“Time, what is time? Time is our beginning and our end, time is the cradle of our search for God, time is the elastic that cuts circulation on the leg of life.” —Allysen Palmer
I’m often asked how long it takes me to write a novel. The answer is that it varies—from three months for a media tie-in novel, and for a young adult book I wrote collaboratively, just for fun, to eight years and counting. Most of my books have taken 1-2 years to write. I used to write full-time, but I’m no longer able to do that. I’m also a house-dad and chief cook and bottle washer, plus I do nonfiction writing work to help pay the bills, so in practice I’m lucky when I can write fiction half-time.
Many express surprise that in traditional publishing it takes a year or longer to get a completed manuscript into print as a finished book. This is a fact of life in publishing. It is frustrating, but there are some good reasons for it.
Part of the lead time is editing, which believe me you would not want to eliminate; and the time lag is actually helpful in that regard. Manuscripts generally improve with age, in the sense that most authors need to get a little distance from their work before they can see some of the problems that need fixing. I often do additional work on a book after my editor has had chance to go over it, and then again (to a lesser degree) when the copy-editor has made nit-picky changes, and one more time when I see it in page proofs after typesetting. Each time it gets a little better. I’m pretty sure of that.
Some of the lead time is necessary for physical production by the publisher—which can sometimes be rushed for a hot topical book, but overall works better if done in an orderly fashion. This includes such things as book design and typesetting, and commissioning cool cover art. There’s also promotional and sales lead time, which is important because publishers need to space their books in a regular schedule, for distribution. And of course, there needs to be advertising and production of bound galleys for reviewers.
The beauty of the traditional model—in spite of the (many) frustrations of working in that system—is that books go through a certain level of screening, professional editing and packaging, and distribution that can get books into bookstores. It allows editors and art directors and publishers do what they do best, freeing the writer to spend more time on writing.
With the advent of electronic and on-demand publishing, though—and in particular indie or self publishing—this entire picture has gone through a sea change. Indie authors can get their books out a lot faster. If you have a cover ready, you can publish your new book the day you finish it. It must be said that this is definitely a mixed bag, and not always to the benefit of the books you read, quality-wise. Yes, a lot of good stuff never gets picked up by the regular publishers, and nowadays a lot is going straight to indie. Would some of that stuff be better if it were written and edited more carefully, and given more time to age? I’ll leave that to you to decide.