Sunday 10 March 2019

Managing deadlines. Moira Butterfield

So have you thought about pitching an idea for a highly-illustrated non-fiction book? Then you must be good at deadlines. 

Illustrating and printing a full-colour book takes a lot of time, so the writer can’t hang about at the beginning. Once a publishing deal has been agreed dates are almost always tight. 

To give you an example – Having planned and pitched a 64pp project I have just had it confirmed this week and now have until mid-June to write it. I can’t start until the end of March due to other work (I’m just finishing off another 64pp book which I began just before Xmas).  For the new book I’ll need to provide the text in batches between April and June, which is the normal way of things. Only by doing that will the designer have time to turn the work around and get it off to the illustrator in time.

These are not flat fee contracts. They are royalty projects, and there’s lots of creative thinking involved in making them the best they can be, but their deadlines are no different to flat fee projects. 

Tight deadlines are the reality of working on highly-illustrated non-fiction, and it’s the reason you won’t often see me performing on World Book Day or regularly in schools. I don’t have the time to plan the performances or take days out for the events. I’m hoping that one day that will become financially possible, but at the moment it would be a squeeze.

So how can these deadlines be successfully met? IT’S ALL IN THE PLANNING. I manage my time on a daily basis, planning it out from the beginning of the project. I have a month calendar by my desk with the work plan written on it. It gets scribbled over a lot during the month as things move around, or I have to take unexpected time off. Personally I like to see it visually rather than having a digital calendar somewhere on the desktop. I'll sometimes rewrite it to focus and to make it look less calmer. 

Part of this month's schedule looking like a mess.

Replanned. All is calm again. 

If I lose time I correct things straight away, perhaps by working one evening or weekend afternoon, though I don’t do that regularly.

I do get a feeling of anxiety if I’ve taken too much unplanned time off. It's vital to acknowledge those feelings, step back from them and do some more planning to make them go away.

I work every day from 9 until about 4, but if I am aware that I feel mentally weary I make sure I take some time off straight away, even if it’s just an afternoon. I can always replan.

I do sometimes feel worn-out at the end of a project but, again, I make sure I recognize it and give myself some longer break time away from that screen.

NEVER EVER let a deadline get out of your grasp without alerting everyone involved. Your editor won't thank you for not giving them the time to replan at their end, and your chances of working with them again will be smaller. But with planning between the team, things are much more likely to turn out OK. 

If you don’t like the sound of the tight deadlines, then working on highly-illustrated books won’t be for you. For me it’s a blast! The keys are 1) Honest accurate planning on an ongoing basis. 2) Being aware of your feelings about the project at any given time, and dealing with them practically so as to hit that all-important date. 3) Building in mini periods of downtime when you need to take a breath. 


Moira's illustrated non-fiction book Welcome To Our World, is out now, published by Nosy Crow. Her next illustrated non-fiction book will arrive on the shelves this June. 

Instagram: @moirabutterfieldauthor
Twitter: @moiraworld


Linda Strachan said...

Thanks for sharing this, it is really useful and sound advice, Moira. I applaud your organisational skills, but can see how essential they are to working to such tight deadlines.

Moira Butterfield said...

Yes, they're vital. A lot of people are being tempted to try non-fiction at the moment, so it's important to know that!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for this glimpse into your calendar as well as your useful planning and "managing" tips.