Friday, December 10, 2010

People who miss deadlines

It is a golden rule of publishing that the higher the frequency of the title the more efficient is the magazine. Weekly magazines are easy to work on because the workflow is steady. It has to be. If they stopped pedalling the bicycle would fall over. Monthlies are less efficient because each month starts with a week of idle pondering and ends with a week of frantic production. Quarterlies are so inefficiently produced you may as well do each one with an entirely new staff.

When it comes to individual contributors the golden rule is that the busiest people are always the first to file their copy. The promptest will deliver the night before the work is due. The tardiest will get in touch before the end of the deadline day and try to negotiate a postponement. You’re almost embarrassed to talk to them because they’re not ashamed to ask.

The very best people are never ill, elsewhere or detained on family business. If they are they don’t tell you about it. They know that when you say Friday you mean it. They don’t see it as a starting point for negotiation.

Lateness is clearly a state of mind, though what exactly it denotes is not easy to explain. There’s certainly an element of arrogance about it. The late contributor always assumes that other people’s promptness has made their own lateness less of a problem. It also seems to show a terrible lack of confidence. It’s like bands who spend years in the studio. That’s because they like making records but can’t bear finishing them. When they finish them they know they will be judged. They don’t like that one little bit.


  1. I'm sure you operate a mental late list in your head. I'd be very surprised if you kept giving the best assignments to dullards who always ring you at the 11th hour with the modern day equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework' scam. Maybe some publications still operate like that. Do some editors believe that prompt=good but late=better?

  2. As you've blogged about this kind of thing before, it appears to be a problem close to your heart and all too common.

    Do you find there are recidivists to whom you deliberately give a "pretend" early date, knowing that they'll miss it while still hitting your "true" deadline? Or would admitting that send the wrong message to the self-same souls who may be reading this entry? Or do you just not use the latecomers again - one strike and you're out?

    I ask as one who has had to corral teams into producing work to deadline, with the concomitant challenge of applying differing styles of motivation. My only conclusion has been that there's no easy solution.

    Incidentally, have a good trip to Bruges. Sounds like fun.

  3. I have to say that you sound like a robot. You sound like you have no humanity.

    I am often late, and generally because I can't say no and end up taking on stupid amounts of work.

    Thankfully I don't have to work with someone as, let's say, perfect, as you.

    I might also say that if you were nice to people and understood that there is a range of behaviours in humans and that there is, similarly a range of reasons, not all deserving of pejorative judgements, that accounts for tardiness.



  4. One of the reasons that I stopped buying comics was the tendency for writers working on monthly titles to reach a certain level of fame and then switch to a release schedule of their own devising.

    In effect they were holding their publishers/investors hostage and breaking faith with their readers.

    Conversely Will Eisner - one of the pioneers of the graphic novel - produced high quality storylines and artwork and treated deadlines as sacrosanct.

  5. I suspect lateness is a state of mind. I'm an academic and have long since realised that some people just never turn up in time to hear the beginning of a lecture. They presumably just cant bear to leave home ten minutes earlier.

    There's a story, maybe true, of a Harvard Law lecturer who would lock the doors of his lecture room at 09.30 and not let late arrivals in. By the second or third lecture the law students got the message and they all turned up on time. His comment "if you cant get to court on time you'll never be a working lawyer".

  6. I've spent most of my career in software systems. The same principles apply there - some people seem to regard project deadlines as an initial negotiating position. It's the same for some programmers, some project managers. It's the same for software, or documentation, or components for a bid. Some people feel that the dates don't apply to them. In the fullness of time, those people are more difficult to employ. They rarely recognise their behaviour as being difficult, or unprofessional, or hard for others to work with.

  7. Quick word to Martin. I am with Dave all the way on this one when it comes to running a business. Getting stuff in late is just unprofessional, humanity has nothing to do with it. I am if anything more obsessed with timekeeping than Dave appears to be, starting meetings on time irrespective of who has arrived, and the like. In the meantime one of my oldest and dearest friends is simply ALWAYS late, and I forgive him because I love him. But tardiness at work? It's a choice, and if someone makes that choice they have to take the consequences, which if I have my way is generally pretty unforgiving.

  8. Ditto.

    Not to mention the stress being late with your copy can cause to other people at the magazine - like the art department who will have to lay the damn thing out at the last minute.

  9. people who are perpetually late in life always have a complex justification for it in my experience, often it involves blamimng it on other people and also a underlaying belief it makes them cool, roguish etc rather than selfish and rude.

  10. The wiki page on procrastination is worth a read.

    Although I'm now reading that instead of sorting out some paperwork.

  11. Part of the problem is the way we have mythologised people like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who were supposedly so late with their copy they wrote it at the printers, etc etc. At least they were geniuses, unlike most of the bastards who deliver late copy.

    And just a word to Martin (above) - this is publishing, we're talking about. Just imagine if your Sunday newspaper wasn't there on Sunday morning, but the publisher thought he could get it to you on Monday - how much "humanity" is there in that??

  12. Rob

    I was really hoping your Wiki page on Procrastination would be a blank page with

    Text goes here

    Please check back later

    but sadly, no...

  13. I think I might have taught Martin ... and Geoffrey, tales of locked lecture room doors are not apocryphal; it still happens at Cardiff journalism school. I have done it myself sometimes but there are some much more hardcore lecturers who make it part of the deal – if you're not on time, you don't get in, you miss the story, the page leaves without you. They thank us in the end ...

  14. Late *anything* is one of the main frustrations of a production editor/editor. In basic terms, all employers (no matter at what level or type) want to work with people who make their jobs easier - or who certainly don't make them more difficult anyway. This goes for PRs and writers alike.

    It's difficult enough working in the media today, without making things difficult for yourself. And that means not only making sure your copy is in on time and without mistakes, but also perhaps even early, to house style, without mistakes *and* to commission - I've lost count the number of times I've had copy in where it's clear the freelancer didn't even look at the commission.

    Oh, and the next time a PR sends me several emails with one image attached (and without the info I originally asked for) I might go on a murderous rampage ;)

    There are thousands of good writers and freelancers out there. If someone is repeadedly late for me, I go to the next name on my list, simple as that.