How Long Does it Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

I know of one major publisher that can move from making an offer on a book proposal thru the contract process to sending the advance paycheck in a little more than 30 days. But that is the exception.

In one case we accepted an offer for a client’s book. Two full months later the paperwork for the contract was created by the publisher. There were errors in the contract that needed to be discussed, negotiated, and revised…add another six weeks. Yet another month went by before an advance payment was received. From acceptance of a deal to paycheck was 4 1/2 months.

What is average?

In my experience:

From idea to book proposal to your literary agent: 1-3 months
From agent to editor and book contract offer: 2-5 months
From contract offer to first paycheck: 2-3 months
From contract to delivery of manuscript to editor: 3-9 months (sometimes longer)
(From delivery of manuscript to editor actually working on it: 2-5 months)
From editor to publication: 9-12 months

Total time from idea to print: approximately 2 years

Your mileage may vary.

What has been your experience? Please do not mention specific publishers, agents, or editors by name. The industry changes every month and what may have been a challenge may no longer be the case.

51 Responses to How Long Does it Take to Get Published?

  1. Mark Hancock March 8, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Thanks, Steve. Analysis likes this sends me back to my reason for writing. It apparently isn’t for the impulsive. It is an adult activity that must be driven by something bigger than our impatience.

  2. Darby Karchut March 8, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    Yup, two years. From the day I started writing my first novel to signed publishing contract was eleven months. Then 12 months from signed contract to launch date. Slow AND slower is the name of the game, eh?

  3. Jim Rubart March 8, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    When I first dipped my toe into the pub world people told me the process was glacial. I thought they were kidding. Turns out they were optimists.

    In my case it was almost two years from getting the Deal Point Memo (the initial written offer)to seeing my novel on the shelves.

  4. Suzanne Johnson March 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Two years, four months from offer to launch. I like to say I could have hand-printed them and delivered the books by pack-mule faster!

  5. Teena Myers March 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    A friend waited one and a half years for the publisher to say yes, it will be another year before she sees it in print. I gave my manuscript and proposal to my agent last November. He thanked me for my patience in advance. I can’t complain. People have waited as long as nine months for me to write a 1,500 word article about their ministry. This is an industry that moves as slow as molasses running uphill.

  6. Steve Laube March 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    I should probably follow up with a post on WHY it takes so long. There are some very good reasons for it but those reasons tend to barely hold water to a lot of writers.

    The main challenge is the one year from deadline for the finished manuscript to publication. This is most easily categorized under marketing. A publisher cannot and should not start their machinery (cover design, marketing plans, etc.) until they know there will actually be a book. And they won’t know there is a book until it shows up in-house.

    I remember some disasters in the “old days” when the turn around time from delivery to publication was much shorter…and the author failed to deliver on time. In one case a publisher was actually fined by a major chain for failing to deliver a book that the chain had put in their catalog and for which they had run special marketing. The stores lost significant sales because there weren’t any books.

    In some media circles there is a demand for “Advance Reader Copies” (aka the ARC) six to eight months in advance of publication. That way the media outlet can read the book, write the review, and have it published at a time that coincides with the release of the book. To achieve that it means the book has to be turned in and all editing, cover design, and typesetting has to be a long way toward completion before the ARC can be printed.

  7. Kaye Dacus March 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Not counting the three years I spent writing what would become my first published novel (two of those years in graduate school), it took just over two years from my initial submission to agents to when my book released. I signed with my agent in January 2007, signed the book contract in December 2007, and the book released in December 2008. And that was a manuscript that was already complete and needed little editing and revision, so that year-long wait after signing the contract was based on where the publisher had open slots available in their release schedule.

  8. Katie Ganshert March 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    My book that is due out in 2012 was awaiting pub board for 7 months. The wait was rough, but the end answer was GREAT! And I’m super super excited to be working with this particular publishing house.

  9. Christine Long March 9, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    I am still in the process. Idea to completed story took 2 1/2 months. I’m on the second month of seeking an agent.

    When I started writing seriously eight years ago, I researched the whole process. I’m the type of personality that needs everything planned in advance. I wanted to know what to expect. I believe I have a realistic expectation of the process.

    Thank you for breaking it down into simplified numbers. I look forward to the time when I can proceed to the next steps.

  10. Lyn Miller-Lachmann March 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    The time can vary greatly, even for the same publisher. A small press published my last three books. The first, a work-for-hire anthology, took 2 1/2 years, starting from scratch. The second, my adult novel, took 3 1/2 years from acceptance to publication. The third, a YA/adult crossover, took 20 months from acceptance to publication. I think the enthusiasm of the publisher had a lot to do with it. The YA/adult crossover was a lead title for the season, while the other was clearly midlist.

  11. Aimee L. Salter March 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Thanks for putting this together. It’s so great when people who really know the business are willing to give pragmatic and realistic advice about these kinds of things.

    Much appreciated!

