Tag s | Editors

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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Criticism Is an Unhappy Part of the Business

I would like to tell you about a most enjoyable day. Our agency’s guidelines request that unsolicited manuscripts come via the post (I know it’s old-school but it works for us), but we still receive e-mail submissions. I spent an entire morning going through that particular in-box, having an assistant send standard e-mail rejection letters, since none were anything our agency could/would handle.

Very soon I received three separate responses:

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Four Myths About Editors

Since even the most prolific authors’ experience with editors may be limited to one or two, editors can seem mythical. Let’s unwrap a few assumptions: 1)  Editors don’t have to worry about the market. Agents advise writers to consider the market when writing. This is because editors do have to …

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Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

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Promotion: Faithful or Self-full?

“What’s the difference between promotion and self-promotion? How do we promote ourselves/our books so that we honor God, respect others, and use common sense?”

The constant tension between marketing and ministry has plagued the Christian author, speaker, bookseller and publisher forever. Why? Because Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Because we are commanded to die to self and to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord….

And yet, our society…our culture insists, even demands, that we market and promote our message.

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The Curse of the Writer

Speaking from an agent’s perspective…
I have more conversations with clients about their feelings of anxiety, apprehension or insecurity than almost any other topic. Almost every writer I have ever worked with as an editor or an agent severely doubts themselves at some point in the process.

Doubts occur in the midst of creation.
Doubts occur when the disappointing royalty statement arrives.
Doubts occur … just because…

It is the curse of the writer. Writing is an introspective process done in a cave…alone. It is natural to have the demons of insecurity whisper their lies. And, in a cave, the whispers echo and build into a cacophony of irrepressible noise.

Once I had an author with dozens of titles in print and over three million books sold turn to me and say with a somber voice, “Do I have anything left to say? Does anyone care?” I didn’t quite know how to reply so tentatively said, “Well, I like it!” The author responded with a grump, “But you are paid to like it.” After we laughed, we agreed that this lack of confidence would pass and ultimately was very normal.

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Writers Learn to Wait

Ours is a process industry. Good publishing takes time. Unfortunately time is another word for “waiting.” No one really likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Awhile ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved. Below are some of the things for which a writer must learn to wait.

Waiting for the Agent

We try our best to reply to submissions within 6-8 weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few short proposals.

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It Takes a Committee

One well-known and frustrating fact about seeing a book finally accepted is the looooooong process. Trust me, literary agents would like to see the process move faster, too. Believe it or not, the fact that at most large publishers, a proposal must go through several rounds of review before a …

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Why Not Take a Chance?


Often I receive queries and proposals in which the author will say his submission is out of the box. I’m not opposed to groundbreaking work, but I have to decide what will and what won’t work for me. I am the first to admit, this process is subjective. Our own Steve Laube is routinely teased by a couple of his successful author friends he turned down. If an agent as wise as Steve Laube misses a call, everyone does. But here are a few questions I’ll answer to show why it’s not easy to sell an out-of-the-box work:

Is the economy making you more selective? It’s not helping, but in any economic environment, we agents must choose the best of the best and most marketable submissions.

But you and the editors are all friends. Why not take a chance even on work you’re not sure about? I do take the occasional chance on out-of-the-box submissions that are so stellar I’m awestruck, but I’m not often awestruck. I must be mindful that I am putting my name and The Steve Laube Agency name on every submission I send. In addition, the submissions I get behind must compete with other submissions that have been vetted by other professional agents. I would venture that the quality of agented submissions is outstanding. So getting me on board is hard, but getting the publisher on board is harder.

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