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How Long Does It Take to Self Publish a Book?

Updated on May 23, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is a self publishing expert, author of 21 (and counting!) business books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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The Book Project I Never Want

"I'm writing a book and I'd like you to help me with editing," says an ebullient, new author who wants to self publish. Then comes the kicker. "And I have an event in four weeks where I want to sell it to attendees. So I need this done ASAP!" The only thing that makes requests like this worse is that I usually have to explain the difference between editing and proofreading.

Can a book go from raw manuscript to print book in hand in about a month? Well, maybe. But that's challenging for even very experienced self published authors. Plus, the manuscript has to be production ready. So it's obvious this newbie author is totally clueless about the book development and publishing process. Once a book is edited or proofread, the author should take some time to thoughtfully review an editor's comments and revisions before sailing into production.

The Problem with Book Completion Deadlines (Especially Crazy Close Ones)

Like any creative and significant endeavor, a book manuscript can take several weeks, months, or even years to reach the point of being ready for editing and formatting. Having a looming near term deadline can weaken the quality of the final manuscript due to pushing through when working through would be a better path.

Plus, the process of self publishing can take some unexpected twists and turns. This is especially the case with new authors who can be prone to making mistakes that need fixing (to that I can personally attest).

Some new authors get the "I need a book now!" vision in their heads and have difficulty shaking it. I've found this commonly occurring with speakers, coaches, and consultants who get hired for a plum speaking engagement, and then get all upset they're book-less for this booking. They're worried that they'll appear less professional without a book or that they'll miss book sales opportunities. What they forget is that they got hired without the book. And what they don't realize is that, depending on a host of factors, sales at events may not be as stellar as they imagine. They'd usually be better off inviting attendees to opt in to their email lists instead.

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What is a Realistic Deadline to Self Publish a Book?

Is setting a deadline for book completion a bad thing? No. However, allow enough time for both manuscript completion and the publishing process.

The only portion over which an author has the most control is the completion of the raw manuscript. Beyond that, the time to completion will depend on how long the editing, proofreading, design, layout, and print production will take, regardless if the author hires others or does it himself.

I'd advise authors (especially new ones) to allow at least 29.5 weeks to get through the editing and self publishing production process, a bit less for eBooks since printing is not a factor. This is even with quick turn platforms such as Amazon's Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Just because the technology can quickly handle a book document doesn't mean that the human aspects of the process (such as editing and reviewing proofs) will be done any quicker.

Remember that the clock starts after the manuscript is complete. Should major flaws in the manuscript be uncovered somewhere in the production phase, that could add weeks (or longer) to the time needed.

Also, estimated time to completion does not include time for book marketing activities. This could delay or extend any step in the book publishing process.

It's been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. But if that goal is a completed book, make sure that the deadline isn't a dream.

Example Schedule for Completion of Self Published Book

Activity
Minimum Estimated Time*
Beta readings
4 weeks
Review of feedback and updating of manuscript
2 weeks
Edit of manuscript
2.5 weeks
Review of edits and updating of manuscript
2 weeks
Proofreading (Copy editing)
2.5 weeks
Formatting and book cover design
4 weeks
Proofreading of formatted manuscript and book cover. Make necessary changes.
2.5 weeks
Uploading of manuscript to self publishing platform and approval of digital proof (Note: This is the end point for eBooks)
1 week
Proofreading of physical print proof (to include ship time)
4 weeks
Approve physical proof and order print copies
1 week
Printing and shipping of print copies
4 weeks
Total Estimated Time for Print Book
29.5 weeks (20.5 weeks for eBooks)
* Estimates are based on service times with Amazon's Createspace self publishing platform and its editing services for a 75,001 to 150,000 word book. Your time to completion may be shorter or longer depending on your unique circumstances.

It's been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. But if that goal is a completed book, make sure that the deadline isn't a dream.

— Heidi Thorne

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, I've published ten novels and novellas, and from that experience I can say you are very realistic with your timetable. As a side note, I won't even consider editing/proofreading a novel or book...that's one freelance job I refuse to do. :)

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 5 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, when I add up the weeks, it seems like an eternity. But I know how fast that time can go with all the details. Glad you know your limitations when it comes to editing and proofreading. ;) Thanks for adding your insight to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 weeks ago from USA

      This is excellent advice, providing a realistic set of expectations for people who may be ambitious in their endeavors without the experience to make it a reality. They also have to worry about the quality of their rush jobs. That could tarnish a reputation for future books and other prospects.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 5 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, you said it! I've been through the "I need this yesterday" nonsense with multiple clients over the years. What a nightmare! And, you're right, that all-out push can have lasting ramifications. Thanks for adding that exclamation point to the discussion! Happy Weekend!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 weeks ago from Brazil

      Everyone now expects everything quickly without thinking about what is entailed in completing a task professionally. Instant gratification just doesn't work in some situations.

      Your stats will be an eye-opener to many people who are going down the self-publishing route.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 5 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      You got that right, Blond. An eBook can be published on Amazon KDP within hours... hours! Yet the background preparation and marketing can take hours with no end in sight. There is no such thing as instant gratification in publishing. I think it will be an eye-opener. When I ran the time estimates past a couple of authors, they disagreed totally, saying that their books were not going to take that long. Really? And since that disagreement was coming from those who have never published a book (or even eBook), I just let them make their newbie mistakes. Live and learn. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 11 days ago

      Heidi

      I'm with Bill one this one, even with a novel it's good to allow three to four months, or as Stephen King says, "the time to edit us when it looks like a green eyed monster, and you've no idea why you wrote what you did!"

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 days ago from Chicago Area

      Lawrence, love that quote from Stephen King. Heck, it even applies to nonfiction. :) There are times I go back to my article or book drafts and think, "What the hell?" Thanks for chiming in and have a terrific weekend!

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