    Aimee

  12. JRVogt March 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Irony here. Just posted on how patience is such a big requirement when pursuing publication, and yet how it’s so hard to accept all the waiting that writing requires. It is easier, however, if you go into the process with somewhat realistic expectations. Thanks for the post.

    JRVogt.com
    Write-Strong.com
    @JRVogt

  13. Ann Best March 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    It’s been fifteen months since I signed the contract for my debut memoir, with a small start up publisher; and since so much changed in the industry this past summer, with more people buying ebooks, I’m telling myself this time frame is understandable. (I know that the publisher, with a small staff, had a lot to figure out.) Getting published, as everything else in life that’s a process, requires a LOT of patience!!

  14. Naomi March 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    Contract offer was last April. The completed manuscript was delivered last October. The contract was finalized and signed this week, 11 months later. I’m crossing my fingers that things start moving faster now that the contract is signed.

  15. Alice March 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    My publishing story is a little weird, and I think I’m going to wait to share it until the books are on the shelves.

    Is anyone comfortable sharing the time between first query letter sent and acceptance by an agent? I see agents claim that it is commonly a very long process but I’ve also seen them claim that a good book will be snapped up, and these things don’t jive.

    What says everyone?

    • ben February 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      I began querying in June last year, and got offers starting a month afterwards. I accepted and signed with the agent I’m with in September. I have no idea if this is standard. My sense is it varies hugely, from writer to writer, & there are as many variations as there are writers.

  16. Steve Laube March 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Alice, I can answer for our agency at least. We have a six to eight week turnaround for submissions sent to us following our guidelines. A few times per year I request a full manuscript as a follow-up to the proposal we received. It can take a little longer for the response to the full manuscript simply because we are reading up to 100,000 words instead of 10,000.

    Then I do let it “marinate” while I consider the market and whether this book can push its way onto the publisher’s lists.

    Our client Ginny Yttrup (her first novel WORDS was just published by B&H Publishing) went through a couple re-writes of that final manuscript before I thought it would succeed.

    So to answer your question, Alice, it can take anywhere from 2-6 months from original query to acceptance by the agent.

    Again, your mileage may vary.

  17. Alice March 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the answer! I do understand that “snapped up” in terms of the literary world is a few months at least.

  18. Michael K. Reynolds March 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I’ve been very blessed in my relatively new writing journey. There have been many successes and still more will be required to keep things moving forward. But I would guestimate that by the time things are where I would want them it will have taken me four years to be an “overnight sensation.” Thank the Lord I have another job.

  19. Lisa Hall-Wilson March 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your insight. Much appreciated. I’ve spoken with too many writers at their first conference who expect an agent to stand up and ask to represent them on the spot – or an editor. Knowing the realities of the industry helps to set realistic expectations.

  20. Julie@comehaveapeace March 30, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    These comments are encouraging. I received a response from a publisher that was encouraging, gracious, and specific … but a decline. I’ve had a hard time picking it (My 2nd proposal) up again and knowing what to do with it. These great comments that tell I need to keep pressing on.

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  23. Carrie May 6, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    How about when a publisher says the ms is sound they want to publish, but I hvae to buy the first 1000 copies at 50% off?

    • Steve Laube May 6, 2011 at 8:19 am #

      This is not a traditional publisher. This is a subsidy publisher that is using your money to pay for the print run and production costs. It is a form of self-publishing.

      Traditional publishers do not ask the author to make any sort of personal monetary investment in the production costs.

      You must decide if this is the route you wish to take. But do not expect the book to be on the shelf of bookstores. It may only be listed on various web sites.

  24. Carrie May 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Thank you for the answer. I knew there seemed to be flags at the 1000 books at 50% in my mind, but some I talked to seemed to think it was a fair offer. this is my first attempt to publish anything so I am learning OTJ. I just found your site today and already what I have read has helped greatly. Thank you.

    Carrie

    • Steve Laube May 7, 2011 at 8:50 am #

      At the very least, do your homework. If you can afford to hire a company to package your book professionally (which is what this company is offering) make sure you get bids from a variety of places. A few that I can recommend include ACW Press (www.acwpress.com); Winepress (www.winepresspublishing.com); Intermedia (www.intermediapub.com); and Xulon (www.xulonpress.com). Each of these have a wide range of packages and costs. Draw up a chart to allow yourself to compare and contrast which company is best for you.

      Hope that helps.

  25. jan richman August 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    thanks all for the call for patience! it will be (at least) two years from contract to publication for my small press-published novel. VERY difficult to be patient, but i am trying. cheers!

  26. Joy Avery Melville August 23, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    Thanks, Steve!
    This information has been such a great help before the national ACFW Conference. Expectations are a great tool in the hand of the ‘enemy’ and I find the more expectations I have, whether it be in others (including my dear ones), in processes, in my future, whatever else there is where those flamin’ arrows can blow us out of the “patience-walk” come under that word – EXPECTATIONS – sometimes it’s just better to go in WITHOUT rather than the defeat or discouragement – also flamin’ arrows from you-know-who. I hate giving him the credit of using his name! ;)
    You’ve certainly given me some armor for this conference! Thanks again for a great article!

