How Long Does It Take to Publish a Book? The Process Explained

How long does it take to publish a book? Ah, the eternal question. The book publishing process flummoxes even the most zen writers. (Oh, who am I kidding? It flummoxes everyone!) A few weeks ago, I got an email from Joni, an email like the kind I’ve gotten from many writers before her. It dealt with frustration and impatience in the process of getting a book published. The “all dressed up with nowhere to go” pain of just wanting to have a book out. This past weekend, while I was supposed to be away from the computer and having a life (ha!), I got a similar email from a client. Sorry, dear, but I’m going to quote it:

Okay, so I am working on my book, and I keep getting so worried that I’ve got SO FAR to go that I just close the document. I’m worried that after this round, it still has readers to go, and then another round of other readers and then I am so slow with revisions that it will be 3013 before it will be done.

how long does it take to publish a book, book publishing process
How long does it take to publish a book? The book publishing process is not for the faint of heart.

How Long Does It Take to Publish a Book? Forever, So Quit Worrying About It

My advice for Joni and for my client is: dig in, get your eyes off the calendar, and do your work. The book publishing journey isn’t a matter of course. And it’s certainly not a matter of speed. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that publishing is slow in most cases. Slow. Sloooooooooow. Slow as molasses. Slow as frozen molasses. Slow as a cube of frozen molasses frozen inside a bigger cube of even slower frozen molasses. You get my point, I think.

When publishing finally decides to move — or if it moves quickly — it’s out of a writer’s control. Which house will buy what, which editor will love what, how much they’ll invest in a project, how much marketing they’ll give it, what the sales will be like, which readers/librarians/booksellers will respond to what and how, what will win awards, what will take off up the bestseller charts and what will quietly blip off the radar screen, etc. etc. etc.

If you think you’re freaking out now about just getting your work published, imagine the full-scale neurotic meltdown that awaits you once you have royalty statements to read, bookstore events where you always feel like the nervous hostess, wondering if anyone will show up, Goodreads/blog reviews to stress over, school visits and public speaking engagements, 24/7 access to your Amazon ranking and, now, BookScan numbers for your sales, organized every which way!

The Book Publishing Process Is Largely Outside of Your Control

Conversely, learning and practicing and revising are the only things you can do to take control of the process. If you’re just honing your writing, it’s probably a good thing that you’re not out there as a full-fledged author yet. Think about not just the shiny publishing contract and the spike in Twitter followers and the glory of realizing your dream. There’s a whole career and business element, too, most of it amazing, some of it challenging and anxiety-making. It’s okay that you haven’t gotten there yet. You have to really be ready for this sort of thing, and thinking you’re reading and actually being ready are two different things.

This is as much of a pep talk for me as it is for Joni and for my client and for countless other writers out there who are feeling similar frustrations. Do you think I sit around saying, “Well, I think I’ve sold enough books. Time to pack it in and rest on my laurels.” Absolutely not. I am the most impatient person I think I’ve ever met (my mother would definitely agree with me here).

Once I get an offer, I immediately want another one. If I sign an incredible client, I go back to my slush pile the very next day and keep an eye out, because the submissions don’t stop coming. If I close an auction, well, I have a nice stiff celebratory dance-off first, of course, but then I want to jump in to the stress and exhilaration all over again a few minutes later. If an hour passes without an email from an editor, I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with my email client and then bang on my laptop to make sure it’s working properly.

Well, here is the number one piece of advice I can give about how long does it take to publish a book: be patient. It goes hand in hand with the idea of resilience and not giving up and constantly generating new ideas (all discussed in my “Dealing With Rejection” post). And as much as I talk about the publishing business/agents/queries/submissions on the blog, here’s my other advice: it really is all about the book idea to execution. In other words, the craft.

Keep reading, keep writing, don’t stop trying…but also spare yourself the paralyzing anxiety of the ticking clock.

If you want to take your destiny into your own hands while you wait, hire me as your manuscript editor and revise your way to the strongest project possible.

