Friday, September 29, 2006

Oops, I Missed It Again

Thanks to everyone for weighing on on the great fall TV choices! I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to respond to all of the comments - crazy day in my parts - and needless to say, I had to settle in to watch The Office (sob, poor Jim!!!), Grey's and Ugly Betty tonight. :) But I'll try to respond tomorrow....

Question of the day: I'm curious to hear how much trouble you think I caused for myself. I got my first assignment from a pretty big magazine, and due to a variety of circumstances, I missed my deadline. My editor said that she understood, and I did get the story into her a week later, but she hasn't assigned anything to me since. How badly did I screw up?

On the richter scale of badly? Well, if I were your editor, I'd say pretty badly. (And that pains me to say because this blog is all about being supportive to writers, but sometimes, I have to deliver the cold truth.) The good thing is, is that I'm NOT your editor, so I can't say for sure.

But I will tell you this: for me and to me, deadlines are non-negotiable. If you've agreed to meet one, then you meet one. Barring major out-of-your-hands catastrophes such as childbirth, a death in the family, complete and total computer meltdowns, being sent off to war...you get the idea...there's really no excuse to miss a deadline. I've been freelancing for about five-six years, and I can honestly say that I have never missed one. Really. I have had two situations in which experts bailed on me at the last minute (this, over the course of half a decade), and immediately informed my editors of the situation, and got the story to them within 24 hours of the pre-established deadline. So really...you're not going to get a lot of sympathy from me for blowing past yours. (Wow, I feel like Miss Snark here with the tough love.)

Here's the thing: deadlines are there for a reason. Editors work on a schedule, and they count on you to help ensure that this schedule hums along. When you fail to file your story on the designated day, you risk throwing your editor's life (okay, not life, but at least day or week) to the dogs. And really, who wants to be the one to do that? And meeting deadlines also gets back to something I've mentioned earlier on the blog: to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to be a consummate professional. Guess what? Not delivering when you said that you would is the opposite of professional, and if I were the editor, I wouldn't work with you again. (God, I'm harsh today!)

One thing that successful writers know in the back of their minds is that, like actors or even athletes, for whom there is a full bench of players waiting to take their place, we are expendable. If you don't have the gusto or the savvyness (is that a word?) or the wherewithal to come through for your editor, someone else will. So don't be the one to drop the ball. End of discussion.

Now, if you really, really want to get back in this editor's good graces, I suppose that it wouldn't hurt to send her a note of apology, explain the circumstances that led to your error, and promise that it won't happen again. If she's kind (and she likes your work), she just might move past it. But if she doesn't get back to you, consider it a lesson learned and then move on. And don't let it happen again.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on this reader? Have you guys blown deadlines and lived to tell about it?

9 comments:

Bernita said...

Too hard?
No.Absolutely not.

larramie said...

No. The truth hurts...sometimes. Besides, I think the individual who wrote the question already knew the answer.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the truth is harsh.

I've been a freelance writer for seven years and have never blown a deadline. A couple of stories have blown up in my face -- they didn't turn out to be what my editor or I expected, but never have I missed a deadline. It's not acceptable.

That said, the writer made a mistake; no one was killed or maimed in the process, so let it rest and learn from it. In the big scheme of things, no big deal.

Eileen said...

Never blown a deadline. Once I thought it might happen. I contacted the editor and let her know that there were problems and that I was concerned about making the deadline. She appreciated the heads up. I was able to make the deadline (whew), but the one thing I learned is that letting her know went a long way. Had I missed the deadline I think she would have been more inclined to forgive, because she had time to come up with a plan B.

Anonymous said...

I have been working with a national magazine for almost 3 years now, and I have never missed a deadline. I was even working on a deadline when I thought I was going into labor once. But I was determined to get my piece in-- before going to the hospital. And I did. I think that is one of the top reasons that this editor keeps coming back to me. She knows she can trust me to get it done, and get it done on time.

And no you weren't being too harsh. Just real. But I'd say that ESCPECIALLY since it was a first assignment, that she most likely made a really bad impression on that editor. I think that would be like not showing up to work on time on your very first day of work.

Rachel said...

A little bit harsh, I think. As an editor, I tend to assign deadlines with the expectation that at least some writers will probably end up missing them. Other editors I know do the same.

I would also prefer to work with a writer who handed in well written, incisive copy a couple of days late than one who handed in terrible copy on time (as many writers, in many experience do).

That's just me though, and obviously it depends on the situation - it's certainly not advisable to miss a deadline (especially on a first assignment), but I don't think it's the end of the world either.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Rachel-

Thanks for the insight! It's always good to hear from the other side, and I really didn't know that editors don't mind that much. (At least if it's an exception.)

Allison

Anonymous said...

I'm very late on this, but I thought I'd pipe up and say this happened to me just recently. I'm sort of mortified about it, but anyway ...

About four days before the deadline with a national parenting mag (which was self-imposed -- editor asked me to name my deadline), I emailed my editor and explained a problem I was having and said that I could meet the deadline no problem, but if I stretched it by a few more days, the story would be much stronger. She said it was fine to wait those few days. And the extra time allowed me to track down the information that really did make it a better story.

For all I know this may have worked against me, but my initial inclination is that it hasn't. Time will surely tell, though.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Anon-
I think the key here is that you gave your editor advanced notice...which I think makes the situation totally different and much less grave. As long as she knows that you're going to miss it, she's likely to care a lot less - AND appreciate the fact that you gave her the heads-up!
Allison