Writers are “on deadline” as soon as a book is contracted and the editor assigns a date, usually with input from the author, as to when the completed manuscript needs to be on her desk. For a single title, the length of time might be six months to a year. For shorter category books, three or four months is usually the norm.
Prolific writers send their manuscripts in well ahead of schedule. The rest of us move more slowly and, as the deadline approaches, may find we’re running out of time.
I just completed THE CAPTAIN’S MISSION, book two in my Military Investigations series from Love Inspired Suspense. Watch for book one, THE OFFICER’S SECRET, in May! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist spreading the news.)
My January deadline meant I’d be working during the Christmas season, but I had four months from contract to completion, which seemed adequate. In reality, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating the house and preparing for the influx of family took time, and something had to be pushed aside. This year, I didn’t send cards or my usual holiday newsletter, but everything else got done, including the book.
Of course, I did turn down a few holiday parties and stayed home New Year’s Eve, but the manuscript arrived in New York ahead of schedule.
Now with the ninth Love Inspired Suspense under my belt, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the final leg of the race to finish a book. I asked the Seekers to join in, as well.
Usually the last few weeks before the book is due, I concentrate totally on the story and cancel most of my other activities. Going to church and prayer remain front and center, but everything else is put on hold. If I’m really down to the wire, I stop cooking and my daughter takes over the kitchen duties.
Often I stand at my kitchen counter and work on my laptop in the early morning hours. By 10 A.M., I’m at my desk where I stay until I go to bed. I try to be ergonomically correct while at my computer, but long hours of sitting are hard on my back and wrists so I get up and stretch at regular intervals. Also, I take a walk every day, time and weather permitting.
I love Diet Coke, but I watch my intake when I'm on deadline. Instead, I attempt to stay hydrated with water. Usually, I don’t drink enough liquids while I'm at the computer and have to catch up by gulping down a glass or two of water during my breaks.
Even when the writing is done, getting the work into the final format is time consuming. Self-editing and rereading the pages in a hard copy or in a different font to pick out typos takes time, as well. My husband and eldest daughter read my final copy before I send the book off to the editor. If they find any glaring errors, those corrections also need to be made.
Mailing options vary and impact whether the book arrives on time. I’ve had problems with USPS Priority Mail so I usually send my manuscripts UPS. Brown provides a great on-line tracking system, and I follow my manuscript’s progress as it leaves my small town, heads first to Atlanta and then on to New York City. Regular delivery gets it to Love Inspired Books in two working days. Overnight delivery is more expensive but is sometimes a necessity when time is short. I email my editor to let her know the manuscript is on the way and attach the document file electronically along with the message.
When I asked the Seekers for their input, Cara Lynn James was the first to respond. “My advice is to clear the slate if you can and just concentrate on finishing. I lock myself in my room, order pizza (or my husband cooks), neglect laundry and try to get enough sleep. If I'm just a little bit ahead of schedule I can settle down and focus. If I'm not, I tend to panic.”
Janet Dean finishes her drafts a month or two ahead of deadline and then spends the rest of the time editing her work. “I try to up sexual tension and emotion and make sure none of my scenes are tea scenes—i.e. scenes where the POV character has no goal, which means no tension or conflict. I also reread for errors and to tighten my prose. I often end up rewriting the ending and even some of the opening to show the story coming full circle.”
A number of the Seekers mentioned the importance of a good printer. Janet uses a laser printer and says, “I print the morning before the manuscript is due so if there’s a problem with my printer, I’ll have time to get it done elsewhere. While I’m printing, I scan each page to make sure nothing is missing and the numbers are in sequence. Once I’m at this point I don’t reread. I put a rubber band around the pages and cover letter and mail it in a Tyvek envelope with the CD and a prayer. “
Mary Connealy writes fast and needs a printer that keeps up with her output. “On my printer there is a Fast/Economical setting that is sooooooooooo ridiculously much faster than the default, which on HP is called General Everyday Printing. It takes a FRACTION of the ink, and the quality, in my opinion, is no different.”
Sandra Leesmith has two printers, but says, “When I print manuscripts, I use my Samsung Black and White Laser printer which prints 24 pages per minute and 1500 pages per cartridge. The printer costs around $100.00 and is perfect for manuscripts. It’s never broken down and I've had it for years.”
“What do I do close to deadline?” Julie Lessman asks. “Cry. Pray. Call my prayer partners. Stay up late. Go into hibernation till it gets done.”
Ruth Logan Herne blocks out chunks of time for writing. This year, she’s cleared off her calendar until Easter. “I decided for those four months I'm a stay-at-home weekend gal, except for my grandchildren’s birthdays.”
With a full-time day job, Ruth works in the evenings on the many writing projects she has scheduled. “Summer is hard because there is so much to do on top of work and writing, so I'm planning ahead now so I won't have to fret then.”
Cheryl Wyatt never procrastinates, but says, “If a short deadline is stalking me, I deal with it by completely unplugging from media and I hibernate until it is finished. No TV. No Internet. I mean NONE. I put a funny ‘I'm on a scary deadline’ auto-responder on and don't go near a computer until the book is finished.”
She adds, “I pray a lot and have others pray for me. I prepare meals in advance and freeze them if I have to literally hibernate.”
Missy Tippens says, “The main way I deal with deadlines is to take out the calendar and count the number of work days till my self-imposed deadline for the first draft. Then I figure up how many words I have to write a day. I also try to allow myself a month to revise and polish before my actual deadline. Of course, I'm still going crazy right before the deadline, because it seems I always want to make last minute changes. My family has learned that life gets wild that last week.”
Glynna Kaye works fulltime and says, “I hate last minute rush, rush, rushing---that awful, panicky feeling that I'll NEVER make it! Into the ‘finale’ weeks, my correspondence, blog and e-loop participation lapse--as do housework, errands, cooking (take out anyone?), filing, etc. A good night's sleep? What's that? The only thing that DOESN'T go by the wayside is prayer. That's a constant!!”
Currently working on her fourth book, Glynna says, “I've set a pseudo deadline that's well in advance of the true deadline, including more time this round to polish and layer the draft after I type ‘The End.’ It's my plan to push much harder at the beginning of this process than I ever have in the past so I won't come down to another frantic finale!”
When you’re under a deadline—whether contest entry or full-length manuscript for publication--and the clock is ticking, how do you handle the stress and complete the work on time?
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The breakfast bar is open compliments of Food Network. Today’s tasty offerings include: Ina Garten’s Breakfast Bread Pudding, Giada De Lauretiis’ Breakfast Fruit Pizza, Bobby Flay’s Sage-Mustard Sausage and Rachel Ray’s Chili Sweet Potato Hash with Fried Eggs and Fresh Tomato Salsa. Plus grits, of course, and TUMS. Enjoy!
Helen, is the coffee ready?
PS: Seeker photos were taken at past RWA and ACFW conferences to remind you that registration is open for RWA 2011 in New York City. Check it out at: http://www.romancewritersofamerica.com/.