How long does it take to produce a book?

What on earth would you answer?

It depends on so many variables that I was paralyzed, and unable to answer the person who asked me this.

Predicting the length of the editing tasks is possible, but there are many other steps. I keep thinking of that line: “fast, good, or cheap” – in that if you have scads of money, you can probably produce a book quickly.

The books I work on generally take 10 months after the writing is done – but they use teams of editors and designers, too. They’re probably in production for up to a year before that, with teams of writers.

Then, I understand that there are trade books that get knocked out in a week! (Think of “The True Story of …” titles.)

Here are reasons the publishing process might go faster or slower. Please add any in the comments that I have missed.

Faster if:

  • single author
  • few approvals
  • few design (or word count) constraints
  • straight narrative, single thread
  • clear parameters that don’t change
  • light content, not technical
  • teams of editors and designers
  • electronic

Slower if:

  • strict content requirements (learning objectives)
  • technically dense
  • strict design features & word counts
  • multiple authors
  • multiple layers of approvals, etc.
  • changing parameters
  • printed (but days only)

In the end, I said “10 months, but it depends” and asked to learn more about the project.

What would you answer?

5 Comments
  1. Pingback: How to start writing a book » Right Angels and Polo Bears

  2. Five years.

    That’s what an author of university-level texts answered off the top of his head. He added that the majority of that was spent researching and writing, full time, but that much more time than he anticipated was spent researching images and getting (buying) permission to use them. The copy editing was scheduled to take just one month.

    He also said that when a book is produced in a single year, quality suffers. And that the more advanced the material, the longer it takes to write it.

    Good writing takes time.

  3. What if it’s an organization, not a publisher? They might call it a project, not a book, but it’s still “published.” A colleague just shared this insight with me:

    About 40% never get completed. The rest never take less than 7 years.

    And, you know, for a K-12 textbook, if I consider the process to start when the ministry of education begins writing the learning expectations, I bet 7 years from start to book-on-shelf is not too far off. I’ve seen estimates that instructional design takes 30 hours of prep for each hour in class. All stages considered, and if it concludes in a slick production, that’s probably a reasonable estimate.

  4. Agreed, there can be endless variables contributing to a faster or slower process. I think you have captured most of the key ones, but have a quibble with “printed (but days only.”

    If you are going to produce both digital and print versions of a book and your workflows are structured to deal with that, the digital (EPUB, Kindle) versions of the book can be finished and in retail distribution a month (or more) before the printed book sees a retail shelf, because of the slowness of the printing process and the subsequent shipping to distribution warehouses, then on to retailer warehouses, and eventually to retail stores.

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