  27. MLA August 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    You just never know. Here are my two latest projects:

    Book 1: Will be published next month by a small publishing house. I submitted it to them last August, so 13 months from submission to launch.

    Book 2: I just finished round 2 of revisions for a literary agent. So far, it has been 15 months just to this point and it hasn’t even been submitted to an editor yet.

  28. Lem January 30, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Within two years… yeah, I agree. Sometimes, it can be a year if your book really is “that” powerful.

  29. ben February 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    This has been hugely helpful.

  30. Jeremy Akatsa March 23, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Great Help… Great help….

  31. Sadi Sahar June 9, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    It took me six months from the time I began sending queries to the moment an agent asked me for partial submission.

  32. Leon February 17, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I have a question, and this sight seems to be exactly what I was looking for. I sold a novel almost two years ago to a start up publisher (they have only published one novel since, and this person works for the company). The contracted two years is almost up and now they are offering me another contract with absolutely no time frame as to when my book will be out. They say they need time, and I need to work on it more, but they haven’t asked me to do any major changes in half a year.

    The original editor told me it was 95% finished, but now another editor is editing the first editor and he believes it is only 80% finished.

    I have a really bad feeling about this and I think I should just let the time pass and take everything back, start over again. Anyone out there have anything familiar? I know everything takes time but this just seems a little too much.

  33. Jim Ayers May 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    This has been helpful. BUT as the sole provider for my family I am not sure I can continue writing or the publishing process. It not only infringes on my family time, but I must give up oppportunities to make real money. It has become a ficnacial decision.

    I love writing, and developing the story, and rewriting is thrilling too, but my first novel took several years and I have a hard time justifying that.

  34. Jim Ayers May 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Oh…I didn’t see the date on this blog :)

    Well I’m still glad to be a part of a discussion, even though nobody was listening.

    • Jude June 10, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      I was listening Jim, I have just found this site. I am a new author with my first book almost finished and have just begun looking for a literary agent. I have written several other pieces…but when my husband read this one he got all excited and said “Publish this one!” so I am seeking information about how to do that. This site has had a lot of good information on it…even though it is dated 2 years ago, I suspect the information is still valid!

    • Steve Laube June 10, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      The information is still valid for this post. If it were written today I wouldn’t change a thing.

      Steve

      • Jude June 11, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

        Thank you Steve, I am glad to know it is still valid as I sent you the first part of my book earlier this week !

      • Elizabeth October 1, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

        Hi.i was curious of all the same things as I have signed the contract on my first book and I am anxiously waiting. I submitted it in march of 2013, I have chosen the cover and already sent in my 500 word synopsis and about the author. They say it looks like February 1st 2014 it will be published. I’m so excited I hope the second one goes faster after we have already built a rapport.i take it though that published and released are two different things. I sure hope the release is soon after published.

  35. johnathan smog August 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Steve, I’m assuming all of this is for print books … my manuscript just got sent to a very reputable publisher at their request. I have no idea if they will accept it. Should they not, then ePublishing is certainly an option … and I guess the money flows faster … but in trickles … which may or may not turn into a slight stream. Am I right?

  36. Ellie June 12, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    (just found this post but it’s really helpful)
    How does the time from agent to publishing contract shorten if my manuscript (literary fiction novel) is 100% done and already very well edited by peers? Since you said ‘book proposal’ not ‘query letter’, I was wondering if it made things faster if you have a finished manuscript. Also, within traditional publishing, how can I speed things up on my end? Can I get the cover/author blurb and stuff ready? I started sending out agent queries a month ago and am waiting for replies right now. It’s hard but I’m certain I want to take the time to get a good agent and go with a major publishing house.

  37. Peggy Wheeler July 29, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    I sold my first novel to a small, but up and coming publisher, in Australia. That was on May 7th, 2014. I’ve yet to receive a contract. When I contacted him a few weeks back to see if he still wanted the book, his response was “I told you I wanted the book, didn’t I? Of course will publish it.” I said, “You’ll be sending a contract then?” No response. Today, it is July 29th. I’m seriously considering pulling the manuscript. My ex-agent, who unfortunately retired, suggests that I pull it, but I’m not sure if I should given that I have a verbal agreement with the publisher. Would it be unethical for me to pull my manuscript? It’s been nearly three months from his acceptance, yet, no contract…

  38. rosiland blanks September 4, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Hi, I’m a new Author. I’ve been sending out queries, and cover letters on my PB manuscript for over a year. All I’ve got was denial letters from agents. and, I’m still waiting for publishers to respond. I’m starting to second guess my book. I thought in my opinion my book would change some kids lives. I guess my book might not ever get published. I need help staying encouraged. I have my husband record me daily as I open my emails waiting on response to get my reaction when a publisher or agent final says yes.

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