How Long?

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

How long should I wait before following up with an agent 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, β€œAn excruciatingly long time.” It varies according to who you’re dealing with and many other factors. I’ll try to offer a few hints.

8 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.”

8 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.

8 If your contract specifies an advance, you’ll usually get your first check about 30 to 45 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. (And there are many variations to this. I’ll go over it another day.)

8 Manuscript due dates can vary from “upon contract” if your book is complete, to six months or more after contract.

8 And the big question, When will my book be on shelves? Again, this varies, but figure it will be a year to 18 months from contract.

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

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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 24, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    >Good for you, Katherine–bragging, much?

  2. Katherine Jenkins on March 24, 2010 at 12:37 AM

    >I heard it would take years to get an agent, but I got one in a week..a very good one. It was the first agent I queried. My book proposal was submitted last Thursday to 13 large publishing houses. We'll see what happens, but he process has been quicker for me than I expected.

  3. Katrina on March 23, 2010 at 8:08 PM

    >I'm going thru this waiting game myself right now, and think it's mildly hilarious that the thing that took the LEAST amount of time in this whole process, was writing the book. WOW.

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  5. James Scott Bell on March 23, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    >And I'd add, keep writing something else while you wait.

  6. Anonymous on March 23, 2010 at 3:45 PM

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  7. Marla Taviano on March 23, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    >I love waiting. πŸ˜‰

  8. Rachel H. Evans on March 23, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    >I've been really surprised…shocked, actually… by how long the publishing process takes, so I try to warn writers to brace for a lengthy journey. I also tell them it's worth it! πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for being such a great traveling companion, Rachelle!

  9. Mira on March 23, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    >Thanks for laying this all out – helpful.

    Appreciate it –

  10. Raquel Byrnes on March 23, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    >Thanks for the straight talk in both this post and the previous. Sometimes it's hard to understand how much of this business is 'hurry up and wait'. The post about perseverance really encouraged me to just keep writing.

  11. Anonymous on March 23, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    >This sounds like FUN compared to the long agonizing wait for agents to respond to queries and mss. I'd rather get a fast yes or no rather than a slow, drawn-out wait for a rejection. We have busy lives too, you know!

  12. T. Anne on March 23, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    >Very informative thank you. I've only had experience with the query end of things. After several months I usually figure it's a no, but on a few occasions I've received feedback after a full year. It just depends agent to agent.

  13. M. Hockaday on March 23, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    >Thanks for giving us information on this topic- once we all make it to this point (hopefully- cross my fingers) it's good to find out what will happen next. Thanks again!

  14. Shmologna on March 23, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    >Knowing that writing a good novel takes β€œan excruciatingly long time to write," I wouldn't expect less from the process of publishing.

    If you want something done right…

    Thanks for the generous information.

  15. Rachelle on March 23, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    >sharonbially: Yes, I'm referring to the publisher's offer to buy the book. The time that elapses between the offer and the actual receipt of a publishing contract can vary from a few weeks to a few months, depending on numerous factors.

    It wouldn't make any sense to try and quantify anything based on an agent's offer to represent you. Representation is just the start; once you have an agent it could be weeks before you have a publisher offer, or months, or years, or it might not ever happen with that agent.

  16. Chantal Kirkland on March 23, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    >Thanks for sharing–this was a lot more information than I've heard on the subject of 'time' before.

  17. Matt Mikalatos on March 23, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    >From the time my agent started shopping my manuscript to hitting the shelves as an actual book, 15 months went by. And that was a "rush" job, where the publisher did things faster than they would typically do them.

    It was physically painful sometimes (mostly in the 'will someone buy this' section of the process). There's so much going on with editorial and marketing and whatnot after the manuscript is accepted… that part is not quite as excruciating, at least for me.

    Thanks for the great post, Rachelle!

  18. Lauren on March 23, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    >Katie Ganshert wrote a little about this on her blog the other day and one thing she said was that if you don't like waiting you need to find another business. And like I told her, I'm grateful there are people like the two of you who can give us insight, because a year ago I would've had no idea what the process was like, and I think it's a good thing to be aware of when you're looking to get published. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  19. sharonbially on March 23, 2010 at 8:04 AM

    >Rachelle, when you say "from offer to contract," do you mean an offer by an editor to acquire an agented mansuscript? Or do you mean an agent's offer of representation — or something else?

    All very informative, thank you.

  20. Sharon A. Lavy on March 23, 2010 at 7:26 AM

    >Thanks. Appreciated.

  21. Lisa Jordan on March 23, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    >We're a microwave society–we want it now. Thanks for putting this into perspective. πŸ™‚

    Great post!

  22. Krista Phillips on March 23, 2010 at 6:25 AM

    >Great information! Thanks!

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  24. Ellen B on March 23, 2010 at 4:02 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle! And since you mentioned above that you'd talk about how advances are divided, I have a question about that for whenever you decide to tackle the topic πŸ™‚ How does it work for multiple book deals? Is the advance divided between all the books you're contracted for, and then divided into the thirds or halves?

    I don't have multiple books available, I'm just curious!

  25. Kim Kasch on March 23, 2010 at 1:48 AM

    >Enjoy the Journey

    How long will it take
    How much will I make

    Are we there yet?

    When will I know
    How far we must go

    Are we there yet?

    When will I truly arrive
    How will I ever survive

    Are we there yet?

    I’ll put words on the page
    No matter my age

    Are we there yet?

    When does the journey really end
    Of a writer, a parent, or a friend

    We are there – now

  26. Sarah Allen on March 23, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    >Thanks for this! Even though the answer does vary, having the process explained a little bit is relieving. Thank you for helping all of us aspiring writers!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)