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How Long Does it take to Publish a Book?

Steps, process, agent lists for specific genres (

The publishing process is a daunting one. Writing a book can be hard, and even once you’ve written the next great American novel, you still need to go through the grueling publishing process. If you’re up to self-publishing, you can take that quick and easy route, but it could be at the cost of widespread acclaim and New York Times interviews.

The traditional publishing timeline is long and slow, and ultimately, your book may change quite a lot; in the very same amount of time, you could write, edit, and self-publish two or three works. Yet with that in mind, getting your book published with a traditional publishing house indeed means recognition, a wider audience, and a professional team.

Though the timeline varies, many say that traditional publishing takes anywhere from twelve months to two years. The average writer intending to publish a manuscript usually has this general timeline:

  1. Writing - 12-18 months

  2. Finding an Agent - (It depends)

  3. Send it Out & Wait - 2-5 months

  4. Editing - 2-3 months

  5. Copy Editing - 4-8 weeks

The time it takes to write a book can vary wildly, though most people say it takes about a year and a half to write, rewrite, and finish drafting your first book. As self-publishing is self-meditated and immediate compared to traditional publishing, the length of the self-publishing process could be a day or a year, it depends on the choice you as your own publisher decide to make. Traditional publishing, on the other hand, can be a much longer and more extensive process.

Publishing a book often takes longer than actually writing it. In general, there are six steps, from start to finish, but the process is inevitably a bit more complicated. If you are mainly interested in traditional publishing with big publishers like HarperCollins and Hachette, or even more medium-sized publishers like Coffee House Press or Copper Canyon Press, you will probably need an agent.

Finding an agent is an entire process in and of itself, and the time is unique for everyone depending on your genre, length, demographic, and just plain luck. Both agents and publishers can take months to respond, so it is important to have a list of possible agents and to be prepared to send a query letter and/or sample to your top choices.

Here’s a list of agents for different genres you may want to investigate:

Literary Fiction (Commercial)

  1. Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, LLC looks for Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Crime, Mystery, Horror, and most Commercial Fiction. Pieces with Humor and Satire, Romance, and Adventure are also welcomed.

  2. Susan Ramer of Don Congdon Associates, Inc. wants an authentic voice, unforgettable characters, and an unpredictably emotional, well-crafted story. She focuses on a smaller selection of subgenres— she’s looking for Commercial Fiction, Women's Fiction, Humor or Satire, and Historical Fiction.

Biography, Self-Help, & other Commercial Non-Fiction

  1. Betsy Amster of Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises is looking for books of almost any non-fiction genre: narrative nonfiction, travelogues, current affairs, psychology, self-help, popular culture, women's issues, history, biography, business, health and medicine, science and technology, parenting, cooking and nutrition, and gardening. She works with both first-time and established writers.

  2. James Schiavone of Schiavone Literary Agency looks for a wide variety of nonfiction genres, including Sports, Religion, Food & Lifestyle, Medical, How-To, Multi-Cultural, Journalism, Spirituality, Self-Help, and even Cookbooks. He is attracted to material of high literary quality and marketability from new authors

Memoirs (Narrative, Business, Journalism & More)

  1. Barbara Lowenstein of Lowenstein Associates is drawn to writers who have a platform and are leading experts in their field, including business, women’s issues, psychology, health, science, and social issues. She is particularly interested in strong new voices.

  2. Laurie Abkemeier of DeFiore and Company only represents non-fiction and is interested in anything fresh & provocative. Right now, she is most interested in narrative nonfiction about remarkable individuals or achievements in the areas of history, sports, science, nature, sociology, and technology.

You can find an agent through, Poets & Writers, or even an AgentMatch service that some publications offer. Once you do find your agent, the hard work begins. Your agent will pitch your work to book publishers in NYC—once some publishers show interest and you choose one, there is a long process of editing, rewriting, and proofreading to finalize your book. In the end, once you lock in the design for your spine, back, and cover, your work can be sent out for pre-sales, reviews, and the initial marketing— it is all done!

So, in general, everyone has a unique process and unique needs, but the process usually spans from a year to a year and a half, writing not included. But now, it is in your hands— good luck with your manuscript!


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