How Long Will It Take?

One of the most frequent questions I get is, How long?

How long should I wait before following up with an editor on a submission?
If I get an offer from a publisher, how long before they send a contract?
How long until I see my first check?
When will my manuscript be due?
When will I see my book on the shelves?

How long does this process take, anyway?

Unfortunately the answer is usually something along the lines of, “An excruciatingly long time.” It varies according to who you’re dealing with and many other factors. I’ll try to offer a few hints.

  • When dealing with agents and wondering when to follow up, check their submission guidelines. They sometimes give you a clue about when to check back after submitting. It could be anywhere from several weeks to several months. If they don’t offer any advice, I think it’s reasonable to check back every couple of months until you hear something definitive. Also, note that some agencies have a policy of only responding if it’s positive, i.e. “If you don’t hear from us after three months, consider it a no.”
  • Offer-to-contract timeframe also varies from about a month to a couple months or more. I’ve heard authors and agents complaining lately about how long it takes to get a contract. This is usually from the big New York houses (and their subsidiaries) whose red-tape seems to take forever.
  • If your contract specifies an advance, you’ll usually get your first check about 30 days after the contract is fully executed (meaning, signed by all required parties). You may receive your advance in thirds: 1/3 on contract signing, 1/3 when you deliver the final edited manuscript, and the remainder when your book is published. Or you may receive it in halves: 1/2 on signing, and 1/2 on delivery of final edited manuscript.
  • Manuscript due dates can vary from “upon contract” if your book is complete, to six months or more after contract.
  • And the big question, When will my book be on shelves? This is a tough one. Lead times are often a year or more. Big publishers are currently contracting books 12 to 24 months ahead of anticipated release.

So as you can tell, the answer to “How long will it take?” varies. The only definitive answer I can offer is “probably longer than you want.”

Have you experienced any frustrations with how long things take in publishing?

Photo by Aron on Unsplash

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. 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!

8 Comments

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  2. Pat Iacuzzi on August 24, 2018 at 11:36 AM

    PTL for agents! The fine points on the business end of getting a book published are complicated and time consuming. Glad I write for the joy of it. Thanks for this information, Rachelle; appreciate your experience.



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  7. Tiffany Stuart on February 25, 2008 at 11:20 AM

    >That’s why it’s so important to write from our passion. Because if we don’t how are we going to market our book a year or eighteeen months later?

    If it’s not our favorite thing, we might be tempted to let our new release set to the back burner. I believe the fire is just getting started when the book hits the shelves.

    As writers, we have to keep the momentum going and passion is the key for me.

    It’ll carry me through when the waiting and writing seems so long and hard.



  8. Nancy I. Sanders on February 25, 2008 at 1:17 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle, for sharing some of the inside scoop! It’s interesting to also note the difference between royalty contracts and work-for-hire contracts. My picture book (royalty contract) which I wrote 3 years ago recently hit the shelves but I probably won’t see a check for that for a year or so until the advance is paid up. But I just finished a work-for-hire book this month and the contract says I’ll get paid in 30 days. I guess this is why some authors like to have a balance of both kinds of contracts so they can get actual cash in their hands while they’re waiting for the royalties to kick in.



I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

I sell. I negotiate. I coach. I brainstorm.

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