36 Replies to “How Long Does It Take to Publish a Book? The Process Explained”

  1. This post is brilliant. And anyone who doesn’t take it to heart is doing themselves a great disservice.

  2. There is much truth to your words. Waiting is rough, and being ready is a must. But can one ever truly be ready?? Like giving birth. I don’t care if you have your first baby at age 20 or age 40; no one’s ever really ready for that change. Big change. I’m on the cusp of what you’re talking about. Almost there. I’ve had interest, serious interest lately. But each time I think about it, I want to vomit because I know there’s another ‘new’ thing coming, lots of ‘new’ elements that will toss me back into newbie status.

    I’m a believer in timing, though, so that’s okay. I’ve realized it’s all about my growth–as a writer, mother, wife, friend–and how I apply those, letting them mold me into a better writer.

    My time will come.

    Thanks for an inspiring post and a great reminder. Best to you for 2011!

  3. My goals change as I grow as a writer. Wonderful post about patience and taking time with your work.

  4. This was a wonderful pep talk, and one that I needed right about now. I’m looking at a first draft that needs a lot of work and I know that it’s going to be a while before I query agents. There’s a sense of urgency you get from reading writing blogs or hearing about sales. But you’re so right: Rushing in without a polished manuscript is pointless.

  5. I used to put myself on a deadline. Then I realized it was negative inspiration. Once I decided to Just Write, it came much easier.

    If you love the entire process — the first draft, the second draft, the third, the rewrite, the revisions, the submitting — then it’s a much easier cycle. There isn’t one part of it that I don’t enjoy (well, except formatting the MS. That’s no fun). And when I’m waiting on one project, I work on another. That way I have something else to occupy my mind.

  6. Thank you so much for the encouraging words. Sometimes I feel just like Joni – and actually had to take a break from editing my current MS because of it. I’m slowly getting back into it and trying to reassure myself that the glacial speed of writing, and this industry, might be beneficial. It allows more time to consider one’s work and get it out there when it’s ready. Rushing does no one any favors.

    And honestly, I think this is something everyone needs to hear. So many writers query their manuscript Too Soon, because it’s so easy to get caught up in that pesky negative thought: “If I don’t get it out now, I never will!” I agree that patience is best.

  7. Persistence is what I need for my wips. I’m almost done illustrating a PB dummy I wrote 4 years ago. After spending a constant year working on my MG novel, I see how much more I still need to learn, and I’m back to the bare bones.

    Patience will be needed when my wips become subs. I think that will be harder to handle.

    Thanks for the post, Mary, and Creative New Year to all.

  8. Thank you so much for this! I’m 100,000 words in and about 2/3 of the way through my story. I’ve been dragging my butt for three weeks, second-guessing myself and making that the excuse to dawdle. I needed this pep talk today!

  9. Sometimes it is so hard to be patient. Thanks for the great advice. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all I just write / revise one word at a time, one scene, one chapter. Every day. It will get done.

  10. I know so many authors who’ve broke in, with aplomb, after, say, four trunk novels or seven-to-ten years of writing. The first manuscript, the second, the third may be learning exercises, and that’s okay. It is.

  11. Erica Rodgers says:

    Great post and pep-talk, Mary! It’s just what I’ve been telling myself for the last few weeks, getting ready for a new year and (hopefully) a productive January. 🙂

  12. Publishing is a marathon- not a sprint. My advice? Pack snacks. Remember to pace yourself. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on. Cheer on your fellow marathoners. Remember that you are doing this because you chose to.

    In publishing there isn’t a finish line, it’s more of a journey. Once you finish a book, you want an agent, once you have an agent you want to sell, once you sell you want to sell again (and again-and for more). Learning to enjoy the trip is half the fun.

  13. I plan to save this quotation and look at it as needed: “[Publishing is] slow as a cube of frozen molasses frozen inside a bigger cube of even slower frozen molasses.”

    I’ve been working hard to cultivate patience. I haven’t sent work to publishers or agents in over a year because none of my manuscripts are ready. When I find myself checking the calendar and calculating how soon I might hit my goals, I try to reorient myself and work on writing instead.

