A Brief History of Publishing Timelines

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the publishing world moves slowly. Despite our best intentions to be agile and respond to trends in the marketplace, there are just some things you can’t rush. Below is a look at a typical schedule a book goes through from pitch to published.*

*Note that not all books follow this schedule; some can move much faster or much slower, depending on the product.

Manuscript Review: 2-6 weeks. From the time a manuscript hits my inbox to the time I’ve read, responded, and decided to move forward on a title, we’re usually looking at about one month. Sometimes this moves a lot faster, say if I get a submission from an author or agent I’ve worked with in the past or if a pitch is exceptionally intriguing. After I read, I always try to get at least one other opinion on the book from our editorial team to make sure other folks see the potential I do.

Acquisition: 3-6 weeks. If I am ready to pitch a title to the publisher, I present the book to our editorial, marketing, and sales teams separately, thinking about everything from content to publication date to page count to printing costs. This part of the process allows us to think about where the book fits in the overall publishing schedule and how we will make sure it performs in the marketplace.

Macro Editing: 4-8 months**. Once a book has been acquired and the contract signed, we begin the editing process. I always plan on enough time for two “macro” or “developmental” edits focusing on the big picture: character, plot, story arc, etc. This is the most intensive part of the process for the author and for me as we whip the book into publishing shape.

**If the book is a work of nonfiction and the title was acquired based on a book proposal, this timeline can extend even further to allow the author time to write the book.

Copyediting and Typesetting: 4-8 months. Another several months are dedicated to copyediting and proofreading to make sure the manuscript is as clean as possible. During this time period, we will lay out the book, changing from a Microsoft Word document to the typesetting readers are familiar with. We also put together advance copies that can be distributed at events and shows to start folks buzzing about the book.

Cover: 2-4 months (in tandem). The cover is happening behind the scenes during the macro editing and proofing stages. Cover design begins with a braintrust of editors, marketers, and designers before going into the hands of the creative team to produce something beautiful.

Illustrations: 4-12 months (in tandem). If you are working on a picture book, it is likely you will wait close to two years to see the book out in the world. Not only is an editor working to make sure the text is perfect, but a design manager is also checking that the artwork is perfect. The two pieces of the puzzle must complement each other and work together to tell the story, and that’s something that can’t happen overnight.

Marketing/PR: 4-12 months (in tandem). While a book is being edited, illustrated, and printed, the marketing and PR resources are working to make sure the book is being seen by readers, booksellers, librarians, and more. Some marketing campaigns last a year or longer, though most focus on the months just before and after the release of a book.

Printing and Shipping: 2-6 months. A black-and-white novel will only take a matter of weeks to get printed and stocked in a warehouse, but books that are printed overseas (e.g. picture books or highly designed/photographic titles), often take several months to get from Point A to Point B, both in terms of time needed to print and time needed to ship.

Final Tally: 10 months to 2 years. Publishing may not be an industry built on speed, but it is an industry built on craft, and each book turns out for the better when we allow time for that craft to flourish.


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