Why does publishing a book take so long?

My mom was the first to ask the question. When I told my parents I had an offer on my book, (after all the screaming and cheering died down) my mom said, “So, will it come out this year?”

She was shocked when I told her that it probably wouldn’t even come out next year. I’ve since found that her reaction is pretty typical. It’s probably the question I get most often: Why is the release date so far away? I mean, you already wrote the book, right?

I can see the wheels turning as people realize that my book sold in early 2015, but won’t be released until early 2017. I can see them wondering if maybe I’m a really slow writer or maybe the editor thinks the book needs so much work that it will take me two whole years to get it right. But I assure you, a two-year lead time is commonplace in publishing. So what takes so long?

Well, it takes a lot of people to make a book and the author is only one of them. There are quite a few stops a book makes between the author’s desk and the bookshelf. Here are some of them.



The editor who bought the book will send an edit letter addressing any changes she thinks would make the book stronger. She’ll look at character arcs and motivations, pacing, etc. And because she has other books she’s working on in various stages of production, it might be several months between selling the book and receiving the edit letter.

The author makes changes and turns in new draft to the editor. There may be some back and forth here and this step can also take a few months.



The next step is for the manuscript to be turned over to a copyeditor, who will look at not only things like commas (oh, Oxford comma, how I loathe thee) and grammatical errors, but will also check for consistency to make sure a characters eyes don’t change color mid-book or that there aren’t three Tuesdays in the same week.

The author makes changes on items she/he agrees with and marks other items as STET (latin for “let it stand.”)


Design and Typesetting

Now that the book is edited and copyedited, it’s time for the production team to decide how the book will actually look on the page. This includes things like layout, font, paper weight, end pages and if there will be any artistic flourishes between scene breaks or at the beginning of chapters. Production also includes cover art and design, which is one of the more anticipated reveals for a new author. (To see your name on a beautifully designed cover–ahhh!)



The editor works on writing copy for the publisher’s seasonal catalog that will be produced months before the book’s release and will hopefully get booksellers excited about placing orders. Big books stores like Barnes & Noble often buy books up to six months before the publication date. Based on the number of orders received, the publisher will decide the size of the print run.


Printing and Distribution 

The book is finally printed and shipped to bookstores! Huzzah!


And keep in mind that this is an extremely simplified timeline. There are lots of smaller steps between each of these larger ones—first pass pages, second pass pages, copies of the book sent to reviewers, soliciting other authors to read and provide blurbs for the front and back covers. The list goes on and on and each of those steps takes time.  So, that’s why the release date is so far away. I can write a book, but it takes a whole army of people to make a book.

Posted in Publishing 101, Writing

One Response to Why does publishing a book take so long?

  1. I get asked this question all the time too. Since I’m with a small press, the time is shorter but it still amazes people that it will take so long. (I’ve even been asked how much money I’ve made so far! Erm, the book isn’t even out yet…) I’m still in the stage of waiting for that first edit letter and it’s been three months since the sale.

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