I am asked this question often. The short answer is: there’s no short answer. Part of me wants to say: ‘Please see “How long is a piece of string?” and similar unanswerable questions.’ But I don’t, because I understand: the publishing process is new to most people, and ebook and other digital publishing formats are changing so often that it may as well be new to many in the book trade.
So, usually, I’ll answer with my own questions:
- How much of the book have you written?
- How long do you intend the finished book to be?
- How many authors are involved?
- What number draft is the current draft?
- Do you intend to publish the book for a wide audience (either traditional or self-publishing)?
and the key question:
- You know, writing a book is hard work — are you sure you want to do this?
The answers to these questions help me — and the writer — work out whether the project is ready for editing and they give us a rough guide as to what level of editing might be needed (and I prefer to see a sample of the work to confirm a brief or quote).
A rough guide to timeframes
If pushed, I’ll say that it’s safe to put a year for writing, a year for editing and revisions, and six months to a year for publishing. This seems to be about average for those clients who are lucky enough to take a year off work to write in Bali or some equally idyllic retreat. But if you have to fit in kids, a day job, a partner, or a social life, I’d allow more time — especially for the writing part. Revisions can sometimes be squished into a week or two, but writing requires musing and is more difficult to squeeze into stolen minutes several weeks apart without losing continuity and motivation. That is, if you want your book to be well written. Really good books that win literary awards often take five to seven years to write, and another year from acceptance of manuscript to printing and distribution.
Crazy short publishing timeframes
Having said that, if:book Australia produced a book in 24 hours, and I teach a university publications subject in which the students produce a book in 10 weeks. They solicit submissions in Week 1 and send the anthology to print in Week 10, raising funds to print and launch it on the way. The Tide anthology is known for being a high-stress elective subject, but it gives the students a useful taste of ever-shrinking publishing workflows in the real world, where sometimes the writing has barely finished by the time the manuscript is sent for design and typesetting, never mind the editing. But, as a colleague pointed out when I mentioned that publications subject recently, at least Australian publishing houses don’t have to sell lamingtons to make ends meet (yet).
Some writers enjoy having written much better than the reality of being practising writers, working at the writing and rewriting. But very few writers feel like ‘real’ writers without a book — until there’s a published product, many feel they’re faking it. So, the answer to ‘how long…’ is a bit Zen, I’m afraid to say: as long as it takes.
Of course, if we were playing doublets then the answer to ‘How long does it take to make a book?’ could be ‘Seven.’ Because it takes seven steps: ‘FAKE writer’ to ‘writer with a BOOK’ – like this:
FAKE > LAKE > LACE > LACK > LOCK > LOOK > BOOK
Can you get it in fewer?