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Key to a Career — Punctuality

I wanted to write a post to any aspiring writers regarding the tools you need to be successful (which can be a very relative term when you’re talking about writing).  I’m not going to talk about the ability to plot, create interesting multi-dimensional characters, brisk sharp prose. 

No I’m going to talk about something far more mundane.  Can you write and deliver a book within the terms of the contract?  Back when I was first breaking into writing a number of far more experienced and successful writers told me that “oh publishers don’t care about the deadline.”  They expected books to be delivered late.  And indeed that seemed to be the case.  Not that I did that because I have this quirk about always being on time.  I paid back a publisher because I was working Trek and I knew I would never meet the deadline. 

Now some of you may be saying, “But Melinda, there have been large gaps in time with your Edge series.  Hold that thought, I’m going to explain why, but for now pay attention to the need for punctuality.  This is going to be important for your future career.

So why, back in the day, didn’t publishers care if books came in late?  Well, because there were a lot more stand alone novels being published.  Series were starting to enter the field, but they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now.  If a book is a stand alone you don’t have armies of fans desperate for the next installment.  They’ll just pick up a different book.

Fast forward to now, and it’s a different world.  Publishers and, I think, readers prefer series.  I know I do because I love to wallow in a world, and spend lots and lots of time with characters I come to love.  

Publishers love them because if a series hits and the writer can keep cranking them out at regular intervals it’s an income stream upon which you can rely.  The accounting office is saying, “We know that Jane Doe’s ballet detective books always sell this amount and she increases readership by 2% with each book so we can count on this much money in fiscal year blank.”

So now the ballet detective buffs are happy, the publisher is happy and maybe the writer is happy because Jane knows she can write these for the next fifteen years and send her kid to college.

The down side for the writer is that a series can become a prison.  “Oh, god I’ve delivered the last book in this contract and need to come up with three more adventures for Bozo the Intergalactic Clown.  I don’t know what else Bozo can do!” the writer will wail.

But that’s about art and creating, and personal satisfaction. Let’s talk cold reality.  You need to keep those series books coming out at regular intervals or your readers start to drift away and you will loose that illusive concept of momentum.  If a publisher sees your sales dropping rather then holding at the same level or, better yet, increasing  they are going to stop buying your series.

A series that really hits — The Wheel of Time — can make a fortune for a publisher and it doesn’t do the writer any harm either.  On the other hand publishers can start to sit back and rely on Giant Series Writer to keep the company floating along in the black.  If the assembly line gets fouled the publisher has a problem.

This has happened in the past few years, and now new writers proposing series and entering into the lucrative field of high fantasy or urban fantasy are finding an interesting clause in their contract  “If you fail to deliver by the contracted date your advance will be reduced by — some thousands of dollars “– depending upon your advance.

A writer friend of mine told me that editors, when faced with a choice between two book proposals that they equally like, the tie breaker is which writer has a history of delivering on time.

So, if you want to keep all your money and win the coin toss for which book gets purchased I urge you to develop the skill of the architect so you can sit down and write that book in the time alloted by the contract.  It’s not glamorous, it’s not about art.  This is about meeting your deliverables.

Now I’m going to continue in another post about what happened to me, and why it isn’t always the writers fault when books stop appearing at regular intervals.

 

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