Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, July 21, 2011

How Long It Takes to Sell a Novel

"Vanitas" - Adriaan Coorte
Originally published March 6, 2008. The end of this post is not what I'd say today because you do have a choice. Self-publishing is easier than ever if you don't want to wait for the submission process.

How long does it take to sell a novel?

About that long.

In the last couple of weeks I've received several distressed e-mails from authors who have reputable agents and who have novels out on submission to editors, and really they want to trust their agents and they're trying to be good and non-high maintenance, but seriously could the submission process really take this long?

Yes, it can.

But what if, one of these authors asked, a publisher expressed interest several months ago and then nothing has happened at all. Could they really still be interested? And if they were interested a couple of months ago why in the heck haven't they made an offer already?

Happens all the time.

I always assure these authors to just keep in touch with their agent, be patient, take up knitting, and go easy on the bourbon. Settle in for the long haul. A book might sell in a week or it might sell in a year. You never know.

So why does it take so long for an editor to make a decision anyway? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, it takes a long time to read a book. 6 hours on average, if you are a speed reader (and you'd better be if you're in publishing), and editors receive multiple submissions a day. Do the math and there just aren't enough hours in the day, especially when you already have a full time job while you're not reading. The first major delay is the editor simply sitting down with the book in question for a six hour stretch.

But let's say the editor does read the book, loves it, and wants to make an offer. What then?

Well, unless they are a serious publishing mucky muck, editors have to get approval to make an offer, a process similar to unlocking a nuclear bomb. They have to get it past editorial board, they have to get more reads, these reads have to be good, they have to unlock the failsafe and contact the president to press a button on the nuclear football, the sales team gets a look, some higher up has to sign off on it..... and all of these people have to read the book too. Multiply those six hours by ten, and then maybe the editor gets approval to make an offer of a certain amount.

Now, what's funny about all this is that when there's a hot project all of this goes out the window and people quickly lose their minds and the whole above process can be condensed to a couple of hours. Frankly it's a good thing publishing companies don't actually control our nuclear stockpile -- one whiff of a rock star memoir and bye bye Uzbekistan.

So I know it's terribly frustrating to go months and months looking for an agent and then FINALLY the book gets submitted....... and then wait months and months while you're waiting for editors to read it.

Welcome to publishing. You have no choice but to stay a while.

Image by zullie via Creative Commons






40 comments:

BP said...

Bye bye Uzbekistan *dies laughing* :D This is one my favorite posts on this site...

Suze said...

'I always assure these authors to just keep in touch with their agent, be patient, take up knitting, and go easy on the bourbon.'

Cute.

Valerie Rieker said...

I love the picture you paired with this post. Chance and time. ^_^

Bryce Daniels said...

"Rome wasn't built in a day." Apologies to the very wise person who penned these words.

Of course, I'd be happy with a small bedroom community of around 1000 people.

Josin L. McQuein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Kate Leahy said...

great post :) I didn't realize how many hoops the editor has to jump through. Very informative.

Laurapoet said...

This is good advice! With all those six hour time intervals and separate opinions, it makes you wonder how anything gets published...

D.G. Hudson said...

Even though we expect instant gratification on everything internet, due to our short fiction attention span, there are some things that can't be hurried.

We do have alternatives now, but most of us want to try the trad route first. If that doesn't pan out, then I'll look at other options.

Guess we writers need reality checks every now and then.

Cathy Yardley said...

Love this. I've had a novel with a big trad publisher for a while now, and it's been dragging... I've been lucky with other publishers who got to know me and had (or seemed to have -- I may be remembering this too fondly) a quicker turnaround. This will remind me to chill. Needed this!

suzy vitello said...

As an author in that very position (trying terribly hard to be patient), this is useful. Thanks for the post.

Ishta Mercurio said...

LOL! Yeah...

At the same time, even though we do have the choice to self-publish, I think people who go that route because they "don't want to wait anymore" are more susceptible to to the pie-in-the-sky idea that you write a book, you publish your book, and BAM! You're a literary rock star! When actually, as Amanda Hocking has said, marketing that self-published book is basically a 40-hr-a-week job. And that's assuming your book has been edited and revised to its full potential. Which, again, people who "just don't want to wait anymore" maybe haven't done.

