Ask the Agent: A Matter of Time

I always get questions about how long the publishing process takes. Of course, the biggest question is why does it take so long? My answer: it just does. There are a lot of reasons, but even if I tell you the reasons, it won’t change anything. It won’t make you happier about the length of time it takes. So, I’ll skip that for today. However, I’ve recently received a few specific time-related questions from blog readers, so I’ll do my best to answer them.

Amy Storms asked: How long does it typically take an agent to get a contract? From the day you agree to represent a client, until you’ve sold their book.

My answer: First, it depends how much work it will take to get the project ready for submission. This can be a matter of a few days, even up to a year.

Once I actually submit the book… (keeping in mind that I’m a newer agent and I’ve done far fewer deals than most)… the quickest I’ve sold a book is 3½ weeks from submission to offer. The longest took about six months to sell. Occasionally there is a book that takes forever to sell, but the agent believes in it so passionately that they’ll keep pushing it (reworking if necessary) for a year or more until it finally sells. With other books, an agent may do two or three rounds of submissions and follow-up over a period of a few months, and based on the feedback from editors, determine it’s not likely to sell. So they’ll decide to drop the client, or at least the book.

Anonymous asked: How long from signing a contract until my book is on shelves?

My answer: It varies depending on the book and whether it’s a fast-track for some reason, and whether it needs to be released at a certain time of year. But in general publishers seem to be contracting books about 12 – 18 months in advance of publication.

Alexandra asked: Please cover the nitty gritty on contracts/deadlines/etc. What should we expect after we sign a contract? What’s the normal deadline, who decides the deadline, etc.

My answer: I’m not going to cover the entire nitty-gritty on contracts because that would be long and boring and I’d like people to keep reading my blog. (Chip does a great job of covering contract questions on his blog, and he’s funny so it’s not quite so boring.) But I can discuss deadlines. Again, like all these time-related questions, it depends. Is your manuscript complete? If not, how much time will it take you to complete it? Does the publisher need it soon, or is the schedule more leisurely?

If you have a completed manuscript, your deadline will probably be around the time you sign your contract. If you have a non-fiction book that was sold on the basis of a proposal, then you may have anywhere from 4 to 8 months to complete it, possibly up to a year. The publisher decides the deadline, but the author/agent tells the publisher right up front (in the proposal) when they can deliver it. So really, author and publisher decide together. Typical is six months.

Ralene asked: Why can’t there be more hours in the day?

My answer: Because then we would all try to cram even more stuff into each day, and we’d be in the same place we are now. Plus we’d be more tired.

A few questions I won’t be answering today:
…but what if I really need the money, will the publisher push up the release date?
…how long does it take for my book to be turned into a movie?
…my book is twelve zillion pages long, will it take longer to edit my book?
…how long between thinking of a book idea and finding the book in the bargain bin?
…what am I thinking right now?


Here’s the bottom line: It’s impossible to give an accurate generalized answer on all these questions of time. Everybody’s situation is different. You may deliver your book the day after you sign your contract. Then again, Tom Wolfe took ten years to deliver his book A Man in Full. I’ve tried to give you some ballpark answers here, but don’t try to take them to the bank.

If you’re interested in more non-answers to the time question, check out this post I wrote a year ago on “How Long?”

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Anonymous on March 8, 2009 at 11:03 PM

    >I will leave this anonymus

    Does age matter in publishing a book
    If so how

  2. J. Mayhew on February 11, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    >thank you for posting those answers! i’m about to start contacting literary agencies and i was wondering how long it would take from ‘agent query’ to ‘i’m published!’
    very informative 🙂

  3. Anonymous on February 10, 2009 at 10:05 PM

    >nice bass. what it weigh? I wonder if Mrs. Gardner goes fishing.

  4. Travis Erwin on February 10, 2009 at 4:45 PM

    >And I do read the biz nuggets here as well.

  5. Amber Lynn Argyle on February 10, 2009 at 3:35 PM

    >So . . . My MS was submitted the first of Oct., and I’ve only had one rejection. What does that mean?

  6. T. Anne on February 10, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    >I have manuscripts as old as 10 years. I query in spurts but mostly I enjoy the art of writing.

    your post today clearly paints a realistic picture of the writing profession for those fortunate enough to have found representation. Anyone interested in becoming an author should consider the hard work and lengthy publishing process.

    For me it almost doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t stop writing therefore God willing, this will be a lifelong process for me.

  7. Rachel Overton on February 10, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    >Oh! I missed your quirky little “Rachelle Gardner is–” tagline today. Maybe we should help her out, guys? Let’s see…

    Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent who freely and generously shares her knowledge and experience with both humor and patience.

    (I’m not quirky, just grateful!)

  8. Mindy Obenhaus on February 10, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    >Wonderful post, Rachelle. Thanks for taking the time to share you insight.

  9. Dara on February 10, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    >Thanks for another great post!

    I knew the process takes awhile, so I’d just be happy if my book got published by the time I turn 30 (I’ve got five years…lol).

  10. Yvonne on February 10, 2009 at 10:06 AM

    >Yes, Timothy, I’m learning that too! Send something away and forget it. If something happens, good!

  11. Timothy Fish on February 10, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    >A watched pot never boils.

    If all we’re doing is sitting around waiting for other people to do something with our book it will seem like it takes forever. It’s best to do whatever we need to do to pass our work off to the next person and forget about it. They’ll tell us if they need us to do more. In the mean time, we move on to the next project as if the other one doesn’t even exist.

  12. Julie Poplawski on February 10, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    >Ohhhh, It’s the same with Fiction and Non-fiction, right? I am going to jump into your older posts now thank you so much!

  13. lynnrush on February 10, 2009 at 9:56 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle.

    It’s a long haul, no matter what, but let’s enjoy the ride.

    Heck yeah, I’ll play some scrabble, Yvonne. And you’re right, Sharon, Twitter and FaceBook DO help pass the time **smile**

    Great post today!!

  14. Sharon A. Lavy on February 10, 2009 at 9:26 AM

    >Get involved with twitter and facebook. It keeps the waiting managable. 😉

  15. Yvonne on February 10, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >So…anyone up for a game of Scrabble while we’re waiting?

  16. Sharon A. Lavy on February 10, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    >So I should quit being jealous of Colleen Coble and just do the best I can? 😉

  17. Andrew on February 10, 2009 at 2:08 AM

    >Nice to know that writing will teach me the virtue of patience!

    As an analogue, it took me three years to get an academic job after getting my doctorate, while some of my friends stepped directly into their positions. learning not to judge myself against others was hard, and I am having to re-learn this while coming to grips with this trade.

    Maybe the ‘judging oneself’ thing is a lesson – a different take on ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’?