“Where will I ever find the time to write my book?” or simply, “How long does it take to write a book?” is a good question authors often ask themselves. The first-time author may feel overwhelmed just trying to decide where to begin, and even the seasoned author can find beginning each new book to be a challenge.
First of all, let me say that I know hardly any author who has not found that writing a book ends up taking a lot longer than was initially planned, but I also know that few things can leave a person with such a sense of accomplishment as writing a book. However long the writing and production take, it will be worth it if you spend the time being serious about the process, you allow yourself to be inspired, and you produce a quality product in the end.
To make what feels overwhelming seem more manageable, we can break down writing and producing a book into a series of steps that give an idea of the order and time needed for each step in the process.
Come Up with an Idea (a few minutes to a few years): Coming up with a good idea for a book is easier said than done. Usually good ideas just come to us rather than our going out looking for them. But even after you have the idea, you need to refine it. You’ll want to play around with it for several days, weeks, or even months. Look around for books that might have similar ideas. Read them so you can see whether your idea has been done before or you have something new you can say on the topic. Be sure not to steal ideas from other authors; you don’t want to plagiarize, but you can cite other sources in your book.
Research (one month to a few years): Even if you are going to write a novel, you will find aspects of research you will need to do. Sometimes the research is just simple fact-checking. For example, if your novel is set in Atlanta, it might just require double-checking the name of a restaurant or a street for accuracy in your book. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, it might require months of research to assemble your information. In my opinion, research is often the most exciting part of writing the book. It’s when you gather and discover new information, which can cause your idea to expand and change, become stronger and more refined. Let yourself go crazy with the research and read everything on the topic that you can. Take notes and make sure you write down the sources for all your notes-the authors, books, page numbers, etc. Look at some other nonfiction books to see how they are arranged with notes, footnotes, and bibliography pages. You will want to use “The Chicago Manual of Style” or some other style manual to make sure you incorporate your research properly into your book.
Write the Book (weeks to years): According to a study done by the Brenner Information Group, it takes 475 hours to write a fiction book and 725 to write a nonfiction book. Of course, those numbers are averages. It depends on how long you want your book to be, what your topic is, and what your goals are. If you’re writing a long scholarly work, it’s going to take longer than it does to write a thirty-two page children’s book, although both will be time-consuming. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Where am I going to find 475 hours?” Truthfully, it’s not that hard to find. I’m a firm believer in “steady wins the race.” I frequently tell people that if they just write a page a day, they will have written a book by the end of the year. If you can find just an hour a day, or even half an hour, you can do it. If you can block out two or three hours every Sunday, you can do it. And besides, writing a book is not a race. It’s more important that you take your time and create a quality product than that you rush it.
Revising the Book (days to months): Again, the amount of time needed for revision depends on the book. I should point out that none of the steps in this process to this point have to be done in specific order. You might start writing your book, realize you have to stop and do some research, then go back to writing, then realize you need to do some more research, which could mean finding out something new that causes you to go back and revise what you have already written before you go on to write the next part. It’s a constant back and forth process when you write a book, and you will find yourself revising as you go. You might get frustrated that writing is not really a linear process, but try to enjoy the process anyway and realize that however long it takes, you are getting closer to your goal. The main thing is that once you have a complete rough draft, you sit down and revise the entire book. That means more than proofreading. It means seeing the big picture, making sure the book is organized properly, that the arguments make sense, that the sentences flow, that there are no inconsistencies, and looking for places where you may need to remove something that is irrelevant, or expand something that needs more explanation.
Editing (two weeks to two months): I have editor friends who complain that every author thinks the editor can start working on the book the day the author calls. Editing a book can actually be time-consuming; the editor will usually go through the book several times and send the book back to the author with revision suggestions. It usually takes several weeks to do an editing job, so authors should schedule plenty of time for the editing and for doing more of their own revisions. Don’t put the cart before the horse and plan your book signing for one month after you send the editor the book. Wait until you know the books are being printed. Plan for the worst case scenario-that the editor will discover a lot of work still needs to be done on the book. Call the editor a few weeks before you finish writing the book so he or she knows the book is coming and can plan accordingly so you don’t have to wait weeks for the editor to get to it.
Proofreading (one to two weeks): If you and your editor have done a good job, the proofreader should not take too long on the book, but again, your book is not the only one the proofreader has to proofread so plan to give yourself plenty of time.
Cover Design and Layout (one week to one month): A cover design can take little or a lot of time, depending on whether you have artwork or a photograph you want to use for your cover or you need to hire an artist to create a cover for you. Be thinking about your cover as you work on your book so you’re prepared for this step. As for layout of the book, if you’ve written a short novel with no pictures, the layout person might be able to have it done in a day or two (but again, remember you are not the layout person’s only customer). If your book has a lot of graphics, charts, or photographs, it could be weeks or even months before the layout is done. Remember, you will need to look over the proofs to make sure photographs are in the right places, and there are no typos. However, now is not the time to rewrite sentences or paragraphs. Only minor changes should be made at this point. Anything major should have been caught before the book went to the proofreader, and the layout person is likely to charge you extra for any corrections.
Printing (four to six weeks): Four to six weeks is standard for the printing. You will be sent a paper proof copy (different from the pdf file the layout person previously sent you), and a copy of the cover to look over and approve. Again, any corrections needed will slow down the process and the printer will charge you for changes. The four to six weeks should include the shipment of the books to your door.
Pre-Marketing (four to six weeks): If you haven’t started already, then while the book is at the printer is the time to begin marketing your book. It’s when you can build your website, make up your business cards, brochures, fliers, and arrange for placement in stores and to hold book signings. Be cautious here-if your book is supposed to arrive on March 20th, don’t schedule your book signing for March 21st, only to end up with the books not coming until March 22nd. Plan your book signing for a few weeks after the books arrive so you have time to get them in local stores and to list them at online stores. Then you will feel prepared when the truck with all those books shows up at your door. Make sure you have cleared a place to put all those books!
While writing your book, you will experience hang-ups, frustrations, and moments of triumph, all of which may alter your schedule, but if you plan it out, you should be able to produce a book in the given timeframe above for each step. At the very least, plan for writing and production to take you a year. It will probably take you two. But we all know how fast time passes-so you will have that book in hand before you know it, and then you will feel that all that hard work was well worth it.