What Happens if You Miss Your Book Deadline?

A real deadline, not a made up one

Hey friends,

If you’re a paid subscriber to this newsletter, you might have noticed there was no Thursday edition. Last week was…a week. I missed my own deadline and I’m sorry. (No one actually worries about missed newsletters, but I promise those who pay will get their money’s worth this week.)

Clearly, since this is a self-imposed and non-contractual deadline, the only fallout from that, for me, is going to be maybe a lost subscriber or two, especially if keep missing Thursdays. Not great! Not my goal! (Don’t worry. My Capricorn side won’t let me do this.) But also, this is the lowest stakes consequence, compared to what’s going on in the rest of the world. It’s a little different, however, if you miss the deadline for your book, the date you agreed to in your signed contract. Here’s a few of the things that could happen if you miss your deadline.

First things first, if you know you’re going to be late on your book tell your agent and/or editor as soon as you realize this. It’s rarely the END OF THE WORLD if you cannot make your deadline, but it’s also not consequence-free. Your pub date has a good chance of being pushed back. That can be ok, too! But there are a lot other people waiting for your book so they can do their job, so letting those at the start of the line know as soon as you can makes readjusting everything else much, much easier.

You are not a failure for missing your deadline! We all know life happens. We all know books are fickle. Do your best, but if you need more time, just ask! As soon as you can! Waiting to ask for more time is WAY WORSE than asking for more time.

Your contract will likely say what happens if you miss your deadline (without an agreed upon extension, whether it’s a formal contract amendment or not). Some contracts say you have thirty days to get your shit together before they escalate things. Some some day fourteen or some other number or don’t have a grace period at all. If you’re not sure what your contract says, ask your agent, or look for the terms “non-delivery,” often under a scary heading like TERMINATION. 😬 😬 😬 😬 😬

In a lot of work for hire contracts (like when you write someone’s IP or idea for a fee) it could say things like “the author acknowledges that time is of the essence when delivering the materials.” That means this deadline is serious and we will treat it as such. You have a lot less latitude with due dates on most work for hire books than author-owned ones, generally speaking.

In most contracts, if you are exceptionally late and/or do not deliver the work, you could owe the money back—all the money you have been paid (including any commissions and the agent will not give back their commission if you do not write the book). I’m talking about a case where you just….don’t do it and don’t contact anyone and don’t try to negotiate a new delivery date. Just ghost. I know you’re thinking PEOPLE DO THAT????? And yes, sometimes! Not often, but sometimes.

If a publisher, really, really wants to cancel your book and doesn’t have a good reason to, missing your delivery date gives them a good reason to. It is very unlikely that a publisher will chase you down for your advance if your book is five minutes late. Even fives days (or sometimes five weeks! But don’t test this out for funsies). It is a BIG DEAL to cancel a book and every publisher I’ve ever worked with has bent over backwards to accommodate an author who needs more time for any reason. But the thing is, they can cancel your book and ask for the money back if you break the terms of your contract, so it’s always best to talk to your agent or editor about it before it becomes a problem. You won’t be in trouble with the teacher for asking for help!!!

You can’t throw a book in publishing without hitting someone who knows someone who heard about a writer who didn’t turn in their book for FIVE, TWELVE, TWENTY YEARS! and they still published it and it did pretty good, actually. I have personally heard of this happening! It should not be your goal, though. It should not be your backup plan if the writing starts to go south. It is not the path one takes if one wants a productive publishing career full of many book deals and much success. (Yes, yes George RR Martin. If your book becomes Game of Thrones you can turn in a shit anytime you want.)

So ask for help if you need help. There is a certain genre I represent wherein the vast majority of clients ask for an extension and it’s always been ok. (Even when I pad the delivery dates in the contract!!) It’s just one that always takes people much longer to complete than they think. Zero of these books have been cancelled. Zero of these editors hate their author. They’ve all seen it a million times before. You won’t even be the first one of their authors to ask for an extension THAT WEEK, I promise.

Do your very, very best to meet your deadlines. They are there for a reason. But know that there are humans on the other side of your email willing and able to help, not scold.


Happy book birthday to TWO wonderful clients!!

  • Michelle Rial’s AM I OVERTHINKING THIS? calendar is out today, and if this newsletter resonated with you today, you are probably in need of this very calendar/planner!!!!

  • Madeleine Roux’s RECLAIMED is out today and this book is CREEPY AF in the very, very best way! It’s also heartfelt and innovative and page-turning! Don’t just take my word for it—PW gave it a STARRED REVIEW and said: “This entertaining, deeply disturbing and clever story hits all the right notes for those who like a little horror with their SF.”


Keep an eye out, paid subscribers. There will be a bonus Q&A THURSDAY for you this week! Still time to get a question in if you have one! Just reply to any Thursday email!


I don’t know how to convince you to care for other people but also not to die yourself by getting a vaccine (if you medically can). OXOXOXOX

Kate