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.