Some self-published books are great! Some of them are truly awesome books. But I think the argument that self-publishing is a good option because it's faster is a poor one.

Anita Saxena said...

Like you said, some get it easy, and some must learn the virtue of patience.

Mira said...

This is a funny and well written post.

It still strikes me how old school the publishing industry, though. Seems like this system could be streamlined.

You know, this is more in response to something Ishta said, but I think it's important to mention that not all people who plan to self-publish do so because they don't want to wait or they are tired of having their queries rejected.

For example, although I certainly recognize the talent of the people working in publishing, I don't like how the system works or the low royalty rates. I won't go that route at all when I'm ready to publish. I am positive of that, not a hesitant bone in my body. I will never submit a query letter - self-publishing is a better road for me.

That's not to say that I have a problem with those who prefer traditional publishing. Rather, I 'm mentioning that there are many reasons why people might choose a different route.

Kelli said...

OK, this might seem like a silly question when compared to this post. What if your book contains current trendy type things, like mentioning Twitter? When I started my book, G+ wasn't even thought of yet. Should you avoid references to those kinds of trendy things or just add them anyway and potentially be forced to re-write those portions?

Lexi said...

Publishing has a monopoly on distribution to bricks and mortar bookshops, and until recently, this was the only game in town.

Monopolies engender bad habits. I remember back in the 80s when British Telecom was the only place to get your phone, it took up to two years to get a phoneline installed in central London.

With no competition, publishers could afford to be as leisurely as they liked. Thank goodness times are changing.

Darley said...

I always figured an author would be looking at about two years from the point they sign with an agent to when they could expect to see their book on a shelf, assuming it's ultimately picked up by a publisher.

I can see, after reading this post, how that estimate is about right. Unless you've written something which touches on a current trend then the publisher might want to push it through while the subject is still buzzing.

But that doesn't mean I want to see another book about the stalled economy though.

jesse said...

I think I will be patient and go easy on the bourbon. The scotch and the vodka may not be as lucky.

Carrie Filetti said...

I so needed to read this. Thanks, Nathan. You have given me the answer I needed. :)

mmshaunakelley said...

This outlines one of the true advantages (sometimes) of a small press. They can make a decision faster.

That said, you've got one or two editors digging through 100 submissions a week, so getting that 6 hours may be a bigger issue.

Lost in London said...

Perfect timing - amazing. It's exactly where I am and the wait is driving me slowly insane! Your post may not have cured my impatience but it's definitely helped. Thank you!

Roger Floyd said...

Instead of sitting around knitting or drinking or whatever while waiting for a publisher to make an offer, use the time productively. Start another novel, or write short stories or poetry. Send out another manuscript. Start the research for the sequel. It doesn't have to be a down time, it can be as productive as when you were writing the original book. Once you've sent the book off, you know it's going to take some time, i.e., months, so don't sweat it. Do something else.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Perfect timing on this post, Nathan - thank you! I have a novel out via my agent right now, and I can just feel the marbles slowly rolling out of my ears. I'm going crazy with the wait! Oh why couldn't I have been named Madonna or P-Ditty or... whoever is hot right now?
e

Cat Wisdom 101 said...

I'm in that slow boat. Thanks lending me your ear, or oar.

Silke said...

LOL.
My boss, my friends, my family...they all ask that question.
My standard answer tends to be:
"How long is a piece of string?"

Angela Brown said...

Self-publishing and going the tradional route both have their pros and cons. I appreciate this post because no matter which route you choose, things will feel smoother when patience is used, especially given the enlightening information shared regarding the 'why' behind the time taken to get that 'big deal'.

Thanks for the post.

Laura Pauling said...

It definitely takes time, for sure. I've gotten extremely good at waiting! :)

Simon Haynes said...

Just try writing science fiction humour and see where that takes you ...

Ishta Mercurio said...

In response to Mira, I hope I didn't come across as saying that people who self-publish do it because they're too impatient for the trad route. I didn't mean that at all - I know of many people who are self-pubbing for other reasons, such as wanting more control over their work, or wanting a bigger cut of the sale price.

