How Long to Publish?
A lot of people ask me how long it takes to publish a book – to let it fly into the hands and hearts of readers. I wish I had the definitive answer. Let’s get perspective on the realities and why you might or might not need a traditional publisher.
It took one author with whom I worked a solid 15 years to publish her book because of the book’s complexity and because of the process of the Big 5 publisher to whom she had sold the book deal. Note: We worked together off and on during the critical final four years.
It took Lowell Thing over 25 years to see his book The Street That Built a City to life with Black Dome Press.
A renowned novelist I’ve worked with told me that a novel is often started with a feeling and then another 10 years trying to find the form for that feeling. 10 years is how long it took Anthony Doerr to write his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See.
So, don’t feel bad if it’s taking you a few years to finish or publish your book.
A client of ours will publish her book soon. It will catalyze other ventures and expand her reach. It took less than three years from original rough conception to bring it to publication. Considering the client’s full life and the pauses in between, that length is not bad.
Considering that without the right guidance, know-how, and creative collaboration many books stall for 4, 8 years or indefinitely, that time frame is good.
And when you factor in the level of creative collaboration, editorial guidance, and exquisite design entailed with this project to assure it had integrity and quality as part of her larger brand trajectory, that time frame is downright hard to beat.
Still, if you have the chutzpah and the technology and funds, you could knock out your own book with your own imprint in six weeks.
Here’s a piece to consider: A traditional publisher – whether whether an imprint with the Big 5, a mid-sized publisher (that does about $50-200 million in gross publishing sales annually), a small publisher, or a hybrid publisher – will add anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to your book’s publishing life.
Given that a publisher adds this time to your publishing cycle and will take anywhere from 50-93% or more of book sales, you rightfully should ask what value does a publisher add these days.
How a Publisher Adds Value
Lots of advice people give about self-publishing often is founded with more bias against than real knowledge about the traditional publishing industry (which is difficult admittedly to name as a single entity).
I have no inherent bias against nor for traditional publishing. I have a bias toward empowering knowledge. I would like to correct some of that limited advice by reviewing at least six key ways that publishers traditionally might add value to your book project, and then give you some questions to consider on whether or not you can adequately substitute that value yourself.
The first is the most abstract and difficult for most authors to appreciate, but if you own a business you likely can appreciate the “hidden value” you bring that sometimes not even your employees or contractors can appreciate. That is, capital.
Capital includes a publisher’s financial reserves and resources. They are the ones “investing” capital in you and your project. Traditionally, they assume all or most financial risk.
It also includes all of the people power it can employ on your project – the editors, marketers, partners, and more – that helps a project run as smoothly as possible. It also includes a publisher’s capacity to exploit a book’s intellectual capital for different rights to benefit both the author and the publisher’s interests.
Finally, it includes the prestige capital.
The second area of value is content. Publishers and acquisitions editors build their reputations on identifying potential in a sometimes rough book idea where others miss it. They then are invested in developing the content. This degree of intellectual creativity can be hard to find.
The third area of value relates to quality. This area extends beyond content and includes not only degrees of careful editing but also everything from design to binding to paper to production.
The fourth area of value relates to project management. Depending upon size, a publisher coordinates all persons and internal contracts involved behind the scenes to bring your book out.
The fifth is marketing and publicity. These activities – which among the Big 5 are alone on a multi-month pre-launch schedule – often are intended to build a market of readers. Some larger publishers have developed decades-long relationships with people in national media outlets, too.
The sixth area is distribution. Big 5 and mid-sized and even some small publishers not only get books to the brick-and-mortar stores (beyond amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com); they also can help get bundles to organizations, sell your books to universities, and get your book in library collections.
For almost every area above, the degree of value an author actually benefits from varies radically. I could and will in future articles critique some publishers’ limitations of every single one of these values, depending upon the project and timing and the new story of publishing in the early twenty-first century. But, for now, let’s ask…
Can You Substitute That Value?
When you break down what a traditional publisher – regardless of size and reach and reputation – offers to you, you can start to figure out how or whether you can replace and add certain areas of value yourself.
Capital: Do you have types of capital to outlay for the project? If not, can you hire a team?
Content: Can you hire a team or individuals to give you high-calibre intellectual creativity and collaboration to assure you develop a substantial book?
Quality: Can you hire a team, use a printer, or use a free service such as Create Space to assure a product you will be proud of?
Project Management: Are you a strong project manager – like Dina Falcone was with Foraging and Feasting (the first Kickstarter cookbook to earn more than $100 K) – or will you need to hire a team or project manager to see it through to the end?
Distribution: CreateSpace, Kindle, Smashwords, and LightningSource/Ingram all are changing the distribution game. That said, it’s nearly impossible for a solopreneur or self-published author to compete with Penguin Random House for distribution channels.
Marketing and publicity: Are you building your market now? Are you building and building up an audience by owning your brand and engaging with real value now? Do you have media savvy or connections? Do you know enough about marketing and publicity to launch your book so that sales will satisfy you?
Are you building out your business and brand in a way to leverage your signature assets so that your book sales fuel and complement other sales and revenue streams?
These latter questions, frankly, are questions that can give you a one-up.
Having a true publishing partner can be profoundly satisfying and rewarding. You make yourself valuable by learning how to shape captivating content, having a collaborator’s mindset, and honing a captivating presence that draws an audience before the book comes out.
I hope this field knowledge helps. I want you to win, whatever path to publish you take.