How to handle a revised deadline

In the past few days, I have been discussing what you can do if you discover your book has turned into disaster for some reason and listed the five biggest disasters that can hit your book. Here they are again:

  1. The wrong message! You realise half way through your book that the whole (or at least a significant part) of your message, solution or method is flawed. Panic! What now?
  2. Someone stole my book! Someone much more famous, better connected (in business or marketing terms), funkier or more impressive publishes a book on exactly the same subject as you and even has the exact same title (or near enough). Aaarrgh!
  3. It’s all fallen apart! Your perfectly worked out book structure falls apart when you realise three chapters need to be 4000 words long and the other three are just 1000 words – and the other two chapters don’t have any content at all because you’ve covered it elsewhere. Eeek!
  4. We need your book NOW! You get an exciting email asking you to speak at a prestigious conference in TWO WEEKS’ TIME. Great! But, they ask you if you can bring your book along too as they want to sell copies IN VOLUME at the back of the room. The only problem is that you haven’t started writing it yet. Gulp! Do you accept?
  5. It’s awful, don’t publish it! You ask a couple of trusted contacts to give you feedback on your book just before you send it off to the copy editor (who you’ve booked for next week). Their feedback isn’t positive. In fact, it’s extremely negative. Your heart sinks. What do you do now?

All of the ‘disasters’ listed above are solvable. Agreed, they are challenging and they are scary but they can be overcome and even used to your advantage. Today, I’m going to deal with Disaster 3.

Disaster 4: Handling short deadlines

Deadlines can change in the blink of an eye. When I worked at BBC Books, deadlines changed all the time as television transmission dates altered. It could work both ways, too. It would be perfectly possible to have worked hard to meet a tight date only to find the programme had been delayed by the channel controller.

I know how frustrating and difficult it can be when deadlines change, even if those new deadlines are because of an amazing opportunity. When someone comes to you with an offer you can’t refuse, you have to decide whether you are going to refuse it. The scenario I painted where you get the chance to sell your book from the back of a room at a major conference is probably slightly extreme. Unless someone has dropped out, you will probably have more than two weeks to produce a book. In this kind of situation, your first port of call is to your printer (if you are producing a physical book) to see whether it is possible to get it printed and delivered on time. If that’s possible, it’s then a case of working out whether you have long enough to get the book finished and sent to the printer and whether rushing is going to compromise your book.

If you can’t get the book finished, there are other ways of making the most of your room full of people, from asking everyone to put their contact details on a form so you can send them a book or a discount code so they can buy the book to offering to mail them the book when it is completed as long as they complete their purchase in the room today. You need to speak to the conference convener to get their advice and gather information about the event.

Needless to say, before you commit time and money to producing your book fast, make sure you know all the facts account the conference, such as the number of attendees who have confirmed their attendance, whether everyone is selling from the stage, when your slot is etc. This can have a major bearing on how many titles you are likely to sell. If you’ve never sold a book from the stage before, you may not get the same results as other more experienced speakers, so bear this in mind as well.

5 easy ways to trim your schedule

Of course, if you decide this is a great opportunity, and that you want to go for the new deadline, there are some easy ways to trim your schedule. The ones you use will depend on how far along you are with your book to start with.

1.      Create a very tight schedulechange of schedule

Before you do anything, create a schedule that allows minimal (but still achievable) amounts of time for each step in the process. Make sure you have time at the end of the production schedule – a few days or weeks, depending on how much time you have. You can do your best to stick to the schedule, but have the comfort of knowing there is some slack at the end so if one or two jobs take an extra day you don’t need to panic. You will probably find that some jobs take longer than you anticipate and that others get done faster but that’s okay.

Be aware of your key deadline dates – getting the book to the editor, to the designer and to the printer. These dates are significant because if you miss them, you can’t necessarily expect your suppliers to keep their promise date.

2.      Be prepared to pay for professional help

Depending on how much you need to trim your original schedule, you may need to get more help or pay someone to work faster for you. Before you commit any extra money to an existing supplier (editor, designer, copywriter etc.) ask them if they can do the job faster anyway. It could be that you’ve allowed a lot of time and they would be more than happy to do it faster (this means they will get paid faster so there are benefits to them).

If you don’t have funds to pay for help or for very much help choose what services you pay for carefully. It may depend on a range of factors, such as how advanced you are with your book and the format you are publishing in. Editorial and design help are the most common publishing services you might buy. You may not want a copy editor but you may value having the input of a proof-reader, for example.

Get help from an experienced editor
The process of revising and editing can take a long time if you do it all yourself. If you hire a ghost-writer cum editor, they can probably get the job done for you. This has two advantages:

  • It saves you time doing it yourself so you shorten your schedule.
  • It leaves you time for other tasks, such as sorting out the cover, sales blurb and other administrative and logistical issues.

3.      Speed-write your content

If you haven’t yet started writing, consider using the speedwriting method.

  • Set a target for the number of words you want to write and break that number down by allocating specific numbers of words to each chapter.
  • Decide on a day or couple of days when you can just commit to writing.
  • When you sit down to write, set a timer for an hour and then just commit to writing as much as you can in that time.

An hour is quite a long time to speed-write (it’s usually 15-20 minutes at a time), so either write for three 20-minute periods or be less strict about stopping. Speed-writing typically requires you to not lift your pen from the page, but you want decent quality content as well as volume of words on the page, so take a middle ground on this. Focus on writing but not completely at the expense of the quality of what your write.

4.      Get the book mocked up in advance

If you are producing a physical book, ask the designer to mock up page layouts so you can work on the design while the book is being edited. This means that once the editor and designer have finished their work, all you’ll need to do is make some final changes and then send everything to the designer so they can input the final copy.

This means they will be able to produce page proofs within a very short time – possibly within 24 hours. If you have hired someone who is able and willing to prioritise your book, that will work best. If you put the editor and the designer in touch with each other, it can avoid everyone having to go via you, which can be a big waste of time.

5.      Communicate with your team

Unless you are doing this book entirely on your own, you will need to keep everyone up to date with your schedule. You may need to let the conference organiser know how you are getting on and double check your print slot. Don’t just assume everyone is expecting your book – stay in touch and keep them informed. This way, there won’t be any surprised suppliers saying you’ve lost your slot because they weren’t sure you wanted it. The easiest way to keep everyone up to date is to send an email every 2-3 days (daily if the schedule is very tight) so everyone has the same information.

Deadlines can change, so keep your book moving forward, even if you think you have a lot of time. Finishing early is not a problem and it’s better to have your book done than not done because you never know what opportunities may arise. So, set a schedule. Keep to it and get your book done as soon as you can. Hopefully, this will allow you to respond to any date and deadline changes with ease rather than in panic!

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        »  How to handle a revised deadline
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