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What to Know About the Book Publishing Timeline

The autumn season has officially kicked off! Will you be turning a new leaf with your book? What progress have you made using our writing productivity tips from last month’s blog?

While those efficient, time-saving hacks we discussed will be beneficial to your writing practice, it’s first important to understand the timeline for getting your book out there, fully published. You’ve often heard me say that the road to becoming a published author is a winding one. And it can be difficult to see the full picture—from penning your first drafts to seeing your book on shelves.

Because I receive the question “how long does it take” so often, I thought I’d use this newsletter to answer just that, so you can leverage expectations, set realistic goals, and feel confident in achieving them.

Though every journey to publication is different, here is the average book publishing timeline:

Send out queries: 2 weeks to 6 months for response. 

If you’re a debut author, the querying process can feel endless. Although sometimes, if you really get the pitch right, you may hear from agents right away—even within 24 hours! Nonfiction is generally a quicker timeline; fiction can take months for an agent to review and assess. If you’re receiving multiple positive reactions, agents may even be competing to sign you.

The power of a big idea can change everything. If an agent sees your idea as timely and new, they’ll prioritize reading your material. Likewise, a pitch that suggests a large platform will get prioritized in our reading queue.

Sign with an agent: 1 to 2 weeks.

Many writers will want to grab a first offer of representation, but please first make sure you’ve spoken with that person to ensure you feel immediate trust, chemistry, and a shared editorial vision. These conversations are an interview on both sides—agents work for you! If you do receive a contract, make sure you understand every line, and get another set of experienced eyes on it. The process of interviewing agents and signing with one can take a week or more.

Proposal or manuscript development:  Several weeks to several months.

You thought your book was done… but after you get signed, you may be surprised how much work there is still to be done to craft a book proposal or manuscript that meets the high standards of the industry and will be seen as competitive. Be prepared to make room in your work and family schedule to go “all in.” Keeping momentum is important on both sides of the partnership! 

While it’s important to produce your best possible work, no submission will ever be perfect. (You’ll still have the actual book writing or editing ahead!) Your agent will tell you when it’s ready to go—and if you want to see your project to market sooner, that’s always your call to make. 

Book submission: 1 to 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 if they take an interest in your project. From first submission to sale, the nonfiction timeline can range from 2 weeks to several months. For fiction & children’s writers, it will take more time for editors to review and give thorough consideration of your manuscript. Why such delays? Because projects under consideration are also being read by colleagues; publishing acquisitions are “decision by committee.” Receiving “good reads” is an integral part of the process. Interested editors will present the project over the course of several meetings before an offer is approved. 

Negotiate the publishing contract and get paid: 2 months.

While deal terms are often negotiated within 24 hours, a contract can take weeks to arrive and then 2-4 weeks more to negotiate. The first installment of your advance won’t arrive for at least another 2 weeks. This is all an exercise in patience, but don’t worry that the deal is off, just because it seems to be taking an eternity!

Remember that publishing advances are typically paid out over the course of 2-4 years. Make investment decisions (such as an outside writer, publicist, etc. accordingly). 

Deliver and edit your book: Up to 18 months.

Even if you have already written your book, your work will of course need thorough editing before going straight to print! The shorter the form, the easier the delivery, and so children’s authors can have their work accepted within a couple months, while nonfiction authors, who are writing books from scratch (and even those who aren’t) will typically take a year to deliver a manuscript and another 6 months to have it edited.

You’ll receive the next installment of your advance not when you deliver, but months later, after editing, once the book receives the publisher’s final approval. When your book has been “transmitted” into production and copyedit, you have reached the next milestone: “d&a” (delivery and acceptance). 

Book production and marketing: 6 to 12 months.

This final step doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to design and market a book, and that couldn’t be more true for first time authors. (Your book marketing timeline is a whole other strategy to consider!)

A whole salesforce will also be pitching your book to booksellers domestically, and, if you’ve licensed worldwide rights, to publishers abroad. It takes time to “build” a new author, and sales and “launch meetings” can take place even a year before a book’s publication to begin to garner attention. It’s a long lead business!

Many authors who wanted a book out “yesterday” are surprised when publication day comes almost by surprise. It’s like our children—how did they grow up so fast? Finally having a book in the world, gaining Amazon reviews, capturing media attention, it can all feel so surreal. It seemed so far away when you began, and then suddenly, it’s here.