Why Does Publishing a Book Take So Long?

January 31, 2021

I've got good news and bad news.

The Good News:

It's official!

My next book, The Book That Almost Rhymed, has been signed by Dial Books for Young Readers!

Dial is part of Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., and I couldn't be happier to have landed with them!

(Fun fact: Dial published The Book With No Pictures, by B.J. Novak from the Office. This guy --->)

(Can you tell that I'm missing when The Office was on Netflix?)

And the book is due to come out...

(cue the bad news)

in spring 2023.

But that's like... in the future.

So, what's the deal? Why does publishing a book take so long?

I've gotten this question many times since the announcement, and figured it needed its own dedicated response.

I'll do my best to shed some light on the publishing timeline, and why it can take 2-3 years to publish a picture book.

The Publisher's Release Schedule

First, we have to understand the publisher's perspective. It turns out, publishers slate books for seasonal release batches. (For instance: summer 2021, fall 2021, winter 2022, etc...) Publishers typically only publish 10-15 books in each season. This ensures each book receives its own dedicated focus for marketing, sales, production, etc.. Also, it ensures that publishers aren't publishing two similar books that will detract from each other. This is one reason why it can be so difficult to get a book accepted by a publisher.

These seasonal schedules are generally planned 2-3 years ahead of time to accommodate all the work that goes into producing a book. Here's why:

The Timeline

I'll explain the timeline with the very pertinent example of my experience with The Book That Almost Rhymed.

I had the idea for The Book That Almost Rhymed in June 2020. Let's say that's the start of this process.

I completed a first draft in July 2020, and went back and forth with my agent for a couple weeks to refine it for submission. We completed our edits and submitted to publishers at the end of July.

In August, we received competing offers and underwent negotiations to find the final home for our story. At the end of August, we came to an agreement with Jessica Garrison at Dial.

The offer required some major edits to the story - almost a complete rewrite! I spent September and November going back and forth with Jessica to refine the story.

(Side note: I'm so thankful for Jessica's vision for the story. Despite going through a complete rewrite, the heart of the story remains the same, and it is MUCH stronger now.)

During that revision time, another process was ongoing. Although the negotiations had already been made in August, the contract had to be put together and signed. My agent worked with Jessica to construct the contract. The major aspects of the contract had remained the same, but some minor sub-rights had been negotiated. Ultimately, the contract was ready to sign in December, after the revisions had been completed.

During this time, Jessica and the Dial team were working to sign an illustrator. We had our sights set on Hatem Aly, and he ultimately signed in late December.

That brings us to 2021. (Remember: This already encompasses 6 months since the first draft of the story was complete.)

Hatem is an excellent artist with a busy portfolio. (He deserves his own highlight article. I'll save my glowing praise until then.)

So, we needed to make some accommodations for his timeline. He wouldn't be able to start on the illustrations until August 2021, and he'll have about 4-6 months to complete them, putting us around January 2022 for the completion of the illustrations.

But, if the story and illustrations are done by January 2022... then what?

Well, publishers need to begin marketing before the book launches. Dial likes to have their books essentially completed one year before the official launch. Why? This allows time for the book to receive reviews and be entered for annual awards and competitions.

You know how books often include reviews on the covers? Prominent reviewers receive books as a stapled proof before the final publication. This allows the publisher to get back a few reviews and incorporate the ones they like into the final production release.

Reviewers have a huge backlog of books, and may take up to 6 months to get through their backlog and provide a review.

(If you think that's a long time, consider what this backlog includes: Reading and reviewing TONS of books. I'm lucky if I read even two books in a year...)

Add in some time for layout, additional final edits, production, distribution, marketing, and other aspects, and voila, the 2-3 year timeline is complete.

You may notice there's a lot of downtime for the author after initial delivery of the manuscript. So, what is there to do in all that time?

Get a head start on that next book!

There's nothing you can do to speed up that timeline besides starting early and keeping the pipeline full!

Are you surprised by the long timeline for publishing a book? What part surprises you the most? Leave a comment!