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How Long Does It Take To Publish a Book?

My editor Nancy Mercado delivered an orange with her offer for Birthmarked. The fruit is an important symbol in the novel, and one of my reader friends gave me an orange bracelet.

My editor Nancy Mercado delivered an orange with her offer for Birthmarked. The fruit is an important symbol in the novel, and one of my reader friends later gave me an orange bracelet.

I recently received these questions from a thirteen-year-old reader, and others have asked them, too, so here’s my reply.  

By the way, how long does it take to have a book published? What’s the process? As an ambitious writer I would like to know.

How long? I can tell you about publishing a YA novel with a traditional publisher. From the moment I sold Birthmarked to Roaringbrook Press/Macmillan, it took 18 months before it came out in stores. For The Vault of Dreamers, it took 2 years, and from what other YA writers tell me, this 18-24 month time frame is typical. That might seem long, especially compared to the way you could self-publish your book online this afternoon. For first-time authors, eager to have their books out in the world, the wait can feel like forever.

The reason for the 18-24 months has to do with your second question about process. Since you’re asking about the process from a writer’s perspective, let me take it back a step.

First you write a book. (Give that a few weeks, years or decades, depending on how you write.) Then find a literary agent to represent your work. (A week or a few years, depending on how great your book is, and how marketable.) Then your agent needs to sell your book to an editor in a publishing house. (A month to a year, depending on how great your book is, how much your agent wants you to revise, how savvy your agent is,  what editors are looking for, and how long the acquisition process is at the editor’s publishing house.)  

First Pass Pages for Prized

First Pass Pages for Prized

Once the book is bought (a super exciting time), your editor will most likely back-burner it while she deals with her other more pressing deadlines. You might get your first editorial comments 2-4 months later, and the process of revision will continue indefinitely (4 months? A year?) until you and your editor are satisfied with the quality of the book. Meanwhile, your agent will negotiate the details of your contract, and 6-9 months after you sold the book, you’ll sign the contract and receive part of your advance, with the rest due when the book is completed. The novel will go through copy edits (a month), then proofreading (a month), and then first pass pages (a month), which all involve more honing. Then the book is turned over to production (final formatting, printing) and distribution (6 months).

Along the way, you’ll see the cover (always very exciting), which you probably won’t be consulted about, and depending on the marketing plan for the book, advance review copies (ARCs) might be sent to key librarians, booksellers, reviewers, bloggers, and award committees. You’ll do your bit by starting a website and learning how you can connect with readers. You’ll also start writing your next book.

In a nutshell, barring any disasters, that’s how it works. It’s a huge team effort and vastly rewarding.

Good luck with your writing! May it make you happy and take you far.

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