While my husband would claim I’m neurotic about quite a lot, the thing that drives me crazy the most is lateness. I’m often ridiculously early and I go into a near panic when I’m late. If I were a writer, I like to think I’d deliver all my manuscripts early. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t, who knows. Sometimes lateness is unavoidable—accidents happen, people die, natural disasters take out power, and so on. And I’ll be realistic—writing is a creative process and sometimes the words just don’t come in time. George R.R. Martin recently announced that he’d missed his deadline, and that he’d disappointed his agents and editors, and countless other people. But deadlines are there for a reason and publication schedules are built around those deadlines. A late manuscript can mean you lose an editing stage, your pub date, sales and marketing support, or even your contract. Think about that last one. It really does happen. I don’t think GRRM has to worry about that, but it can happen to other, mere mortal writers.
When a manuscript is delivered late, there can be lots of problems. If you’re lucky, your editor will work overtime to get her edits in on time and she’ll save the day. If you deliver too late for that, sometimes publishers will be able to make up the lost time by taking out an editing stage—maybe the manuscript doesn’t get copy edited or maybe you don’t get proofs. Or maybe the publisher will be able to pull the book from the schedule and move it to later in the year. Let me tell you, most publishers will look a lot more kindly on having to move a book when they know far in advance that it has to be done. When you’re on a tight production schedule and the publisher finds out a week before you have to deliver that the manuscript is going to be late, your publisher isn’t going to be happy.
On top of your publisher not being happy about this book, it might make your editor think twice about wanting future books from you. And if they do want future books, they might be hesitant to schedule the book on a tight production schedule. They might be hesitant to schedule the book at all until they have a full manuscript in hand. If your book can’t be scheduled, it likely means a large gap in between release dates. Depending on the genre and whether the book is part of a series, a large gap could be disastrous for sales. If sales aren’t good, that’s just one more reason why your editor won’t want more books.