How long it takes to write a book
Hi Manuscript Workers,
Today’s newsletter is exciting for me, because it’s a guest post by one of the superstar authors I’ve gotten to work with in my Book Proposal Accelerator program.
Dr. Betty Lai went through the Accelerator in January of 2021 and immediately submitted her book proposal to her top-choice publisher. Just two years later, her new book, The Grant Writing Guide: A Road Map for Scholars, is releasing this week from Princeton University Press! I’m so happy to celebrate this achievement with Betty today.
You can currently get 20% off The Grant Writing Guide if you purchase directly from PUP and use the code LAI20 when you check out.
Keep reading to learn what Betty’s book-writing process was like after she secured her advance contract.
Guest post by Dr. Betty Lai
How long does it take to write a book?
It’s hard to answer this question if you’ve never written a book before. But if you are seeking an advance contract, presses ask you to estimate how long it will take so that they can set a due date for the full manuscript, which will go out to peer reviewers. For my first book, I said it would take me 18 months to deliver the manuscript.
But honestly, I pulled that date out of thin air. I had no idea how long it would take. I wasn’t even sure what the publishing process looked like after you sign a book contract. Luckily, I am (like you) an avid reader of Laura’s newsletter. I devoured her posts on the process of book writing and time tracking. These posts convinced me that it could help others to track my time while writing my first book. I’m here today to share that data.
First, a few caveats. We are all different. We differ in terms of workloads, genres, and audiences. I share my data in the hope that having some data may help you forecast what book writing might look like for you. In addition, the times below do not include the time it took to write my book proposal, which included the introduction and one chapter to my book. I did that over the course of 3 months, from November 2020 to January 2021.
My total writing time on my book post-proposal was: 643.5 hours.
This was over 15 months, from when I signed my contract (March 2021) to final copyedits and proofing (June 2022). Here’s a breakdown of how those hours looked across my book timeline:
March 2021 - October 2021 (6.5 months)
Background research interviews: 145 hours (Done concurrently with drafting the manuscript. This does not include the time I spent on background interviews while preparing my book proposal starting in November 2020.)
Drafting the manuscript: 315.5 hours.
October 2021 - December 2021 (1.5 months)
Delivered my manuscript. Had a short break while waiting for reader reports.
December 2021 - March 2022 (4 months)
Revising the draft based on reviews: 149 hours.
April 2022 - June 2022 (3 months)
Reviewing copyedits and proofs: 34 hours.
643.5 hours of total writing time is longer than it seems. Consider what a “good” writing week looks like for you. For instance, a “good” week may mean having 3 writing days where you can write for 4 hours a day. That means 643.5 hours translates to ~53 weeks of “top flight” writing (643.5 hours/4 hours per day/3 days per week). That’s over a year of intense work.
You may have to do a lot of writing AFTER you deliver your manuscript. I thought my work was mostly finished when I delivered a full draft of my manuscript to my publisher for peer review. I had already revised my draft multiple times and gotten feedback from several beta readers. But the anonymous reviewers the press commissioned had helpful comments that required some heavy revisions. I was happy to have their feedback, as it made the book better. But I did not plan for this extra, intensive work. (In case you need another example of how to respond to reader reports, here is my letter. I modeled my response on Laura’s helpful templates.)
The copyediting process is intense. I was astounded by how much work it takes to make a manuscript look professional (thank you to my copyeditor, Cindy Milstein). You may want to prepare for copyediting by learning the “house style” of your press. For instance, my press uses Merriam-Webster as their house dictionary, and they defer to Chicago Manual of Style. This means that if you are debating which spelling of a word to use, you can look up preferred spellings in the house dictionary. If you are wondering what words to capitalize in a title, you can see the rules in your house manual of style. If you stay on top of these issues before submitting your manuscript for copyediting, there will be less work to do later.
My process may look very different from what your process has been or will be. But I hope this gives you one more benchmark for forecasting how long your next book project might take. Best of luck to all of you as you work on your book manuscripts!
If you’d like to hear more from Betty about grant writing and other scholarly tips, you can subscribe to her free newsletter.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!