Over the years I’ve only missed a few deadlines—and always because of circumstances beyond my control. The first one was a book deadline that coincided with my mother’s death. Although I knew there was a good reason for missing the deadline—and that my editor would surely understand—I also knew that I had a responsibility to inform my editor as soon as I knew I was going to miss it. It’s best not to wait until the deadline is upon you, or already past, which puts editors in a position where they have to scramble to make the resulting adjustments.
Another time deadlines were in jeopardy was when my husband fell off a two-story roof and came away with 9 rib fractures, 6 pelvic fractures, and a broken shoulder. Although being with him in the hospital, recovery center, and caring for his needs during the next several weeks meant I was going to be hard pressed to meet upcoming deadlines, I never totally abandoned my concern for meeting them as soon as it was at all possible. I felt strongly the responsibility to meet that commitment and let my editor know I would likely be late—but asking when the latest I could submit and still not put her behind schedule.
Both of the above instances of being late with deadlines are extreme, but generally we should have no excuses for not meeting our deadlines. The wheels of publication—both with books and periodicals—run like a train. If even one writer misses a deadline it can throw the whole train off the tracks. With magazines it may mean that the publication will have to substitute another piece for the one you didn’t produce in time—and may give the editor pause before giving you another assignment. With books, it is even more serious. Because all the steps of the publishing process are based on you meeting your deadline, being late often means that your project goes to the end of the line (often meaning they won’t meet your projected publication date), and you may even lose the interest and attention of the editor who has championed your book from the beginning. The writers who don’t pay close attention to deadlines are destined to lose the interest and respect of their editors. And editors are never unhappy if you're early.