Imagine that your agent calls you out of the blue one day. An editor needs a book written to fill a slot in her publishing schedule. The first draft needs to be done in five months and revisions within the following three. The editor called your agent and asked if he had any clients who could meet the need. Your agent suggested you, and the editor would love to work with you if you’re willing to take the project on short notice.
Now the ball is in your court. Are you interested? Do you have the skills to write the book? Most importantly, do you have the time? The editor has made it clear that the deadline has no slack. Either you can meet the deadline or you can’t. Your agent needs to give the editor an answer tomorrow. What do you say?
You might imagine this never happens.
It happens all the time, somewhere in the publishing world. It happens once in a while to just about every professional author.
And professional authors know how to answer the question intelligently.
Really, there are only two possible answers:
1) “Yes, I have the time. The project will take me 80 hours to write and 50 to polish, and I have that much time in my schedule on a five-month deadline. Then revisions will take another 75 hours, and I have that in my schedule over the following three months.”
2) “No, I don’t have the time. The project will take me 80 hours to write and 50 to polish, and I don’t have that much time in my schedule on a five-month deadline. Not even close. Sorry, I can’t take this project, but thanks for thinking of me. Period.”
Either of these answers is acceptable to the editor. What’s not acceptable is door number 3:
3) “I don’t know, probably. I’m busy right now, but it sounds like a great project, so I’ll just make the time. I don’t know where I’ll find it, but I will.”
Why is that not acceptable? Because it’s nothing but smoke. Editors get smoke all the time from amateur authors. Amateur authors who miss deadlines are the reason that slots open up in publishing schedules, forcing editors to scramble. An editor expects better from a professional.
The reason professional authors can answer this question is because they track their time.
Maybe they use a spreadsheet.
Maybe they use some sort of time-tracking software.
Whatever. A professional author can look at her records and figure out how many hours she needs to produce a piece of work, based on past experience. She can look at her calendar and figure out how many hours she has available over the next several months. She can do the subtraction and come up with an answer—a yes or a no. She can do it quickly, without guessing.
And of course, she might still be wrong. She could break her leg next month and wind up short on hours. If that happens, every editor will understand. What an editor won’t “understand” is that an author said yes on an impossible project without having a clue that she couldn't meet the deadline.
Some professional authors are fast and some are slow. That’s fine.
Some professional authors have a lot of time for writing and some have a little. That’s fine.
But every professional author knows if she is fast or slow, and she knows how much time she has for writing. Not knowing is not fine. Blowing smoke to get a contract is not fine.
- How much time did you spend writing last month?
- How much time did you spend writing so far this year?
- Are those numbers about what you had planned? (Say within 20%.)
- How many hours did it take you to write your last project?
If you can’t answer the above questions accurately within five minutes, then you need to start tracking your time. There are any number of tools you can use to do that.
If you Google the phrase “time tracking software,” you’ll find enough options to keep you up late into the night comparing all your choices. Because every author has different needs, there is no way for me to make a recommendation that would be meaningful to you, but the tool I use comes up on the first page of the Google search results.
**********This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.