As writers, we face deadlines and commitments every time we turn around. Even before we’re published, we might commit to beta reading or critiquing another writer’s work by a certain date. Or we might have a deadline for a contest entry, etc.
After we’re published, we have even more deadlines. We owe our finished manuscript to our editor to start the publishing process on time. We need to make the necessary editing changes and turn our work around by the next deadline.
Even as a self-published author, we have to reserve editors months in advance, giving ourselves a deadline to finish our manuscript. We often have to set release date deadlines to schedule advertising, blog tours, or reviewers.
No matter where we are along the publishing path, we might get asked to mentor, answer questions, do a favor, etc., and all of those commitments require time and dedication. Add in blogging or a side business, and we have more deadlines and commitments on our time. (Not counting day-job deadlines or family time commitments.)
In short, we’re all likely to become very familiar with the pressure of deadlines and the expectation of meeting our commitments. So what happens when we can’t meet them? How bad is it for us and our reputation?
Why Is a Professional Reputation Important?
Most of us probably want to have a reputation for being a professional. After all, no one enjoys working with someone who’s going to flake on them.
If we tell someone we need something done by a certain date, we usually have a reason for giving that deadline. Most of us don’t give others deadlines just for the heck of it.
We might need beta reader feedback by X time so we can complete the revisions before our manuscript is due to the editor. We might need a completed cover by a certain time to set up a pre-order. Or we might simply have other projects scheduled for the following weeks, and the deadline hits when we have time to follow up, etc.
The forums for self-published authors are filled with complaints about freelancers who messed up their release schedule—a cover artist who doesn’t deliver on time or an editor who seemingly falls off the planet. So we know from the waiting-side how we view someone differently when they flake on us.
We’re less likely to continue a beta-reading partnership with someone who messes up our deadlines because they didn’t meet theirs. We’re less likely to reuse a freelancer who trashed our release schedule.
How Can a Professional Reputation Help Us?
The same concept applies when we’re the one with deadlines hanging over our head. A professional reputation can help us in many ways:
- In the traditional publishing world, agents and editors sing the praises of authors who meet deadlines. Why is traditional publishing so slow? To hedge bets against flakes. A missed deadline can cost serious money and affect dozens of employees, departments, and release schedules.
- The number one complaint about beta readers is that they flake on providing feedback, so if we meet our commitments, we might find it easier to maintain beta reader and/or critique partner exchanges.
- In the self-publishing world, freelance editors often schedule months in advance and don’t get paid if the client needs to change dates, so they prefer clients who don’t make unreasonable, last-minute requests for changes.
- If we consistently blog on a schedule, others might see us as more of an authority or take our blogging more seriously.
- If we have a publishing side business, we won’t stay in business for very long (or won’t be able to charge premium prices) if we disappoint our customers by not delivering to their expectations.
Obviously, those bullet points are just a handful of the reasons we could all come up with for why it’s important to keep our professional reputation. We could probably name several dozen more, just by thinking of how flakes have annoyed us.
Because of that importance, most of us don’t want to ruin the reputation we’ve worked so hard to build, especially not over something preventable. So we stress and stay up late and inhale caffeine to meet those commitments.
But What Happens When We Can’t Meet Our Commitments?
I’m by no means perfect, but I’ve always tried to meet the big expectations. Going all the way back to my school days, I’m one of those who’s always managed to pull a deadline completion out of the impossible, and a look at my blog here will show that I haven’t missed a Tuesday or Thursday blog-post day since the beginning, almost six years ago.
In other words, commitments matter to me. If someone tells me they need something by X time, and I agree to do it, I’ll rearrange my priorities and schedule to make it happen.
But bad things happen sometimes. No matter our level of dedication, we can’t be perfect, and we can’t control everything.
Because we don’t want to hurt our reputation, we might try for the impossible anyway. We might think that if we just xyz, we might still be able to…
But no. We can’t always fix it.
How dark will the resulting black mark be on our reputation?
I Don’t Have the Answers…
I’m facing this situation now. I’d been struggling with my day job schedule for the last several months anyway, but I kept pushing myself because…reputation.
Those choices exacerbated some health issues I’d been ignoring for a while, and at the same time, other health issues reached the point of needing attention now as well. Cue the missing of deadlines.
My editors understood and have been more flexible with their schedule than I have any right to expect. But there was one item on my schedule that couldn’t be flexible.
Last fall, I’d signed up for the local Desert Dreams conference. This is a great regional-size conference that’s held only every other year, so I always make a point to go, even though this year it fell during my annual day-job hell week.
I’d also volunteered to present a workshop (a new one!), and I was going to do my first(!) book signing. I was all geared up with excitement to go.
But then I was suddenly scheduled for mouth and jaw surgeries and started having vision issues that made it difficult to get any work done. Still, I did everything I could to make this conference work despite the day-job issue.
I was able to cut back on my day job for a couple of weeks last month and attempt to catch up. I conferred with my surgeon about setting a goal of getting everything done in one surgery. I emphasized how important the timing was so I’d be recovered in time. I made all the necessary appointments so my vision problems would be fixed in time.
I still thought I could make it happen. I still tried to make it happen. My name was on the schedule and everything, so I couldn’t just cancel. *shudders*
Then the surgery was pushed back a week, giving me less time to recover before the conference. And the surgeon determined I needed multiple surgeries after all. And my eye doctor misdiagnosed my vision problems, so I’m still struggling to focus on anything—literally. And, and, and…
So I had to back out of the Desert Dreams conference. No workshop. No book signing. No appearance at all.
I’m so disappointed in myself, and I’m so sorry to miss everyone at the conference. But I finally had to face the truth that no amount of hoping would make me heal faster or the treatments work better. No amount of hoping would make the impossible happen.
Will I forever have a black mark on my reputation now? Will I be seen as less professional?
I don’t know. But sometimes life happens, and all we can do is our best.
We can hope that if we’ve managed to build a professional reputation over a long time, we might get some leeway when things out of our control go wrong. So maybe that’s yet another reason to strive to be professional every chance we can. *smile*
What makes someone a professional in your eyes? Do you take someone’s professionalism into account when choosing whether to work with them? What have you done to build a professional reputation? Have you ever had to miss a deadline or fail to meet a commitment? How did you handle it, and what were the consequences?Pin It