Contracts

How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How long does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail bookstore side of the equation. In the beginning, the biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process for traditional publishing takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification (customer walks in, buys something, and walks out). With indie publishing there can be nearly instantaneous gratification (one click and you are published!). But traditional book publishing is a process business. I created much of this post over eight years ago and the details stand unchanged. This is still the  norm.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers, the diversity can be quite extreme.

I know of one major publisher that can move from making an offer on a book proposal through the contract process to sending the advance paycheck within 30 days. But that is the exception.

In one case we accepted an offer for a client’s book. Two full months later the paperwork for the contract was created by the publisher. There were errors in the contract that needed to be discussed, negotiated, and revised … add another six weeks. Yet another month went by before an advance payment was received. From acceptance of a deal to paycheck was 4 1/2 months.

What is average time for the traditional publishing process?

In my experience:

1) From idea to book proposal to your literary agent: 1-3 months
2) From agent to editor and book contract offer: 2-5 months
3) From contract offer to first paycheck: 2-3 months
4) From contract to delivery of manuscript to editor: 3-9 months (sometimes longer)
(From delivery of manuscript to editor actually working on it: 2-5 months)
5) From editor to publication: 9-12 months

Total time from idea to print: approximately 2 years.

Your mileage may vary.

What has been your experience? Please do not mention specific publishers, agents, or editors by name. The industry changes every month,  and what may have been a challenge may no longer be the case.

What is the longest time our agency waited after submitting a proposal to receive an offer from a publisher (#2 on the above list)? We once received an offer from a publisher 22 months after we had submitted the proposal for consideration. When I called the author, she said, “What book was that?” She had already written two other contracted and published books in the interim! As I said above, your mileage may vary.

The shortest time? A client worked on her fiction proposal for quite a while. She customized her idea and pitch to target exactly where that publisher was currently publishing new releases. The proposal landed on the editor’s desk on Thursday. We had an offer on Monday. I repeat, your mileage may vary.

Why does it take so long?

The main challenge for most authors following the traditional publishing model is that one-year time period from delivering the finished manuscript to when it is actually published. This “delay” can easily be classified under marketing. A publisher cannot and should not start their machinery (cover design, marketing plans, etc.) until they know there will actually be a book. And they won’t know there is a manuscript until it shows up in-house.

I remember some disasters in the “old days” when the turn-around time from delivery to publication was much shorter than a year–and the author failed to deliver on time. In one case, a publisher was actually fined $5,000 by a major bookstore chain for failing to deliver a book that the chain had put in their catalog and for which they had run special marketing. The stores lost significant sales because there weren’t any books.

There was another case where the publisher jumped the gun and spent money on a cover and branding design only to have the book never be written and the contract canceled. Thus publishers won’t start on those expenses until they know they have a manuscript.

In some media circles, there is a demand for “Advance Reader Copies” (aka the ARC) six to eight months in advance of publication (either print or ebook copies). That way the media outlet can read the book, write the review, and have it published at a time that is about a month before the release of the book (i.e. Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.). To achieve that means the book has to be turned in and all editing, cover design, and typesetting has to be a long way toward completion before the ARC can be created.

[I’ve left the comments from the earlier post alone. Feel free to add new thoughts below.]

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Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

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