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.