    On the few days I really achieve patience, I have a hard time convincing myself I’m not just being lazy. Sometimes I catch myself skipping over an onerous bit of revision because, no matter what, the book isn’t going to be ready for months or years. Why do the hard part now when I could do an easy or fun part instead? I know that’s the wrong way to think. The hard parts are the most important. Fixing my weaknesses will do the most to push me toward my goals.

    On my best days I hit a sort of sweet spot where I’m absorbed in working hard on my writing right now. But most of the time I’m less productive. Do you have any tips on how to hit that sweet spot more often?

  14. What a relief to know I’m not the only impatient one out there! This was the perfect start to the new year for me, Mary. Thank you!!

  15. Patience? Really? More of it? Must I? Sigh.

    A great post full of sage advice that makes me sigh with a sense of recognition and then forces me to click straight back on to my MS. Wha-tish! goes the whip.

    I wonder if there are successful published authors out there who regret having been impatient in the past? Authors whose first books they’d rather had never been published, for example.

  16. Ignoring the clock is something I’m working on right now! It can be hard, especially when you hear about other people’s successes.

    Great post!

  17. This post offered great validation. No matter where we are on the publishing trail, many of the concerns are the same. You critiqued my first five pages, and while I’m glad you didn’t have much to say that was negative, the things you did point out, I totally agree with. I went right to work on addressing them. It shows that writing craft is a continual learning process and no matter how good we think we are, rest assured, we can be better. Thanks Mary. As usual your post hit the spot!

  18. This patience idea came to me when the economy turned even worst. I had to make a choice. Stop writing or keep writing. I decided I would write till the day I died, whether or not I am published. In this economy, I relaxed, and I’m writing more stories than ever before.

    Thank you, Mary!

  19. Wonderful post!

    I think what helps to cultivate patience is to attribute value to the smaller successes along the way. A great sentence, a great paragraph, improving craft, improving ones query letter, making a new writing friend, etc.

    There is so much to miss along the way, in a rush to reach the end goal of publication. If a writer works hard and puts in the words and time, that part will take care of itself, when the time is right.

    My ms will be going on sub to publishers at the end of this week, after ten years of working on craft, two and a half years to secure an agent, and two queried manuscripts.

    I wouldn’t trade the journey — the ups, downs, thrills, excitements, craft break-throughs, growth, writing friends made along the way — ALL OF IT — for just the end goal.

    Here’s hoping 2011 brings all of us those oft-overlooked small successes that add up to big success when we (and our writing) are ready.

  20. Maren Jensen says:

    Mary Mary Mary,

    Thank you! A good reminder. Something I needed to hear. I’m still working and slogging away at perfecting my craft. I keep daydreaming about someday selling this darned manuscript but I need to remind myself that I’m not ready yet. And really, that’s a good thing. It’s safer and more fun to just write and focus on the story and honing the skills to tell it well. The business side of this business is scary to me. I know I’m not ready for it. I don’t want to jump in before I’m ready.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog and all the great things I’ve learned from you.

  21. Yes…wonderful post! The impatience can sometimes be paralyzing. Patience (and more of it) will serve a writer, and really anyone, well.

  22. Chelsea Pitcher says:

    Great post, Mary! A few months ago I got so bogged down thinking about edits-to-come that my story ideas just dried up. Then I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time, purely as a writing exercise, and it really got the juices flowing.

    When I was just writing for myself the story poured out of me, and I remembered why I write in the first place: I love it. Everything else will happen when it happens. Until then, I’ll be reading and writing until my hands go numb and my eyes start to blur.


  23. As always, another awesome post! Patience is def needed. Your clients are very lucky to have you, Mary. Keep up the good work!

  24. Great post. I love your description of publishing as slower than frozen molasses. Too true! Even when it doesn’t feel that way, it’s true.

    Thanks for the pep talk. Just write, and don’t worry about the rest. Good advice.

  25. This post was really helpful. I thought once I finished the 5th draft of my novel and all of the art for my website, that I would be done, but I realize now, we are never truly done. Gotta keep on honing the craft while slowly building an audience.
    Thanks Mary!!!

  26. Jen Zeman says:

    Thanks Mary for another incredibly useful post! I love how clear and to-the-point you are in all your postings. Happy new year!

  27. Brenda Ferber says:

    Wonderful words of wisdom!

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