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What It's Like to Get Through a Book Deadline
So, as I mentioned in the last post, I've spent the last 30 days in the gnarly finishing stages of my book deadline. And as I ground my way to that finish line, it occurred to me: nobody really talks about this stage of book-writing. There are lots of how-to's out there for the glamorous part (getting a craft book contract), but nothing about what happens once you have it.
I thought, then, that I'd share a glimpse into perhaps the hardest part of the process – the final weeks before your publisher's deadline. I don't do this to grouse, but just to say, "Hey - here's the fuller picture."
It should be said, before we dive in, that it's really up to each individual author how easy or hard these last 30 days or so are. Every author's experience will be different, so all I can do is share my own. In an ideal world, I would always have all my projects made, photography done, and text written 30 days before deadline, leaving me a leisurely margin to deal with all the details I'm about to share.
…But as we all know, the creative process isn't always that orderly. I'm a very plan-ahead kind of girl, but there's always a book project or two that I just can't seem to get exactly right until the last moment. There are sections of writing that completely elude me until that deadline is staring me in the face. And also, as I said before, writing a book is a long chain of decisions. Many of these decisions need other decisions to happen first, so invariably there's a whole cluster of decisions that can only be made at the last moment.
So my last 30 days are usually pretty nuts.
Let's list some of the things you'll have to do in the last weeks of a book deadline, shall we?
• First, you'll have to get all your project samples finished and documented, so you can ship them off to your publisher. And unless you want to spend a bazillion dollars on overnight shipping, you'll need to have everything ready to ship about ten days before deadline. Make sure, too, that you have a good photograph of each item and a detailed record of all its measurements, supplies needed, processes, and anything else you might need to remember. (You won't be seeing your samples again for a year or more.) Make sure every item is labeled with your name, book's name, and project name – it helps prevent things getting lost.
• Your writing will need to be buttoned up too, of course. That means making sure everything is written as clearly and consistently as you can make it, but it also means making sure you're using the grammar and punctuation style your publisher prefers. It means checking your spelling and making sure you aren't using em dashes in every single sentence. (That last one might just be my problem.)
• …And then there's formatting! Your publisher will send you a multi-page document outlining all the ways they want your manuscript formatted; it's up to you to study it well and follow it to the letter. Different publishers have different ways they want you to insert placeholders for your images. They may have special ways to format headers, bulleted lists, numbered lists, captions, and on and on. It's really a huge task, formatting a manuscript. (Recommendation: learn all you can about efficiency tools like Find/Replace, file renaming utilities, etc.)
• If you've taken (or hired) photographs or illustrations for your book, then you need to have produced a whole lot of high-res image files (again, following your publisher's requirements). Often, a publisher will want these files named in a specific way. Some publishers even want your image files named with sequential numbers, in the order in which they appear in your book. And then you usually have to produce one or more "art log" lists, documenting all these file names and what's in each image. This one element can be surprisingly time-consuming.
• If you've used anyone else's images in your book, you'll need to get a signed Grant of Rights form from each and every photographer, so your publisher has express permission to use the images. In my experience, getting these forms signed (and making sure the photographers are sending you the kind of image files your publisher needs) takes a lot of follow-up.
• Speaking of photos, there's an all-important list of photo and illustration credits to pull together. There are also company names, phone numbers, and URLs to pull together for your Resources page.
• …And then when it's all done, you'll be following your publisher's instructions on how to submit the whole thing. Maybe you'll do it digitally, or maybe you'll need to ship a thumb drive or series of DVDs and CDs.
"I am always so cruelly neglected during a book deadline. It's just ridiculous."
If all of this sounds a bit tedious, well… it sure can be. All of it makes your publisher's work much easier, so it's absolutely worth your time and attention. But admittedly, it's nowhere near as fun as making the projects was.
This deadline-time is also kind of a perfect storm of important details and extreme fatigue. You're simultaneously dealing with 30,000-foot decisions (How do I best transmit these 200 image files to the publisher?) and tiny details (Did I spell her name right? What's her URL?). In my experience, every book deadline seems to have a tired-and-punchy phase, a crying phase, and a grim, resolute, "I'm just gonna get this dang thing done" phase. Also, coffee.
…And this is one of those things nobody really talks about, but book advances are often paid out in installments. It's possible that by this ending point, you may have already spent through the advance money you've been paid – so your endgame stress could be accompanied by some money stress. Mind you, this isn't a disparagement of publishers. They have every right to pay you in installments. (You wouldn't pay someone in advance to fix your roof, would you? No – you might pay a deposit up front, but then you'd want to make sure the work got done well before paying the rest.)
Now, in case you're thinking "Good God, I will never write a freaking craft book," let me also tell you this: The early days of book-writing are absolutely golden. The months where you have plenty of advance money on hand and you're spending days making and writing and dreaming – those months make this grindy ending totally worth it. Holding that finished book in your hands – or seeing it in a local store – makes these difficult weeks vanish altogether. This is just one phase in an ultimately-very-satisfying project.
For the record, I'm posting this five days after turning in my manuscript, and the stress has already faded away. Now all I need to do is back myself out of this three-pots-of-coffee-a-day habit.