Exactly How Long Does It Take to Get a Book Published?

Abi Wurdeman
April 20, 2023

How long does it take to get a book published, you ask?

It takes 432 days. 

End of article.

Just kidding

I can’t give you one clear-and-tidy answer, because every publishing experience is different. Several factors influence the publishing timeline, and you, the author, have control over very few of them.

However, “how long does it take to get a book published?” is still a question worth asking. While I can’t give you a set number, I can shed some light on the process. And when you know what lies ahead, you can brace yourself for the long wait.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What to expect in the traditional publishing process
  • How long each step takes on average
  • What you can do to speed things up

Above all, you’ll also learn that publishing a book is an awful get-rich-quick strategy. If you’re going to do this, do it for the love of the craft. Or because you’re looking to get rich slowly (and possibly never).

Still onboard for the long and fascinating road ahead?

Great! Let’s get to sloggin’.

The Publishing Process in a Cute Li’l Nutshell

A stack of multi-colored published books.

In this article, we’re only talking about the timeline for traditional publishing.

Self-publishing gives you a lot more control over your timeline. Sure, you’ll have to occasionally wait on beta readers, editors, and cover designers (and sometimes your own sluggish imagination). But much of the publishing schedule is still in your hands.

Traditional publishing is the path that tends to have writers saying, “For the love of Nancy, how long does it take to get a book published?” That’s because the process looks like this:

  1. You write and edit a book. This is a massive undertaking and completing it leaves you feeling like you’ve just accomplished the unimaginable. You have, but you’ve still got a long way to go.
  2. Next, you have to find an agent. This takes a bit of time, as you’ll soon learn.
  3. Once you have an agent, the agent needs to find you a publisher.
  4. Your publisher has to work with you on edits, deal with the cover and interior design, prepare marketing materials, sell your masterpiece to bookstores, and much more. This takes a minute.
  5. When all that’s done, your book launches and you can look forward to doing it all again for the sequel.

So how long do each of those steps take?

Let’s go one by one.

Writing a Book: One Month to Three Years

A close up of hands typing on a typewriter.

See what I’m talking about? Step one is already going to vary massively from person to person.

If you write fast and are able to put in a few hours each day, you can pound out a first draft in 30-60 days. 

More likely, it’ll take longer than that, especially if:

Sometimes you’ll hear about writers who spend a decade working on a book. Those folks usually take that long because they’ve contracted worldbuilder’s disease (Tolkien). Or they keep picking at that one book between other projects because something’s just not working and it’s going to take a dozen years to figure it out. It happens.

But I’d estimate that most people who squeeze writing time into the gaps of their very full life typically finish a first draft in about six months. Add more time if you’ve got a lot of research to do.

How Can I Speed Things Up?

Before we get into strategies for writing faster, I encourage you to remember this:

The best way to speed up the publishing process is to write a quality book. If you rush the writing and editing part, you’ll end up spending a year querying agents, get nothing but crickets, and have to start all over again.

That said, your first draft doesn’t have to be genius. (In fact, it definitely won’t be.) And there are things you can do to get through this step faster, like:

  • Keep up a daily writing routine
  • If you can, write during the hours when you’re most productive
  • Give yourself a weekend writing retreat
  • Do sprints with Dabble’s free Word Sprints tool
  • Use Dabble’s Goal Tracking feature to stay on pace (You can start a free trial with Dabble here.)
A screenshot of Dabble's goal-setting feature.
Just plug in your goal word count and deadline. Dabble calculates your daily word count and tracks your progress.

Need more ideas? Check out this article on writing hacks

Editing a Book: Two Months to Two Years

You might edit in two months if you’re the type to extensively outline before you write and continuously revise as you go. If that’s you, you’ll probably have a long writing process and a much shorter editing process.

But even if you’re the type to obsess over the details on the front end, be aware that the editing process can present you with time-consuming problems you didn’t anticipate. In fact, that’s almost a guarantee when it comes to your first novel.

You’ll start the editing process by making your own revisions. Once you feel like your manuscript is in decent shape, you’ll share it with a mentor, a coach, critique partners… whoever is on your feedback team.

You can request a turnaround time within reason. But ultimately, you have limited control over how quickly they get back to you. 

Then, when they give you feedback, they might point out a significant issue that escaped your notice. If fixing that issue means rethinking a plot line, eliminating a character, or some other major change, your editing process will get a lot longer.

How Can I Speed Things Up?

