Books are the slowest and least “current” form of communication. News or short-turnaround events are best covered in articles carried in media that can reach an audience quickly. Sure, a book about the Super Bowl can be slammed together with pictures in a few weeks, but it won’t win any awards for literary quality.
Indie publishing has given the impression to many authors that the seemingly endless amount of time traditional publishers take to get a book published has somehow changed from years to weeks, but for the most part, it still takes a long time for a traditional publisher to produce and publish a book.
Three factors are important to understand the lengthy process of traditional publishing and none of them have anything to do with how long it takes an author to write a book.
- Your book is not the only one a publisher publishes. The company has a certain capacity in staff and money and they can only handle a certain number of titles at any one time.
- Most channels of sales (other than Amazon) need to be informed of coming titles from 4-6 months or more in advance so they can plan their retail promotions and budgets for buying products to carry.
- When the author finishes their initial manuscript, it starts a period of work with editors. Sometimes this is easy and goes quickly, sometimes it does not. Since the publisher doesn’t know which will apply in every case, they assume the worst and schedule for it.
Another issue relating to the author writing is the publisher wants to be perfectly confident that the book you wrote is the one they agreed to publish. Once in a while, an author turns in a 250,000-word manuscript on the history of the Ming Dynasty instead of the anticipated 60,000-word manuscript of new recipes for stir-fry.
Let me illustrate how this would affect a hypothetical project. (Keep in mind that some publishers have dozens or hundreds of projects in development at any one time. Yours is not their only book)
Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip died in February 2000. You want to write a book about how his work affected global culture and have it available well before the 20th anniversary of his death.
- March 2017 – You come up with the idea and start preparing a proposal with chapter outlines and samples.
- June 2017 – Your agent is pitching the book to publishers. If you don’t have an agent, add six months. (Start the entire process in September 2016)
- October 2017 – A publisher buys it
- November 2017 – You sign a contract
- December 2017 – The worst month of your life. All the family is in for the holidays and by the time they leave, you are sick of answering questions and talking about the new book deal. (Cousin Frank asks you for a loan so he can start a worm farm)
- January 2018 – You start writing the book.
- March 3, 2018 – Neighbor cuts a tree limb that severs your power line and you lose two hours of work.
- March 3-5, 2018 – writing from the corner Starbucks is too distracting and you just take off a few days until the power comes back on March 8.
- June 20-July 5, 2018 – Everyone else gets to go to the lake for the summer holiday. You are stuck at home writing.
- June 24, 2018 – Kitchen sink is clogged, plumber takes two hours to clear it.
- July 4, 2018 – Fireworks keep you awake all night and you lose two days writing.
- September 30, 2018 – you meet the required deadline as dictated by your contract. You email the finished manuscript to the publisher. Finally, relief.
- October 8, 2018 – Publisher asks if you finished the manuscript yet. Confused, you resend it and this time they get it.
- October 2018-March 2019 – Editing process with publisher. You spend months in a tug-of-war with the editor over creative vision. You are looking forward to the holidays this year, because your uncle Bob’s recollections of how people used to think he looked like Pigpen are less stressful than this editing process.
- March 2019 – Publisher begins pitching the book to retailers as a Fall 2019 release.
- March-June 2019 – Book in production. You realize you need some final permissions to use some images. The Schulz family agrees to give to those to you in 48 hours. Two weeks later, the paperwork arrives.
- June 2019 – Book files uploaded to printer in China
- Early September 2019 – ship with copies of your book is delayed at the Los Angeles freight terminal due to a labor dispute with longshoremen.
- Late September 2019 – Printed copies of book finally arrive at publisher and shipped to retailers.
- Late October 2019 – book released to international acclaim.
- January 1, 2020 – you make a New Year’s resolution to work four years ahead on your next idea about something that will happen in 2023. (Wait, oh nuts)
Cousin Frank! LOL Change the name and the type of farm and I had that happen.
Time stands still for no one. Thanks for showing us not only the gestation period of birthing a book baby, but the labor pains as well. We would be wise to heed your advice: nothing good is produced over night. A fruitful harvest must wait for the time of harvest. Eating a cherry blossom is not as tasty as the mature cherry.
Oh, Dan, this made me laugh. So true! Add in everyone you know asking you if you’re rich yet and if you can quit your day job now, and the night-before-deadline “where is the latest version of my manuscript?” panic and you’ve nailed the author experience! And people wonder why we are so neurotic…
Being on the pre-pubbed side of this industry, it’s good to see the reality of how long the process takes. I always love reading your trademark humor (don’t we all have an Uncle Frank? 🙂 ) as you share pertinent truths.
