Tracy C. Gold

AUTHOR, EDITOR, TEACHER

How Long it Takes to Traditionally Publish a Book

on June 5, 2020

My editing clients often come to me saying they want to find a traditional publisher for their book and hope it will be published within a few months or a year. Buckle up, I tell them. If you want to publish a book quickly, in the vast majority of cases, self publishing is the way to go. (And most people’s self publishing timelines are far too ambitious, too.)

To educate those who have big dreams of getting a book published, here is a rough sketch of just how long it takes to get a traditional publishing deal (if you’re lucky), and then how long it takes for the book to be published after that. Of course, there are exceptions in both directions. Right now with Covid-19, I am hearing of launch dates getting pushed back left and right. Books can also be rushed, which is called “crashing,” if they are extremely timely (but this would likely not involve a first-time/not-famous author).

This post is for first-time authors who do not have agents. Obviously, those with existing agent/publisher relationships will move through the process more quickly.

The below information is not scientific, but rather a rough estimate based on the experience of my editing clients and friends. If you search, you will find various articles from other publishing professionals with similar timelines.

Traditional Publishing Timeline

  • Query 30-50 agents: If you’re lucky and write a great query, you will hear that some agents want to read your book, roughly, from one to eight weeks later. Again, there are outliers. Personally, I’ve heard from agents both 8 minutes and 8 MONTHS later. Alternatively, you could skip the step of getting a literary agent and reach out to small publishers who accept unagented submissions. Read why you might want an agent here.
  • Send book to agents who requested it: After sending, wait as little as one week or, more realistically, as long as three to six months to hear back from agents about your full manuscript. Some agents will never respond. Some will take a year. There’s no guarantee you’ll get an agent at all.
  • Get an offer: If you get an offer of representation, you should notify all the agents you queried that you have an offer and decide who you want to sign with if you get multiple offers. This generally takes two weeks.
  • Revise the book (again) with the agent: This happens in the vast majority of cases; it can take time to do the revisions and time for the agent to read your new draft. Some agents do multiple drafts. This takes several weeks or months.
  • Your agent sends the book to editors: You can get a book deal in a day, but I would guess that three to four months is more common. One writer I know got a deal in eighteen months. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a deal at all.
  • Negotiate the book deal: Your agent may take days, weeks, or even months to negotiate your book deal.
  • Revise the book again with the editor: This can take weeks or months. Some authors do multiple big rounds and the book launch can even get pushed. For picture books, launch dates can get pushed due to illustrator availability.
  • Hurry up and wait as the book gets ready for press: While you are revising the book and then after the manuscript is “accepted” as ready to start becoming a real book, you and your publisher will be working hard on all of the elements that go into taking a manuscript into a book. This includes copy editing, proofreading, cover and text design, publicity, and sales. This whole process generally takes around 18 months. This is partly because it takes a long time to do good work on a book, and partly because publishers are juggling many other books. Bookstores also order books several months in advance, so your book needs time to go out on the publisher’s catalog before it comes out. Here’s a post with more on what happens after you get a book deal.

Total, that’s . . . A LOT! of time! 12 months would be lightning fast. Two or three years before the book is on the shelves is more normal, if you’re lucky enough to get a book deal with any given book at all. The vast majority of authors I know sent agents and/or publishers multiple books before they sold one. Publishing is an industry that can be soul crushing for authors and it involves a lot of hurrying up and waiting. If speed matters to you, self publishing is the way to go, no hands down. Of course, you should try to keep many of the elements that go into making traditionally published books high-quality and beautiful in your self publishing process. Multiple rounds of editing and professional design and marketing take time. But self publishing puts all of this under your control and takes a lot of the waiting out of the process.


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