How long does it usually take to get published by a traditional publisher? The answer is two years – on average. Let me qualify that. This is not two years from when you begin your book. This is two years from when you have secured an agent and publisher. In the age of instant coffee and Instagram, one might ask, “Why does it take so long?”
Well, when you add up the time it takes to negotiate a deal, edit the book, work with the author, prepare a marketing plan, schedule promotions, place the book into production, and deliver it to distribution, your congressman is running for re-election; your eighth grader is now in high school; the summer Olympics have turned to winter; your car has had eight oil changes; and you are two years older still waiting to see your book in print. It’s just the reality of book publishing.
This may be the biggest reason why so many writers choose to self-publish. It was the reason I chose to do so. Self-publishing my book took one day to format (my manuscript) and just minutes to put it up on Amazon KDP. One day. Hmmmm, two years or one day? Hold on. Is the time to put a book into print a fair comparison for choosing a type of publishing?
Before we answer that, let’s compare the quick version of getting self-published and the two-year process of traditional publishing with other equally challenging endeavors.
Run a marathon.
I can run a marathon today if I wanted; after all, my daughter runs marathons throughout Europe. I happen to live in the country, fourteen miles from the nearest town. I’ll just lace up the sneaks and jog there and back. Maybe pick up some groceries along the way. Right? Wrong. Without the proper training – a process that normally takes two arduous years – I would die.
Be a Nurse.
My neighbor had his tractor hit a ditch and roll over top of him. Ouch. I could have attended to his injuries and recommended proper medical treatments, maybe even tried to reset his dislocated ankle and shoulder. Easy, right? Wrong. Without an associate’s degree in nursing and lots of training, another two-year venture, my would-be patient might have died. Okay, my patient would have died.
Play the piano with two hands.
I can sit at the piano and bang on the keys in an attempt to play Clare de Lune, but unless I train for around two years, the resulting sounds would, well, you get the picture. I would probably die with your hands around my throat.
A lot of dying going on in these examples, but I think you get my point.
When you consider what a self-publishing writer looking for a shortcut to publishing has to do after they put their book up on Amazon KDP to create sales, it is a scary, frustrating, sleepless-nights and lonely days, super expensive ordeal. The faint of heart need not apply. At least self-publishing won’t kill you. Will it?
In terms of generating income, the same outcome happens to nearly ever book that is self-published. They die on the vine because most writers, myself included, do not have the expertise, the clout, the network of connections, and the machine to have their book succeed in the marketplace. Quick fact: There are over 250,000 titles published by traditional publishers each year and 750,000 titles self-published. When the dollars are counted, 98% of the revenues generated go to the traditionally published titles. In other words, not much money in the DIY, quick, self-publishing route.
This is not said in order to dissuade someone from self-publishing. On the contrary, I champion their cause. But since 76% of writers polled would prefer to publish traditionally, I think the reality of the process needs to be understood from the onset.
Publishing a book to be profitable is a long shot at best. This is why publishers take their time preparing the book and the author. They may publish 100 titles a year with less than ten of them selling more than 30,000 copies. Publishers have to get it right to stay in business.
So when you do find an agent and publisher to move forward with your manuscript, be patient. Follow the expert’s lead. Do the work they ask. You may be able to trim a month or two off, but in reality, expect it to take the whole two years. During that time you may want to read all of Shakespeare’s works; get a pilot’s license; build your own house; or walk across America and back. Or better yet, write a couple more books. They each may take two years of your time just like getting published.