Deadlines – When Breaking them is the Best Decision
I take my publisher’s deadlines very seriously. In thirty plus years of writing, I’ve sometimes pushed them out by a couple of weeks, but last month I did something I never thought I’d do: I asked my publisher to change the publishing schedule. I didn’t do it lightly: I know that my publishers balance the many books they publish every month, and that it would not be a simple matter of changing the publication date of Cuckoo’s Flight from August to October. In fact it will now be published in March 2021.
So why did I do it?
Because the book’s needs have to go before my desire to be a well-behaved author. As I read the first draft before the ‘structural edit’ meeting, there was a lot that I liked – but there was a lot that needed to go deeper. There were threads that weren’t quite working. My publisher and editor agreed. Could I have a rewrite finished by Christmas? they asked.
I saw a way in to one change immediately; did a rough first draft on a plane to visit my parents – then went on thinking about the rewrite as a whole for the next three days.
There were moments of panic, and lots more self-talk: ‘Of course I can do it. Just jump in and start – I can always meet a deadline if I put my mind to it!’
That’s probably true. I could have thrown everything into it and rewritten the book in time. But, as I said to my editors, in one of the hardest author-editor letters I’ve ever written, If it was an assignment, I could do it, and maybe get a B. But if you want to sell literary fiction, a B+ is a fail.
I needn’t have sweated quite so badly over sending that letter. I’m sure my publishers would have been happier if I’d said that I could see exactly what I wanted to do and could hand in a new draft, ready for line editing in January. But the bottom line is that we all want the same thing: to produce the best book we can; to have a book that sells, and ideally, is on award lists (which is likely to tie in to more sales.) They said they trusted my judgement and were magnanimous in immediately agreeing to defer it and work out a new date.
It’s scary thinking about the extra time before the next advance payment is due. There’s a risk in having nearly three years between this book and Swallow’s Dance. But it seems a much bigger risk in spending two of my life working on a book that I’m not completely happy with. Unsatisfactory first drafts – or second, third or tenth drafts – are never wasted. The only real waste is giving in to time pressure and fear and putting out something that is not the absolute best it can be. Writing is a gamble: taking extra time increases the stakes but may decrease the risk.
So, with this very personal and honest post, I give my story permission to fly free and show me the threads it wants me to weave.
Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio