Stephen Blackmoore is a friend — and I have photographic evidence where obviously he is not screaming in terror from standing nearby, how dare you suggest that — but even more, the guy’s a bad-ass with the WORDS and the STORIES and the NECROMANCY. Fictional and otherwise. Seriously, his book, Dead Things, is easily one of my favorite urban fantasy novels of all time, because it’s grim and funny and bitter — it’s just the right mix of horror and crime, with an unctuous underlayer of dark comedy. Anyway! The newest Eric Carter book is out, and you want it, but more to the point, Stephen has some things to say about (dun dun dun) deadlines. (Oh, and P.S. don’t forget about his Fan Art Photo Cosplay Whatever Contest, which goes to the 15th, and might win you a set of bad-ass Loteria art by Galen Dara.)
* * *
My latest novel, HUNGRY GHOSTS, is the third in the Eric Carter urban fantasy series about a modern-day necromancer who makes stunningly bad choices. It was supposed to come out July 15, 2015. It is now coming out February 7, 2017. That’s about a year and a half late.
So, what the hell happened?
The simple answer is I missed the deadline. Lots of reasons why. Most under the heading of Shit Happens. But the biggest by far is the fact that the book sucked great, big, yeasty donkey balls.
I fought with that manuscript trying to hammer it into some kind of shape that didn’t look like dog vomit. And as the deadline got closer I finally had to admit it wasn’t working. I needed to scrap it completely and rewrite the whole goddamn thing from the ground up.
Something like 50,000 words down the toilet. Some of them were okay words. Some of them were really good words.
None of them were salvageable.
I have never missed a deadline like this. Oh, sure, I’m late to shit all the time. We all are. But this was a DEADLINE. For my BOOK.
So, in the interest of others who may one day find themselves in a similar situation, here are a couple things that helped me. As with everything, YMMV and your experiences will undoubtedly be different from mine. But I hope this helps.
DON’T LOSE YOUR SHIT
Try not to panic. Okay, maybe a little panic. You’re going to, anyway, so you might as well get it out of your system.
Even though it’s called a deadline, they won’t actually kill you. They don’t have the budget for ninjas these days and sexy international assassins are all out killing more important people than you.
Though they may be upset, chances are nobody at your publisher actually hates you. It’s a business, you owe them a book, shit happens. It’s not like you just shot their dog or anything. And you’re not the first person who’s ever been late.
Once you realize you’re going to be late take responsibility for it. There are reasons and there are excuses. Reasons are good data points for later when you’re figuring out how not to do it again, but excuses fly like lead balloons.
You are part of an economic ecosystem that begins with you. Agents, editors, copy editors, artists, marketing people and on and on. These are the people who make it possible for your book to get out there. Sales of your book pay for their salaries. Sure, it’s pennies, but those pennies add up. They need your support as much as you need theirs. So don’t hide the truth from them. It’ll just make things worse.
And how about the people who actually want to BUY your book? Maybe they’ve pre-ordered it. Maybe they’re just really looking forward to it. You’re letting those people down. Apologize. Explain it. Don’t hide under the covers and pretend it isn’t happening.
When I finally called it, I decided to write a public blog post about it that explained the situation. I’m late, here’s why. Best thing I could have done, and one of the most terrifying.
But all the responses I got were from people who appreciated that I’d told them what was going on. Not only did it get the information out, but it also made me realize that I have actual fans. This was a revelation. And it made me that much more determined to not give them a shitty book.
THE DOMINOES ARE NOW TIPPED
When you’re late, a few things are set in motion.
Book releases get scheduled a year or more in advance and include a lot of moving parts to make it happen. Cover art, copyediting, printing, setting up distribution, etc. These are all put in the calendar so everybody’s on the same page.
So, when you fuck up your deadline, you fuck up everything else, too. It’s like that I Love Lucy episode where she’s working at the candy factory and the candy doesn’t stop coming and starts to pile up.
If they slow down the conveyor belt to wait for your book, they would have to reschedule a bunch of other things like other people’s release dates. Authors who you might actually be friends with. Do you want that to happen? Do you want to screw up your friends’ book? Do you? Huh? DO YOU?
Of course not.
Which is good, because it won’t. Train’s already moving and you missed your slot. They’re going to reschedule your release into the earliest time they can support in the production schedule. It can be a while. For me it happened to be a year and a half later. Nut up and accept it.
Remember, your publisher does not have an army of people at their disposal. Sometimes all they can throw at something are an intern with a helper monkey named Bobo, and a pothos plant sitting in a 3×3 room that used to be a broom closet. Or, more likely, still is. They are doing this not just to make money (which is good because there’s not a lot of it in publishing), but because they love books as much as you do.
Now that you’ve blown that deadline like… ya know let’s just leave that simile alone, shall we?
Anyway, now that it’s all out in the open the next question is going to be, “When can you get it done?”
Take a deep breath. Lay it all out and take a good, long, look at what you have to do. is it just getting to the end? How many chapters do you have to do? A lot? A little?
Do you have to scrap the book completely and start from scratch like I did? Do you need to clean some scenes up and rearrange chapters and make sure it still all works? Do you have to ditch troublesome characters and patch up the holes in the scenes that they filled?
Once you have that, you can figure out how long you think it will take. Days, weeks, months? Put together an estimate based on all of that.
Then take that number and throw it in the trash, because it’s wrong.
Whatever you come up with I guarantee it’s not enough. Shit happened before. Shit will happen again. That’s life. There are day jobs, spending time with your partner(s), children, dogs, natural disasters, family, recovering from family, realizing that natural disasters and family aren’t all that different, mental health crises, accidents, angry revenants from the grave thirsting for revenge, medical shit, natural disasters, assassins, car problems, international espionage, getting locked up for protesting an authoritarian President, and so on and so forth and such and whatnot.
So, tack on more time. Adding another month or three to your estimate isn’t a bad idea. It’ll still probably be wrong, but it will be less wrong than what you already came up with, and you’ll be less likely to blow ANOTHER deadline. And believe me, having that conversation is even MORE fun than the first one.
Me, I told my editor I thought I could finish by end of September. It turned out to be the end of December. I got lucky, because the new release date actually gave me more time than I thought it would take, so it didn’t cause any other issues. But goddamn did I feel like an idiot.
GET YOUR ASS BACK TO WORK
Now that you’ve gone through all that, said your mea culpas, done your outstandingly wrong math, and felt like a shitheel to your publisher and your fans, you need to actually FINISH the book.
I know, right?
Now is the really tough part. The rewrite, or the clean-up, or the finishing, or whatever it is you need to do. No matter what it’s going to be rough. All of the work that you have to some extent is now suspect. One change can ripple throughout a story and what you thought was a simple tweak has massive repercussions down the line. You have to look at the entire thing all over again.
Whatever it is you have to do doesn’t matter. Because it always, ALWAYS, comes down to one thing. You need to get your ass in the chair and make it happen.
So, go make it happen.
* * *
Stephen Blackmoore’s dark urban fantasy series follows necromancer Eric Carter through a world of vengeful gods and goddesses, mysterious murders, and restless ghosts • “Gritty, emotional and phenomenally imaginative.” —RT Reviews
Necromancer Eric Carter’s problems keep getting bigger. Bad enough he’s the unwilling husband to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte, but now her ex, the Aztec King of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli, has come back — and it turns out that Carter and he are swapping places. As Mictlantecuhtli breaks loose of his prison of jade, Carter is slowly turning to stone.
To make matters worse, both gods are trying to get Carter to assassinate the other. But only one of them can be telling him the truth and he can’t trust either one. Carter’s solution? Kill them both.
If he wants to get out of this situation with his soul intact, he’ll have to go to Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead, and take down a couple of death gods while facing down the worst trials the place has to offer him: his own sins.