Ask an Editor: Why Does It Take So Long to Publish a Book?

My novel was just accepted for publication (yay!). Why do I have to wait almost two years to see it in print (boo!)?


Those of us who are part of the Swoon Reads community get a lot of instant gratification – we get to read and rate our fave projects immediately. That’s one of the many beauties of Swoon Reads and its online construct.

book black and white

The Swoon Reads community is also many more things to writers – it is a sounding board, critique group, and think tank for revision. Remember that when a Swoon Reads manuscript (or any manuscript, for that matter) is accepted for publication, the real work with the editor begins. After acquisition, the process gets a lot more complicated, with many more steps. Here’s a very overarching rundown of the journey from manuscript to bound book.

Acquisition and scheduling: Your book gets acquired (congrats!), needs no editing (double-congrats!), and moves straight into production. One of the first things your editor and publisher will do is slot it into a publication season. Say this happens today, November 4. The earliest your publisher could prepare and print your book for market is Oct/Nov of next year. And already, that’d be a stretch. Why? Because over a year before your pub date, your publisher has to “position” and launch your book to the publishing team (Sales, Marketing, Publicity). This is usually done as a big meeting, in which editors and publishers present their upcoming books. It’s more difficult than it sounds – I’ve been doing it for a very long time and each time a new launch comes, I start from scratch. There is no template for presenting new books – each new book is different. I can’t – and won’t – repeat a presentation to our team. I believe in the project enough to have acquired it, and Launch is when I prove to our team that the acquisition was smart. Where does the book fit on our list? How much of a platform does the author have? What are some existing books that are comparable to this new project, and what are their sales? What are the “selling points” our team might use to sell the book into accounts? It’s a lot of work, and your editor does it all, for all of the books on her list, at Launch.

Seasonal selling points: If your book has content that makes a certain season potentially better for publication (for example, it’s a story about Christmas, so it should be published on a Fall list), then your editor will take that into consideration as well. Mother’s Day, Back-to-School, Halloween – all the selling opportunities you see at retail throughout the year apply to your book, too.

Editing: Even if your book is ready to go, it must still go through copyediting, which can take up to a month. Copyeditors will correct grammar, punctuation, and continuity issues, among many other things. You need your copyeditor. Your editor needs the copyeditor. Trust me.

But if your editor acquires your book and then takes you through the revision process, your manuscript might not go to copyediting for up to a year. How long it takes depends on how much revision your book needs, and that’s your editor and publisher’s call. Trust me, again, on this one.  Your editor really loves your book and sees its potential if she’s acquired it knowing it needs significant revision. It will take as long as it takes! Recently I wrote about my (very loose) 80/20 rule: If a manuscript is 20% “there” but 80% under-developed, I still may forge ahead because that 20% is Just That Good.

Design and production: After copyediting, your book goes to a designer, who will show a suggested page design to your editor and the art director. Sometimes book design is a slam-dunk; sometimes it takes a few rounds to get the design just right. Same goes for the cover; more on that shortly.

Sales and marketing: All this time, your editor is meeting with colleagues from the sales, marketing and publicity teams to develop a publishing plan for your book. I’ll speak for my house when I say that every book gets a plan. Some books get more than others, that’s true. It might be because there is an opportunity (holidays, themes that are timely, or an author with an existing track record, to name just a few) – but it doesn’t mean that your publisher doesn’t “care” about your book.  When you look on Twitter and see that an author on the same list as you is “getting” more, feel free to ask your editor why, if you are truly concerned, but please be careful of how you handle this information. Remember, it is a team that is determining the plans for all the house’s books – and your team is positioning books based on experience and perspective, not your feelings. If you are truly concerned, then have a look around the Internet and see what other authors are doing to promote their books. Are they part of an authors’ group? Are they working it on Twitter? How are they networking? Reach out and ask them, and you might find that you can work in tandem with your publisher, which is always appreciated.

Cover design: You have probably imagined your book jacket since your novel was a germ of an idea. But once your book is in-house, the title, jacket art, and type design are informed and influenced by many – your editor, the publisher, Sales, Marketing, and Publicity, as well as the art director and creative director. This team brings lots of experience and market/account knowledge to the process. Perhaps they will love your idea for a cover. But maybe not, and if that’s the case, keep an open mind. I WISH I had a buck for every time I had to talk an author off the ledge about her book cover, only to have that author tell me how much she loves it a few months later, after reviewers, accounts, and her book group have all praised it. Seriously.

And remember, Swoon Reads community members can be part of the cover selection process too! We post a variety of possible covers, and your votes decide which one we use.

Sell-in to accounts & review materials: About 6-8 months before your book is published, your publisher’s sales representatives will start to present your book to accounts. Different accounts have different timelines, based on their needs. Many accounts like to see ARCs (advance reading copies) or read manuscripts ahead of ordering, and your publisher needs time to print these. ARCs are also sent to media outlets as part of Publicity’s outreach, and they are sent to reviewers for long-lead review media. This is often a difficult time for authors (and editors, too – I’m just saying) as we wait for reviews, sales estimates and later, final quantities.

Then your book is printed, shipped to a warehouse, and sent out to accounts that have ordered it.  And at some point around this time, you receive a box full of your book from your publisher. It never gets old for me to receive the first copies of a book I’ve edited. I can only imagine how it feels to you!

Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

Have a question for our editors? Let us know in the comments below.

Author spotlight

Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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