One of the most common questions we’re asked is this: How long will it take to edit, format, and publish my book?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one answer to that question, but in this post we’ll try to give you a general idea of how long each stage takes. We recommend that you don’t skip any of these stages, but you can do some of them concurrently.

Writing

Ha! You thought we were going to tell you how long it should take to write your book? We wish. Unfortunately no one can tell you that. We know authors who can whip out a manuscript every month, even with a day job. But we also know authors who take six months to a year with a manuscript and do not have a day job. How long it takes you to write your book depends on many factors. But for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you can go from outline to finished product (pre-edit) in three months. If you started in January, let’s say that you’ll be done with your manuscript on March 30th.

Self-Editing

Once you finish your first draft, it’s time to edit. But you can’t immediately finish the draft and ship your manuscript off to an editor. Nope. First, you’ve got to take at least one edit pass yourself. Go back and read the book from the beginning to end. Don’t even think about changing anything. Make notes. Write down your characters’ names, eye color, hair color, and personality traits so as you go through your edits, you can make sure you’re maintaining consistency. Then start in on the edit. Look for repeated words, as well as those pesky overused words such as just, really, very, though, slowly, quickly, nearly, barely. Look for places where you can add emotion, where you can take out some of the bits of exposition that don’t move the plot along, and areas that ramble. For a standard 80,000 word manuscript, this process will probably take between two weeks and a month. Conservatively, that puts you at April 30th.

Professional Editing

An editor is a necessary step for your novel. Yes. Really. We don’t only say that because we offer editing services. We can’t tell you how many books we’ve seen with great potential that are ruined by the lack of professional editing. No one can catch every error. Heck, we see some of the Big 5’s books with grammar errors (every book usually has one or two). No matter how strong of a writer you are, or even if you’re a professional editor yourself, you need editing. For the fastest turnaround, you should start reaching out to potential editors before you even finish your manuscript. Many of the best editors are booked a month or two in advance. Don’t expect to email an editor and expect them to be able to take you on right away. It’s possible, but not probable.

For a full length manuscript, again, approximately 80,000 words, a developmental and copy edit should take approximately three to five weeks. Why so long? Because every thousand words will take a good editor about an hour. You can’t edit as quickly as you can read. There are notes to make, research to verify, and thought that goes into every comment or suggestion an editor makes. If you sent your manuscript to your editor on May 1st, you can expect it back around May 31st.

Incorporating

Once you get your editing back, you’ll want to go through all of your editor’s suggestions. You probably won’t agree with all of them and that’s okay. A good editor understands that this is your story. He or she won’t try to change your voice, though they should, if necessary, provide phrasing suggestions for awkwardness, passive voice, and telling. One of the things that we always tell our clients is that if we make a comment that some plot point doesn’t work for us, what we’re really telling you is that it probably won’t work for the reader. We will probably provide a suggestion for you on how to fix it. But that sugestion isn’t necessarily the right one. For example, let’s say that your characters are on the run from the law. They stop at a diner and see themselves on TV. But they don’t run. Instead they stay to have dinner. We might tell you that this is not realistic and you should have them turn around and hightail it out of there. You don’t have to do that. Instead, you could have them don disguises before they go into the diner. See? Two vastly different options. A quality incorp takes time. You need to give your editor’s suggestions some serious contemplation. Then make the changes. Then read through the entire manuscript again. For first time authors, we recommend taking a full two or three weeks for this process. Seasoned authors who have an established relationship with their editor could probably do this in seven to ten days. That takes you through June 20th.

Proofreading

Proofreading is the final step before the manuscript is basically done. Not everyone pays a proofreader. We recommend it, because the proofreader will find those pesky little things like hoarde/hoard, vise/vice, and errant commas or incorrect dialog tags that were added during editing. A proofread for a standard 80,000 word manuscript will take between seven and ten days.

Formatting

The next step prior to publication is formatting. You’ll need (or want) a separate formatted file for Kindle, Nook, and print (paperbacks). A formatter without a significant number of projects backed up can probably produce both for you in seven to ten days. Hello June 30th.

Cover Design and Marketing

These are two steps of the process that can take place while the other steps are progressing. Once the story is done (or mostly done), you can start thinking about the cover. A quality cover design should take you between two and four weeks, depending on how visual you are, whether the book is part of a series, and whether you’ve worked with the cover designer before. One of our authors can knock out a cover with one of our designers in three days, but only because she knows what the series look and feel should be, and she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time looking through stock photos for models. Another author took a full month for her last book because it was a new series, needed a unique look and feel, and required a lot of stock photo browsing.

Marketing is another one of those steps that can and should be done while you’re doing everything else. While writing and editing, you can make note of potential teaser quotes. You want to build your website, twitter, and Facebook following in the three to six months before you release your book.

So for a book you start on January 1st, you should plan on a July 15th release date.