Sometimes when I do school visits, I will ask kids how long they think it takes to write and publish a book. I’ve heard responses ranging from two months, to five years. The good news is, it doesn’t often take five years – but sometimes it can be that long depending on the book. Truthfully, once you’ve finished writing a book, you can expect it to take anywhere from one to three years to see it in print. There are a lot of factors that go into this timeline. For example, the book has to be accepted by a publisher, and that can take a very long time. The shortest time in my personal experience is three months, the longest is three years.
This timing also includes the publisher’s calendar. Again, the shortest time from acceptance to release in my personal experience was six months; the longest has been two years. There are other variables, too, such as what the market is doing, what type of publisher you are using, or whether or not you are using an agent. All of these things will make a difference.
One of the most important skills to develop if you want to be a writer is patience.
This is one of the most first lessons that I teach in any of my workshops. Not only does the publishing world take time, but you can’t control almost all of the factors involved in that timeline. The only thing you can control is what you submit and to whom you submit it. One of my novels was submitted, and after collecting about 30 rejections (probably more, I tend to block those things out), I decided to work on revisions. About a year after I submitted it for the first round, I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to buy the work. The editor hadn’t even seen the revisions – the publisher had been holding the original manuscript for over about a year and had just gotten to reading it.
Another lesson is to keep writing. Most of the writers I know are working on two or three manuscripts at a time. It isn’t because we have ADHD – in fact, that would make it quite hard to focus on writing at all. It’s because the first book you write may not be the first book you sell. The first book(s) I sold were my nonfiction series HEY, RANGER. But I had written at least four other complete manuscripts (and untold numbers of incomplete ones) prior to getting that contract.
Even the first novel I sold was not the first novel I had written. The danger here is that, if you launch into another project, it often becomes an excuse for not finishing one you are struggling with (see my previously mentioned untold numbers comment). Traditional publishers will ask for anything between one month to six months once they’ve received your manuscript to give them time to sort through the hundreds or thousands of others that came in before yours. Even with the new e-publishers, it can take 30 to 60 days before you receive a response (and I recently read the submission guidelines of an e-publisher who said to allow eight to twelve weeks). If all you do is sit around waiting, checking your inbox, and fretting over responses you haven’t received, you will go nuts in a very short time.
Another part of the publishing world is editing. No matter how perfect you think your story is, your editor is going to find things that you didn’t see, and will recommend changes.
Right here is where many writers choose to part company with traditional publishing and opt for self-publishing. Some – though clearly NOT all – of these writers believe that an editor will just try to rewrite their story for his or her own purposes. These writers are so in love with their own words that they can’t bear the thought of anyone making even the slightest change. The truth is that editors just want to help you tighten your story, make it more compelling and interesting to readers, and therefore, make it a better selling book. An editor’s primary focus is making sure that the product that publisher puts out is as finely crafted as a diamond ring from Tiffany’s. Some writers choose self-publishing for other reasons, but that’s a topic for another blog.
The last thing about the publishing world is that they operate on budgets. When it’s time for your book to be released, your publisher will do what it can to promote your work. They have a vested interest in seeing your book do well. But unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson or Janet Evanovich, the likelihood of your book getting a million dollar ad campaign is pretty slim. Every publisher is a little different in what they are willing to do, so you should be willing to ask about this in advance of your book being published. Anything they are willing to do (such as bookmarks, posters, postcards, etc.) will need to be scheduled early on. If you wait until the book is about to be released, it will be too late. You will also need to be willing to do some work yourself. Social networking, emails, postcard mailings, contacting local bookstores, and other activities are something you can do at a minimal cost. I sign up for book fairs at schools, offer to speak to writing groups, and take just about any opportunity to get my name and the name of my books out to the public. For several years I even judged a high school poetry slam!
These are just some fundamentals, and again, they are based on my personal experience. I have worked with seven different publishers throughout my writing career, but I don’t claim to know every detail about every publisher. This industry changes constantly (when I started, snail mail was the only way to submit and now the majority of publishers prefer email), and anyone who wants to be successful in this weird and wonderful business needs to learn what he or she can about targeting publishers, crafting and fine-tuning a manuscript, and surviving the wait until the next sale.