One of the most frequent questions we 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. We’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 we can offer is “probably longer than you want.”

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