How long does it take to sell a novel? About that long.
How long it takes to sell a novel
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.
Why it takes so long to sell a novel
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.
Slow then fast
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.
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Art: Vanitas – Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a Skull by Evert Collier
Ok, that DOES explain all those novels about knitting clubs. The author wrote her first book, took ages to get published, took advice from her agent “start knitting” and joined a knitting club. Had nothing else to write about so wrote about her adventures in the knitting club..
So I think my second book to be published will be about cross stitch since I cannot knit.. Hrmm maybe that is why I cannot get published! ARGH! I am cursed.
That’s why I have no fingernails.
How is it that there ended up being two Lucs commenting on this blog? Alas! Fortunately, I seem to be the (slightly) younger Luc, although statistically that would also suggest that I am the less wise one.
On a bit of a tangent, I wanted to mention to anyone who might not know that non-fiction books can often sell more quickly than novels, as there’s often less to review (outline and sample chapters rather than the whole book).
Nathan, do you have any comments on the subject of an agent working on selling more than one book at a time? (This assuming that the agent is enthusiastic about each book involved, of course.)
Not hearing anything is hell, especially if you happen to have a very active writer’s imagination or are paranoid or insecure or all of the above.
Prescription drugs help enormously with this. (I’m serious.)
And one day, if you are ever picked up, there’s a wealth of books already in the drawer. And, you’ll get better as a writer.
That’s what Jane Austen did.
Nathan, can a person have more than one Literary Agent but request a Publisher which Literary Agent they accepted the pitch from?
Nathan Bransford says
greedy, isn’t your industry? 🙂
did I mention I am female? 🙂
thank you for answering what appears to be an absurd question…outta here, have a wonderful weekend (I am sure warm and sunny weekend as it is snowing here)
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
To carry foward “on a bit of a tangent” as per Luc
Re: “…non-fiction books can often sell more quickly than novels, as there’s often less to review (outline and sample chapters rather than the whole book)”
Yes, back to Margaret “Seltza” – I kept thinking of Eminem in relation to all this…and the so-called “W-word” phenomenon – Eminem grew up near 8 Mile, a lyric of his is quoted on Wikipedia: “cocky Caucasians who think I’m some wigger who just tries to be black ’cause I talk with an accent and grab on my balls.”
And I do recall an article somewhere, exploring the weighty question, why was there no white female equivalent to Eminem? So maybe that was the “vacum” that Margaret Seltza was supposed to fill, in a book instead of a CD?
And so I just wonder also, how this all relates to that “hot project” that makes “people quickly lose their minds” in the publishing industry.
I mean, maybe a person could include this in their query letter, placing themselves in a trajectory from Eminem to Seltza (I like to call her that now) to yourself and your own book…of fiction…”the book that Eminem could have written, and Seltza only wishes she’d written.”
Having grown up 4 miles north of 8 Mile myself, I have to wonder, maybe that’s something to throw into a query letter. Locate yourself geographically like that.
Back to the box of Girl Scout Cookies and medical transcription…height, weight, blood pressure, respiratory rate…
Kim Stagliano says
I’m off to ebay to see if I can buy some patience. Of course, I’ll want to use the “Buy it now! feature, since I hating waiting for auctions to end. Lord, I’m doomed.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop leaving chippy comments on blogs by people who simply report on a system they did not create (why not save them for the semi-privacy of my own blog, was the thought). But I loved the story of your grandfather – the sort of husband who would clearly have worked better for my mother. 8 years into my parents’ marriage my grandfather gave my mother a grand piano which he had happened to pick up at auction, which my father (a diplomat) then had to cart resentfully around South America. Years after their divorce my father was still aggrieved. (There is a happy ending of sorts: my mother upgraded to a professor and a Steinway.)
I DO realize it can take forever to sell… I really DO trust my agent and I will always stick with her.
I’m afraid the length of time it takes to sell my work will have HER dumping ME.
Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) says
Brilliant post. Confirms everything I’ve always been told by friends in publishing and I’m going to make everyone who hassles me with “is your book published yet, do you have a publisher who’s interested yet” read your post. Or maybe I’ll just stick it up on the door to my study and point at when someone even begins to ask.
kathy evans says
Nathan – thought you might like to know this has become a mantra for me, temazepan for my desperate moments – after a year of my novel being led into the world by my (highly respected) agent I wonder will it ever sell? I’ve even finished a second book and find myself wondering is it worth starting this all again?
I have to trust that it is x
A quick question for you on this subject – it’s been four weeks since my agent submitted my proposal. A few editors have expressed interest, but no offers have been made. My agent is thus, setting a closing date for them. What do you know of and think of this strategy?
Christine Lakatos says
Thanks for this post as I just finished my first book (My Diva Diet: a fat-loss system for women to get into great shape; using “fitness superheroes” and “diet villains” to portray its message) and we started selling it September 8, 2008. The publishing industry is a very complicated world to break into. How long does it take for a self published book to take off? Any suggestions would help!
A tried and true military adage comes to mind."Hurry up and wait."
Thanks, Nathan. You made my day!!!
Stacy Allen says
Thanks, Nathan. Being an author can be exhausting. Not the writing. That's fun. The waiting, though. The waiting can destroy your spirit, drive you insane, and – as one of my friends so aptly put after watching me go through this process – it can wither your spirit.
Okay, this makes me feel much better. I'm new to this whole traditional publishing thing and have been wondering if I should take up knitting or be hyperventilating in a corner for every day I don't hear something. Knitting it is. Thank you!