Dan, thanks for this look at what’s involved in the writing and publication of a book. For those of us who’ve bitten our nails down to the quick because of how slow the process is, it’s nice to hear the cause of some of those “slow-downs.”
Dan, seriously. Did you read an early copy of Song of Silence? The December 2017 segment is comically familiar!
No, sorry, didn’t read it. But I did hit my head on light fixture right before I wrote this so maybe a head injury gave me some insight!
You nailed it. The only part you neglected to mention has to do with that October 8, 2018 issue, where the publisher says they don’t have the manuscript and you have to re-send. That’s because in June 2018, publisher decided to make a major re-org of its team and publishing philosophy. In the wake of those changes, your editor got re-assigned to a new division—but neglected to inform you of such. When you send in your mss on September 30th, sure enough it arrives in your editor’s inbox. But she overlooks it because she now has different priorities. When you re-send after the October 8th notice, your editor says, “Oops!” and forwards your mss on to her replacement. Project more or less gets back on track.
That sounds painfully familiar. I’ve had as many editors as I’ve had books. Fortunately, the hand-offs went more or less smoothly in my case!
With you brother!
(I was looking for an emoticon to reply to this, but I am at a loss. Sad, confused or angry seem insufficient)
This sounds very much like the sequel to the bestseller “2016, Planning a Political Odyssey”.
Sad, confused, angry? Could be because of “warmover” (very closely related to “hangover” and “do-over”) and be a very common symptom exhibited by some of the many other Illinois voters today!
There have been reports of spontaneous flare ups of pandemic proportions in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina as well. Not to worry, It will be transitory in nature and should greatly subside by tomorrow having been spun down and reported to be of “minor outbreak” status by pundits and their brethren in the media this evening until the wee hours of the morning.
This phenomena gives pause to start St Patricks festivities a day early instead of waiting until Thursday.
Haha! I love the ending! This post will stay with me. Thank you for this comical look into the publishing journey.
Glad you liked it.
Comical? Everything mentioned has happened to one or more people I know. (Except for the Uncle Bob and Pigpen remark)
Being a founding investor in Cousin Frank’s worm farm might earn you more money than the book royalties, but it does sound better if you can tell the people you meet that you work with words instead of worms.
Couldn’t stifle a laugh… I’m not sure where the money for investment would pop up if the book doesn’t sell… And words does sound more comely than worms…
My grin grew bigger and bigger as I read farther into this article. So after all of that, is it still worth it to write and to publish? As a reader, I’m so glad that writers persist!
Janet Ann Collins
Funny, but scary at the same time.
Thanks for putting it all in perspective, Dan…including the parts about family, house chores, and electric lines. Both sides of the equation surely do complicate the final solution.
Thank you for sharing that post. I relate to that. Sometimes you commit to a writing project, everything goes wrong, the project turns into something it wasn’t meant to be and messes up things on the agents end too. This gives me a new perspective on how things work from an agents point of view.
Hilarious and soooooo accurate Dan. Thanks for the fun approach to reality in publishing.
And then, of course, there can also be the Charlie Dyer Scenario, which is the publishing equivalent of a hole-in-one (or, if you have no scruples, the gambling equivalent of hitting the lottery).
To follow Dan’s timetable. . .
Sometime in early 1988, Tyndale house approaches Charlie Dyer, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, to write a book about the relationship between the modern country of Iraq (ruled by an upstart demagogue named Saddam Hussein) and the ancient prophecies of Revelation that talk about Babylon, whose ruins are situated in Iraq.
From there, the timetable continues more or less as Dan has outlined. Over the next two years, Dyer and coauthor Angela Elwell produce a manuscript that is at once engaging, yet fantastic. Many “serious scholars” would argue that Dyer is sensationalizing eschatology at the expense of a third-class country with little connection to the United States or importance in the region, and that its only claim to fame—besides Babylon—is a protracted war with Iran that has cost millions of lives.
Eventually Tyndale and the authors settle on a title: The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times.
In August 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait.
As Tyndale prepares to launch the book in the summer and fall of 1991, President George H. Walker Bush builds a coalition of nations to use force, if necessary, to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait.
On January 10, 1991, Tyndale releases The Rise of Babylon.
One week later, on January 17, 1991, coalition forces, led by the U.S., begins Operation Desert Storm against Iraq. The first night and subsequent days of the war are broadcast in real-time on national television.
The Rise of Babylon is already available in stores nationwide—perfectly positioned for a public that—pre-Internet and pre-Amazon—is ravenous for information about the meaning and significance of the country their country has attacked.
The rest, as they say, is history!
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