Publishing A-Z

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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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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Amazon Rank Obsession

Admit it. You’ve checked your Amazon.com sales ranking at least once since your book was published. You feel the need to have some outside confirmation of the sales of your book. And Amazon’s ranking are free to look at.

I’ve even seen book  proposals where the author has gone to great lengths to include the Amazon ranking for each title that is competitive with the one the author is proposing. A prodigious amount of wasted effort.

Publishers rarely pay attention to Amazon rankings unless yours gets below 1,000 or if you get in the top 100.

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Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Every year Beloit College creates a “Mindset List” which reflects the culture that the incoming Freshman class have grown up experiencing. It helps their faculty know how to relate to these incoming students. Click here for this year’s Mindset List.

I download this list every year and read it with increasing wonder at the speed of our cultural changes.

The college graduating class of 2014 was born in 1992. Think about that for a second. If you are a writer, you can no longer assume that your audience will understand your cultural references. In a mere six years, today’s 18-year-olds will be adults…possibly with families and jobs and children…they will be reading your books and articles.

And you will only be six years older than you are now.

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P is for Preemptive Offer

It can be exciting if more than one publisher is interested in your book. The publishers gather their calculators and prepare to make their offers on the book. Depending on how many publishers are involved in the bidding process (we’ve had as many as nine at once for a property) …

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A is for Auction

When an agent has a client who is wanting to shop for the best deal available from publishers or if there is a particular project that is bound to garner significant interest from more than one publisher, the agent can hold what it called an auction. Or if a project …

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I is for ISBN

by Steve Laube 978-0-310-32533-8 978-0-7814-1042-7 978-1-61626-639-4 No, these are not the plays being called by a quarterback during a football game. They are the ISBN numbers on the back of three different books by three different clients. Kudos to the first person to identify the three titles in the comments …

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L is for Libel

by Steve Laube

 To libel someone is to injure a person’s reputation via the written word (slander is for the spoken word). I wrote recently about Indemnification but only touched on this topic. Let’s try to unpack it a little further today.

First, be aware that the laws that define defamation vary from state to state, however there are some commonly accepted guidelines. Anyone can claim to have been “defamed,” but to prove it they usually have to show that the written statement is all four of the following: 1) published 2) false 3) injurious 4) unprivileged.

The first is obvious. Posting something on Twitter or Facebook is “published.” And yet two weeks ago a Federal judge ruled that a blogger has the same defamation protection as a journalist. (Read the article here.)

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J is for Just-in-Time

by Steve Laube

The economics of bookselling are complex and ever changing. There is a method of inventory control called “Just-in-Time” (or JIT) that has revolutionized both the retail and manufacturing industries.

When I began as a bookseller there was no such thing as computerized inventory, at least not in the Christian bookstore business. We used a method call “Stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly.” Because “If you stack ‘em low, they won’t go.” The idea was to merchandise large amounts of inventory because there was no quick way to replenish your stock if you ran out.

We had sheets of paper with a list of “Never Out” titles in books and music. Weekly we would physically count the remaining stock and if our inventory on a title fell below a particular level we would order more. This was our attempt to time our inventory to match the consumer demand. Titles not on the list would be reordered when that publisher’s sales rep came to visit. The rep would inventory the store and together we would determine what titles to replenish and which ones to let disappear.

Technology Caused Disruption
Computerization changed everything. Using an algorithm the computer determined the speed, or rate, of sale for each title and created order quantities to match the projected demand. This was called “Just-in-Time.” The inventory would arrive just in time to meet the customer wanting that book.

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I is for Indemnification

by Steve Laube

Publishing is not without risks. Plagiarism, fraud, and libel by an author are real possibilities. Thus within a book contract is a legal clause called indemnification inserted to protect the publisher from your antics.

The indemnification clause, in essence, says that if someone sues your publisher because of your book, claiming something like libel (defamation) or plagiarism etc., your publisher can make you pay the fees to compensate for their losses. This is to “indemnify” which is defined as “to compensate (someone) for harm or loss.” Bottom line: The publisher has the right to hire its own attorneys (at the author’s expense) to defend against these claims.

Doesn’t sound like a happy clause does it? But you can understand why it is there. This clause and the Warranty clause are notoriously difficult to negotiate. (The Warranty clause is where the things the author guarantees or warrants are listed; i.e. the book is original, it is not libelous in content, etc. This clause will be more fully covered by me at another time) The language has been written by the publisher’s attorneys and are usually set in stone.

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