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Publishing Timeline: How Long It Takes

You have your big idea. Maybe you’ve written your whole book. But how long will it take you from query to book deal to bookshelf? 

This is a question we’re often asked and of course the answer will vary. Here’s a typical process we see for authors…

Send out queries.

2 weeks to 6 months for response. 

A “hot” project—typically one where the author is well-established as an “expert” (for nonfiction) or a writer (for fiction), can go very quickly, and it’s much the same when agents send your book or book proposal to editors. If you’re getting reactions within weeks of querying, it may be that you’ve sent the proposal to agents to whom you’re connected, or that you’ve chosen your submission list with laser-like precision. Bravo! It’s a very good sign…and if you’re receiving multiple positive reactions, agents may even be competing to sign you, decreasing your timeline to get signed.

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Please don’t be discouraged if you’re a first-time novelist or a children’s book author and the process is taking a few months. Fiction simply takes longer to read or to assess—because that assessment really happens upon reading and rereading. Still, the power of a big idea can apply. If an agent sees your idea as timely and breakthrough, they’ll prioritize reading. But more often, for fiction, it can be several months.

Like many agencies, Lucinda Literary often makes decisions about signing an author, if we see interest upon first read, upon discussion with colleagues. This also adds time.

Sign with an agent. 

A few days of negotiation.

Once you do have an offer of representation, many writers will want to grab it, if they feel immediate trust, chemistry, and a shared editorial vision. Other writers may be less decisive, and choose to interview other agents. Either way, read your agency contract closely and better, get another set of more experienced eyes on it. (Agency agreements should be fairly brief, but some are more onerous than others.)

Proposal or manuscript development. 

Several weeks to several months.

As you’ve heard from me, you will want your novel or book proposal in its best light, and ideally edited, before you submit to agents. Still, you may find the work surprising once you sign with an agent, and you should be prepared to go “all in.” Many agents are editorially hands-on, but their greatest value is their market insights—helping to make your idea, your title, and your work its most commercial possible. 

Get your book sold. 

1-4 months.

Much like your initial query to agents, your agent will now put together a pitch letter to editors. For nonfiction authors, it’s also standard to meet with publishers. Interested editors will present the project to their acquisition boards, and then hopefully, an offer is approved. Competition from other publishers will of course expedite the timeline.

Again, it becomes important to observe the timeline. If your project is getting response within the first 6 weeks, it’s a very good sign.

Negotiate publishing contract and get paid.

2 months.

While deal terms are negotiated very quickly (often within 24 hours of an author accepting a deal), a contract is a larger beast. During the pandemic, we’ve seen contract delays like never before and it can take over a month to receive one. Once the publishing agreement is negotiated, don’t expect your first advance installment to arrive for at least another 2 weeks.

Deliver and edit your book.

2 months to 1 year.

“But wait, I’ve already written my novel or picture book!” The shorter the form, the easier the delivery, and so children’s authors can have their work accepted within a couple months, but adult novelists should be prepared to respond to quite a lot of editing, even shaping key aspects of the novel in the early stages that could take you months to accomplish. Only once the book receives a final edit and approval and is transmitted into production and copyedit, will you see the next installment of your book advance.

Your book is out on the shelves!

6-12 months.

Now comes the moment you’ve been waiting for…but wait, why won’t your book be on shelves immediately?

The short answer is that it takes time to design and market a book, and that couldn’t be more true for first time authors.

A whole salesforce will also be pitching your book to booksellers domestically, and to publishers abroad. This takes a lot of time to fall into place, and sales and “launch meetings” can happen many months in advance of a book’s publication to build excitement.

We hope you find it helpful to see the full picture. Publishing is a long and winding road, but in creating the best book possible, it’s entirely worth it.