But I also know a few who are doing it, or are considering doing it, because they want their book out sooner rather than later. And I just don't think that's a good reason.

Mira said...

Ishta - thanks! I'm sorry - I hope you didn't think I was critisizing you or anything. It's just that I've heard many people say something like: people are only self-publishing because they can't hack/weren't accepted by traditional publishing, and I felt I wanted to put forth another viewpoint. But I see that you already know that, so never mind. :)

Lex said...

Great article that reaffirmed my decision to go with self publishing. After several agent responses that indicated they liked the writing and the premise, and a few more that said they loved it but simply couldn't take on another new author or the book didn't fit into their current interests; I literally said to myself, "Screw this crap!" No, actually I used the "F" and the "S" word and pretty much screamed aloud.

There are a lot of drawbacks to be sure. A lot. Marketing / promotion is HARD work; but the really, really hard part is getting past the snobbery of booksellers and book reviewers towards POD books.

I had no idea! Well...live and learn, right? Where there's a will, there's a way, right? Yes, sir and madam, there is.

Lex said...

I recently purchased a MAC Pro. It's taking some getting used to, especially the touch pad. Previous post went off before I wanted it to...:o(.

The link in this post works (I hope).

Anna Banks said...

Ha ha, Lex, we forgive you! :) I really needed this Nathan. No one throw tomatoes at me, but my debut sold within two weeks of submission. But NOW we're in the foreign rights world and...I know I was spoiled with the absence of a wait from US publishers but...well...it's driving me nuts!

Now I can just tell myself to "Simmer down, skillet!"

Tegan Allen said...

Excellent post, Nathan! Publishing Gods have mercy on me when I hit your desks, because I lack that little talent called patience.

Carol Riggs said...

Thanks for the informative post! Gah, good to know as I approach going on sub. Sigh. I think the BEST thing to do rather than taking up knitting, however, is to start another novel! ;o)

Kelle Z Riley said...

I agree that this is a timely post for me. I've been in the cycle of writing, submitting, waiting; writing while waiting; submitting another novel while waiting; waiting some more . . .repeat as necessary. You get the picture. At least when an offer finally does come, I'll have lots of other manuscripts to show that very savvy editor who fell in love with my work!

Seriously, it is an eye-opener to learn all of the stages most submissions go through.

Thanks, Nathan for a helpful post.

LTM said...

was referred here by a bloggie buddy. Thanks, Nathan. Needed this right about now. Although, I confess, I'd sacrifice Uzbekistan to hear something right about now. Sorry, Ubes. ;p

Kyla said...

Oh, no. That sounds scary.

I can't think about this. La, la, la. I have to keep my eye on the prize, my eye on the ****, ******* prize, and I can't get sidetracked with how hard it could possibly be until I get there.

First I finish the novel. Then I worry about who will publish it.

Oh, if I do all this, I better get published.

Kellie said...

Good reason not to put anything in your book that will be obsolete in say more than a year...unless you're into historical fiction. Someone recently pointed out this no-no to me.

Anonymous said...

It takes 6 hours to read a book IF you are a speed reader?? It took me only 8 hours to read Stephen King's 11/22/63.

Anonymous said...

Last July 8, my agent, a senior VP at one of the biggest agencies, submitted my book to eleven editors.

So far, one has passed (St. Martin's), and one loves it (at RH), while all the rest are silent. No offers, natch.

I am losing my mind.

I cold-emailed 78 agents, and got offered representation by 6, including senior agents at two BIG agencies, before signing with the one I'm with.

I'm worried that I might have picked the wrong agent. I was open to changing the title, but she insisted we change it to something truly dreadful. At one point, I got the distinct impression that she was going to slough me off to a junior agent who works with her. I called the agent, spoke with her assistant, and made it clear I'd signed with the VP, not with the junior agent.

The VP later passed along the info that the foreign rights dept. at her agency and the head of the agency had both read and loved my book, and were "invested" in it. Sounds great.

But it's been two weeks, and apart from the one pass and the one "I love it", nothing.

I'm posting anonymously, because I don't want this to come back to haunt me. But I need to get this off my chest, and get people's opinion. I'll keep you posted with anything that happens.

Waiting & Wretched

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