Again, your focus should be more on writing a quality book, less on cruising towards publication. However, there are ways to make this process as efficient as possible. You can:

  • Politely request a specific timeframe for feedback
  • Request feedback only from people who can provide relevant, helpful insight. It can be tempting to get as many opinions as possible, but too many perspectives will confuse the heck out of you.
  • Step away from your book for at least a month before you start editing. I know it seems counterintuitive, but this helps you see your work with clearer eyes. Use that time off to get a head-start on ideas for the next novel.

Finding an Agent: Four Months to One Year

Two smiling people sit and talk at conference room table.

You’ve written and revised a slam-bang manuscript. Woo-hoo! Now all you have to do is find an agent.

You do this by sending query letters to agents that seem like a great fit for your work. Researching agents and workshopping your query letter might take a week or so. But the real waiting happens after you’ve sent your query letters out.

An agent might get back to you right away, but it can take as long as eight or nine months. If you’ve queried a ton of agents and haven’t gotten any interest in that time, consider whether your story or query letter could be better.

Now, the goal of a query letter is to get the agent to request the manuscript. This means that when you eventually hear back from an interested agent, you’re still going to have to wait for them to read your novel.

Plan on waiting around three months for them to read it, but know that it could take as long as a year. They’re not trying to be jerks. They’re just balancing a lot of authors and even more novels.

Once an agent is on board, it takes about two weeks to finalize an agreement.

How Can I Speed Things Up?

You can’t pressure an agent to move faster. But you can do a few things on your end to promote a smoother process.

  • Research agents thoroughly to make sure you’re querying reps who are specifically looking for projects like yours.
  • Tell them in the query letter why you think they’re the right fit for your novel.
  • Workshop the heck out of your query letter. Here are some tips to help you write an eye-catcher.

These strategies might help you snag an agent's attention right away and get a faster response.

If you want to work with a small press, you can try to skip this step altogether and query publishers directly. That’s a less conventional (and typically less lucrative) approach, but it’s a valid option. Just know that no legitimate publisher will charge you for publication.

Finding a Publisher: Four to Nine Months

You have an agent! And most likely, that agent has feedback.

That’s right. You’re going to do another round of revisions to get your novel where it needs to be to wow publishers. 

Once you’ve done that, your agent will get to selling. Assuming all goes well, it could take two to five months to get an offer from a publisher. 

But an offer is not a deal. Count on another two to three months for negotiations, drawing up a contract, and getting an advance. (An advance is the money a publisher gives you up front. This is paid against future royalty earnings.)

How Can I Speed Things Up?

There’s not a lot you can do at this phase, but you can:

  • Handle your agent’s requested revisions right away
  • Respond to all communications promptly (and make peace with the fact that your communications may not be met with the same sense of urgency)

Printing and Distributing: Nine Months to Two Years

A person looks at the published books on a bookstore shelf.

Almost there! Sort of!

Your editor is going to have feedback for you. That’s right. We’re revising again! 

Then your publisher will determine where your book fits in their production schedule. They’ll likely schedule your publication date many, many months out. It may even be more than a year.

This long wait may be due to the number of books they have waiting to make their debut in the world. There may be some strategic timing at play in terms of marketing and what’s “hot” right now. Another factor is simply that the publisher has to do all of these things:

  • Edit
  • Proofread
  • Fact-check
  • Make a final decision on the title
  • Design the book’s interior and exterior
  • Write book jacket copy
  • Create marketing materials
  • Distribute ARCs (advanced reader copies) to secure reviews, interviews, and endorsements
  • Pitch your book to booksellers

…and more. They may or may not involve you in these processes. (Big publishers are less likely than small presses to consult with you on these things.)

Your publisher will also probably build in time for something to go wrong.

How Can I Speed Things Up?

There’s not a whole lot you can do at this point. My only advice is to not drag your feet on revisions just because your publication date is eighteen months away. Shifting trends or current events could make your book a hotter product. It’s rare for publishers to rush a new author’s book, but it happens. Be ready. 

So Then How Long Does It Take to Get a Book Published?

If you added up all those estimated timelines, you would conclude that it takes somewhere between 20 months and nine years. Which is an absurd and infuriating answer. 

My advice? Focus on one piece of the process at a time. 

Celebrate each milestone.

Learn to love something about every step.

And when those feel-good platitudes fail you, lean on other writers who totally get your frustration.

You can find those writers in Dabble’s Story Craft Café. This community is free to join and full of your future critique partners, commiserators, and cheerleaders. Come hang out with us!

A screenshot of Dabble's Story Craft Café.

After all, we’re in this messy, joyful slog together.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.