Thursday, September 10, 2015

3 Tips for Choosing Deadlines

Zestful Blog Post #123

For professional writers, deadlines are a fact of life. Fortunately, they’ve never daunted me. But I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Deadlines fall into two categories: Those imposed on you, and those you have occasion to impose on others. The first kind are set by employers, clients, agents, editors, publishers, etc. Sometimes a deadline is not negotiable. Daily newspapers pretty much have non-negotiable deadlines. If you’re writing freelance, your editor has probably told you a deadline that’s a few hours earlier than the real one, but if you want to keep a good relationship with that editor, you get your piece and pictures in on time.

[You want all of your business relationships to be happy rainbows, not crushed raccoons like the one by the side of the road I Photoshopped out.]

But sometimes, as for a magazine article or a short story for an anthology, you can have a say in your deadline. The conversation might go:

You: So, when do you need this by?
Editor: Well, ideally I’d like it by [X date], but [Z date later] would be OK.
You: Let’s split the difference. How bout [Y date]? Would that really be all right with you?

Because something always comes up, and you’re going to be glad for those extra days. So:

Tip #1: Pad it if you can, but not by a lot. You want breathing room, but you don’t want the job to drag on forever. Plus, bosses like it when you make their lives easier.

Tip #2: Never, if you can help it, choose a deadline that falls on a Monday. Once you’ve made that mistake and paid for it by sacrificing weekend plans, you’ll never make it again. I like Thursday deadlines.

Both of those tips work when you have to impose deadlines as well, like if you’re editing something or arranging for production work to be done, like design and printing.

One more thing, for longer-term deadlines months away, like your next book for your publisher. This also works if you’re the requester of work, like if you’re editing a collection or suchlike:

Tip #3: Never choose a date at the beginning of a month. If you do that, everybody’s like, oh, yeah, we have until February 1st to get that done. And they think February all the way through January, until suddenly it’s like, “Ruh-roh, tomorrow’s February, and it’s not just February, its February 1st, and we’ve screwed ourselves.” But if you pick January 31st, everybody at least starts to bear down in January. “Oh, yeah, January deadline on this one.”

All of this works for self-imposed deadlines as well. It’s all psychological, but real.

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  1. Thanks for the pointers. I'm just now learning about publishing/editing deadlines. I'm also one for turning things in early. I had two weeks for my first round of edits, but I turned it in in ten days. Is that a good thing or a bad thing to do? If they get used to the short turn-around, and I actually need the full two weeks, will I look bad?

  2. I absolutely agree about deadlines on the first of the month. The first of the month shouldn't be for completing what you were supposed to do last month. It should be for starting what you have to do this month.

  3. BJ, it's fine to turn things in early; you build a little capital with the editor (or whoever). But don't worry that they'll start to take you for granted. You can always speak up for what you need... And yeah, John, that's right about firsts of months being time for new stuff!


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