I heard an apocryphal remark early in my writing career, one that probably dates back to the newspaper-journalist days of H.L. Mencken or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell: “Next to a bottle of bourbon, a deadline is a writer’s best friend.” I suppose today we’d substitute a can of Rock Star for the booze, but the fact remains: Deadlines are important. They alleviate procrastination. They give our work focus and purpose. They give publishers a schedule for when it’s time to step up and do their job.
Deadlines are often misunderstood. Authors employing ghostwriters often establish an arbitrary deadline – or one that seems to make sense to them – which has nothing to do with the actual work the ghostwriter must do. This brings to mind another comment from a well known consultant-author with whom I worked. He said people who work with the brains produce five hours of excellent work per day. Just five hours. Longer than that and the quality of thought and output drops. After nearly forty years of writing and editing and publishing and teaching, I’m convinced it’s true. Do your own self-analysis and see if you don’t agree.
Now, think about hiring a ghostwriter to write your book. You contract for, say, a 50,000-word book. You ask for it in four months. Let’s assume you want the highest quality possible; who doesn’t? That means there will be a first draft and at least one significant revision which could add up to a 20 percent rewrite. Let’s further assume that your ghostwriter, in that five-hour time span, can produce 2,000 words a day. That’s 10,000 words per week – pretty darned good production. If all the ghost was doing was writing, a first draft could be completed in, say, two months.
However, the ghostwriter is also researching, perhaps interviewing, studying competing books, and communicating with you by email, phone, and ostensibly in person. That takes time. Moreover, you’ll be reading the manuscript in stages set forth in the Work Made for Hire Agreement, making notes on changes and revisions. If the writing is progressing smoothly, you’ll probably wait until the first draft is completed to make changes. If you find you need to make a significant change in direction, you may want to stop, back up and begin afresh.
Since most business interactions take about a business week to occur, we should add two months to the development timeline for the first draft. Now we’ve consumed four months to create a first draft.
Any writer worth his or her salt will tell you the best thing you can do for a manuscript, once completed, is let it alone for a while. This gives you time to rest your mind and get enough intellectual and emotional distance from the work to come back to it with a fresh eye. Therefore, let’s add a month to the schedule for the gestation period. Now we’re at five months.
You read the entire manuscript, marking changes and suggestions for your ghostwriter. Perhaps your ghost does the same, simultaneously. If not, you two will have a meeting to go over your changes and agree on completing the second draft. This consumes two to four weeks. Let’s say your changes don’t go over that 20 percent figure mentioned earlier, so the ghostwriter can accomplish the revision in, say, three weeks. Now you have a revised manuscript, ready to read again. You may find a few additional things to tweak. Well and good; let’s say the second reading and subsequent revision takes two or three weeks. Now we’re at seven or eight months.
With the manuscript completed, it’s time to think about front matter and back matter: Acknowledgments, a Preface or Foreword, an index, glossary, footnotes, etc. You may want to hire a copy editor or proofreader to give the entire manuscript one last scouring. Add another month. Now we’re at eight or nine months.
The writing and editing completed, you can now turn your manuscript over to your agent or publisher. Needless to say your work is far from done, and more deadlines will follow. They will be administered by your publisher to keep the production process on schedule. Having worked to deadlines with your ghostwriter throughout the development of your manuscript, they’ll come as little, if any, surprise.
Now you know what a deadline is, how to work to one, and why it just might take a little longer for your ghostwriter to write your book than you first thought. To help our authors from the outset, we use the Business Book Ghostwriters Book Project Worksheet to define and schedule all the work and deadlines in a book development project.
Perhaps the best definition of a deadline is this: No Surprises.