libraries..)

And now, yeah. Back to work.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

A lot of good questions. Too bad we don't have better answers! As to deadlines, I have a strong work ethic which started as a student. So I'm never late with my writing. What bothers me is that publishers expect writers to do the publicity and promotion and push writers in that regard.

Sharon Ervin said...

Respect for editors and deadlines is a basic for writers. When I was seven, my dad gave me a wristwatch. After school, I went to a friend's to play. I was to be home at 5:30. I started for home at 5:30, got there ten minutes later. Daddy asked what time it was and I told him. "You are ten minutes late," he said. "When you get your leggings off, I'm going to spank you." And he did. Daddy was a newsman and he was a stickler for punctuality. Being on time for an interview, he said, gives the interviewee a sense of obligation, more so if that person is late. Being tardy shows a lack of respect. From then on, I was rarely late to anything...until I met Bill. My husband is dependably 20 minutes late. I find that insulting. Ten minutes one time and two or three minutes the next might be forgivable, but precisely 20 minutes late every time says something. It is his worst flaw. We've been married 53 years. His tardiness still annoys me, but I adjust. Mostly we get places early, albeit 20 minutes after he believes an event is to begin. It's a matter of knowing "your foe." I'd love for you to read MEMORY, my latest romantic suspense.

Laura Elvebak said...

I used to like deadlines. It gave me an incentive and made me work harder, and I rarely missed a deadline. Now my publisher is a small press with 200 hundred authors and they have fallen behind on deadlines themselves due to illness and other catastrophes, but they always come through at the end. They don't give deadlines to their authors except for getting back edits, and even then they are flexible. I give myself deadlines and try to stick with them. Sometimes that works.

MollyLikesMovies said...

The term 'deadline' came from the prison camp at Andersonville during the Civil War. The guards set up 'deadline' at the only possible escape route, and if you were over it, you were shot.

This fact brought to you by endless reading...

Linda Thorne said...

Deadlines motive may, but except when I was working on the final edits with my editor of my first book, I have not had them (except for self-made or contest entries). If I had deadlines like Hank Phillippe Ryan, I'd really be stressed as journalist deadlines are, like she said, miss them and you're "dead."

Morgan Mandel said...

Deadlines are a good form of discipline. I make my own and also break my own. lol