So's Your Book Out Yet? - Why It Takes So Long To Publish A Book

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There are certain misconceptions among readers about the publishing industry in general.

Besides the classic lies - that writers are rich (ha!), that writers don't do much, and that writing for children is easier than writing for adults - there's one particular aspect of the whole thing that gets lost in translation, if you will: the amount of time it actually takes.

The following phrases are not the same:

I finished my book!
I have an agent!
We got an offer!
The contracts are signed!
Just got my editorial letter...
Publication date is set!

The problem is that if you don't work in publishing, or you're not a writer, there's no reason you'd know that. For a lot of people, 'I'm getting a book published!' is, essentially, 'I have a book published and it's in shops RIGHT NOW.'

And that leads to incredibly kind and well-intentioned and supportive comments such as: Where can I buy it? How are sales? You had a book published, right? Is it online? Kind slow, isn't it?

The first few times a writer faces off against kindly aunts full of helpful insight, you can demur and mutter apologetically that it's still a work in progress, and in general you get sympathetic nods. When months pass, and they ask again, and all you can do is shrug and apologize again, it starts looking a bit suspect.

Friends can get married and have children in less time than it takes to publish a book.


Why is it all so... slow?

The way people think of books has a lot to do with it, I think. Books are clever - they're a halfway house between art and academics. They exist in authors’ heads, and then you print 'em off and sell them. It's simple and it's lovely.

But books are a business, too. You can still click print, but there's almost certainly a queue. Other books come first, and publishers only have so many editors, designers, marketers, publicists, etc, etc, etc.

Technically, yes, a book could come out in a couple of months - the sudden reprints of JK Rowling's recently uncovered pseudonym proves that - but just because something is technically possible doesn't mean it happens.

From acquisition - the moment a publisher buys a book - to printing and shipping takes, on average, a year and a half - and that's flippin' impressive. If we change analogies, think of books as cars or smart phones - there's so much going on beneath the surface that you don't ever see and could never explain yourself, but it's all there and it all makes it work. Behind an author is a massive team of people who've worked for years to make good books.

What about self publishing? What about ebooks?

Yes, self-publishing is different. It does tend to be faster because that queue of other books doesn't exist. A writer can bump their own book to the top of their to-do list. Why doesn't everyone do that? Mixed reasons. Some people prefer the support of a publisher over the speed of self-publishing. Some people accept that they don't have it in them to do all the work it takes to self publish. Some people, let's be honest, still dislike the stigma of self-publishing.

Time and time alone should never be the major factor in deciding how to tell stories. If traditional or self-publishing is best for you because it's best for you, that's the reason to choose it. Saving a year, or adding a year, simply because of a writer's level of patience seems like a recipe for trouble.

Books take time because they're hard, even when they're fun. It's fine to be confused that it's taking so long for your friend's book to appear - but it's also fine for writers, on occasion, to twitch just a little when you ask where their book is.

After all, good things come to those who write.

Picture: Baelde

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