How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?
If you're thinking about writing a non-fiction book (or perhaps are already doing so) you may be wondering: how long will this take? My answer is: twice as long as you think, although shorter in some places. I know this is not a very satisfying answer, so let me add some of that beloved quantitativeness to it.
I divide the book creation process into three parts (although sometimes they repeat themselves).
Part I is development. During this period, you figure out what the book will be. The content: what will be in the book. The structure, chapter by chapter. The main messages: the book boiled down to a sentence. The audience: who might read this? People keep telling me that development can be done in a few days, but that's not my experience. It usually takes about three months. (Including time off for real work and overseas travel.) The culmination of the development period is the book proposal, a document that can be as short as a few pages and as long as a hundred.
Now comes one of the shorter parts, the tail end of development: taking the proposal out to publishers. If you're working with an agent, the proposal typically goes out, by email, all at once, to a number of publishers (as few as five and as many as twenty). If the publisher decides to "pass" they may or may not respond. If they're interested, they may respond the following day, sometimes over the weekend, and usually within a week. I have never seen the process take more than two weeks.
Part II is the writing. Like the accumulation period, the writing time varies rather dramatically from two decades of fits and starts, to five months of solid writing, to a string of Sundays. The publisher will usually set a deadline for delivery of a manuscript and it is quite often a year or so from agreement. It's helpful to have a deadline, because it motivates you, especially when it creeps nearer and nearer. If you meet it, all is well. If you don't, sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn't. Contractually, the publisher may not be bound to publish your book. More typically, they are no longer bound to publish it within any given time period.
Part III is the publishing. This is one of the parts that the author thinks is too long — between six months and a year from the time you submit the manuscript to the time books are available for purchase, online, or in a store. (E-only books don't take as much time, of course.) Here is what authors usually ask me: What in God's name is happening in all that time?
The answer: the publisher is designing the book, editing it, typesetting it, printing it, binding it, putting it on trucks and driving it to warehouses. Having produced privately-published books, through book packagers, I can assure you that, like any manufactured product, it takes time to build a book, if you want to create something that does not follow a standard template and if you care about the quality and the details.
Also, during this period, the publisher's salesforce is learning about the book, understanding it, and visiting accounts to try to sell it. The publisher's marketing team is working to get attention for the book in all of the various content venues. The standard author's complaint is that the publisher doesn't do "much" or "anything" to support a book, and it may well be true sometimes, but the fact of the matter is that, unless you are a superstar, you are the one who must put heart and soul into bringing the book to the world — advocating for it, finding audiences for it, interpreting it, engaging people about it.
Which brings me to the post-publishing period which, like accumulation, can be distressingly short, if the book really doesn't find an audience, or delightfully long — decades, even centuries — if it does.
Now, let us add it up. Development: three months. Selling: two weeks. Writing: one year. Publishing: nine months. Total: Two years and two weeks. Add in the accumulation and post-publishing periods, and the creation of a single book could last you a lifetime.
So: do not enter the process lightly.