The Process of Traditional Publishing in a Nutshell
Updated: Aug 24
I’m not so surprised at the lack of information people have regarding an author’s journey to getting traditionally published. It’s no wonder considering the lack of transparency in the publishing industry and the abundance of misinformation about writers in the media. (I talk about the media misrepresentation of authors in this video over on my YouTube channel. Check it out for details.)
Most of my acquaintances come up to me and ask, “When will your book get published?” In all honestly, this is THE MOST PAINFUL QUESTION you can ask a struggling author. It reminds me of how long I’ve been trying to get published, how tremendously slow the process is, and how unsuccessful I’ve been so far. This question is a constant reminder of my failure. I don’t blame these people for being curious – albeit a bit insensitive. Just so we’re on the same page from here onwards, NEVER ASK A STRUGGLING AUTHOR WHEN THEIR BOOK(S) IS GETTING PUBLISHED.
If we have a book deal, we would be the loudest about its release dates.
Now let’s get this misinformation out of the way that “authors just have to write a book and submit it over to a publisher, and viola! They’re published.” WRONG. This belief is crude and overly simplifies the actual process of traditional publishing which is often long and arduous: one that takes a lot out of an author. The number of authors published as soon as they started querying is low. Very VERY low.
Before the author dives into the publishing process, she first has to draft a manuscript. In the simplest terms, the author needs to write the story that’ll get her the million-dollar book deal (HAHAHA fat chance, Joey, but one can dream). This process of writing/typing a story is called drafting and the completed project is the manuscript. But wait, just drafting isn’t enough. You have to revise and polish the manuscript before it’s ready to be sent off to an agent AFTER beta readers and/or critique partners have given their feedback and you’ve revised/rewritten your story for about a millionth time.
The Drafting Process
Now that you have a sparkling manuscript, it needs to be sent out. But to where? Most of the reputed publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. An author can’t just shove their projects down the publishers’ throats and hope to make lots of money out of it. You’ll first have to get past the gatekeepers. This is where you find a literary agent who will represent your bestselling book. That literary agent will do the shoving on your behalf. They’ll help you revise your project further and seek out editors who’ll be the best fit for your project. They also broker a winning book deal so that your bank account can stop crying at once (HAHA this doesn’t happen immediately either).
This entire process of seeking representation is termed querying. The 250-word email proposal you sent out to the agents is a query. Until you find representation, you’ll probably have to send out queries in double (even triple) digits. Your first manuscript may not even land an agent and you might have to move on to drafting another one. But for ease of understanding, let’s assume you’re offered representation and you accept it.
The Querying Process
Now your life is sorted, right? HAHAHA. The joke’s on you, darling. Before we reach the climax of our story, we need editors to fight the epic battle to gain our hand in a book deal. Or rather, your literary agent will send out proposals to editors who might be interested in your work. This of course happens only after the agent is satisfied with your manuscript. Meaning, you might have to go through several other rounds of revisions before your project gets sent out to the editors. Once your manuscripts land on the editor's desk or rather email, you wait for months and months (sometimes years) before you get the green signal. This is what we mean to be on submission.
Hold on! The editor who is interested in buying your project will have to sell your project to the panel of judges aka the sales team and other managerial editors and publishing bigwigs in their publishing house before they offer you a book deal. They’ll assess marketability and predict your future sales number, make a profit and loss account, etc. and then they’ll make an offer. Probably. This will take a few more months. Yay!
The Submission Process
Let’s do simple math.
Say, you’re a super fast writer. So the shortest time it’ll take you to get a book deal (considering everything goes well for you right from the start – which is RARE) is:
*dun dun dun *
1 month – DRAFTING
2 months – REVISING & POLISHING MS
3 months – AVERAGE QUERY RESPONSE TIME
3 months – OFFER OF REPRESENTATION
1 month – FURTHER REVISIONS BASED ON AGENT FEEDBACK
6 months – ON SUBMISSION
1 month – BOOK DEAL & NEGOTIATIONS
1 year – BOOK RELEASE DATE
If you’re lucky, you’ll get your book published in about a year since you revised it. The entire process from the day of drafting will take you a minimum of 2 years and 6 months. Let that sink in.
If Lady Luck chooses to ignore you, you’ll be in the query trenches for YEARS. Like I’ve been in one since the end of 2014. That’s EIGHT YEARS. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
*cries in a corner *
Now that we’ve had a reality check, I hope aspiring authors will know what they’re getting into. And my well-intentioned acquaintances will stop asking me the dreadful question. (Unless of course, they choose not to read this article, which is guaranteed). I’ll continue to be in some form of pain for the days (or years) to come.
* screams internally *
Long story short, if you can at all help it, don’t ever choose the path of publishing. Bye.