How long will publishers wait for you?
Hi Manuscript Workers,
It’s been a rough week out there. My thoughts go out to those who are grieving and those who don’t feel safe right now.
We’ve arrived at or are approaching the beginning of summer “break” for many academics in the northern hemisphere, and I know a lot of you are hoping to get serious writing done over the next three months. (If you’d like some help to construct your plan for the summer and beyond, you may want to check out Jo Van Every’s upcoming Planning Your Academic Writing Year workshop.)
But what’ll happen if you don’t get as much done as you intended? What if you’re working on a project for a publisher and aren’t sure how long it will take you? Are you staring down all the writing you’ve committed to and already worried about missing September deadlines?
First, for some reassurance, see this post on following up with editors after having gone radio silent for months (or years). Then see this post about deadlines in book publishing (and what happens when you miss them).
Then, read the rest of this newsletter, which answers two questions I received from authors earlier this spring. The first question is about how long the author should project their manuscript revisions to take when their publisher asks for an estimate before issuing an advance contract. The second question is about how long an editor might wait for you after having asked you to submit a full manuscript.
Question: I have progressed through first stages of the process with a university press and have now received my reader reports, which are suggesting pretty substantial revisions—reordering chapters, adding material on various figures covered in each chapter, etc. However, the editor seems interested in moving forward and is offering to request an advanced contract if I write a response letter in support. I’m just wondering what sort of timeline for revisions it’s reasonable to propose in that letter. I have a pretty full-on teaching schedule this semester and realistically will not be able to get into the revisions properly until the summer, particularly given other commitments. Should I be worried about seeming too slow if I propose end of September? There is a chance I could get it done sooner than that but it's hard to know before I get stuck into the revisions.... Any advice would be gratefully received!
My answer: Timelines will vary a lot, and this is something you can discuss honestly with your editor as you prepare your letter. It would not be unusual to take a year or two to make substantial revisions to a manuscript after receiving an advance contract. The only reason a publisher might want to give you less time would be if they had a particular publication date/season in mind for some reason and needed your manuscript in hand earlier in order to make that deadline, but this is rare in my experience.
It's better to be realistic at this point so that the publisher can plan than to try to push yourself too hard and end up needing multiple extensions (though if you do end up needing extensions that's usually fine as long as you stay in touch with your editor proactively).
One thing to keep in mind: if you push back your timeline, that will result in the publisher pushing back their timeline too. So if you have a target publication date for some reason (like your tenure clock), it’s good to communicate clearly with your publisher about that so they can tell you when you’ll need to hit various milestones in order to get the book out in time.
Question: I might be getting ahead of myself, but let's say an acquisitions editor invites you to submit the entire manuscript but you only have a few chapters revised and ready for submission/peer review. How long are editors usually willing to wait for the full manuscript?
My answer: First, I’d make sure the editor is aware of the amount (percentage) of the manuscript you already have complete at this point. They may be fine to move ahead to peer review with just a few chapters if you’re ok with it. Of course, they may say they only want to proceed with a full manuscript in hand, but it’s perfectly reasonable to ask the question and you won’t look bad if you ask.
If they do want the full manuscript, in my experience, they'll be willing to wait for as long as it takes. The exception would be if they have a target publication date in mind already because of an anniversary or other marketing hook.
The main risk you run if you take a long time to finish is that the editor who requested your manuscript could change subject areas, presses, or even leave the industry in the intervening time. But you can't really control any of that, so I would say to take as long as you need to finish the manuscript and then get back in touch.
If the editor who expressed interest is no longer at the same press when you’re ready to submit the manuscript, you could try to find them at a new press and see if they're still acquiring in the same areas. Or you could write to their colleague/replacement at the old press and say that the previous editor had been interested and you wanted to see if the new person might be interested in working with you as well.
If you don’t get any bites that way, don’t stress yet. You now have a full manuscript in hand which is a great position to be in when querying other presses. Some may want to see a proposal first before looking at the full manuscript, so hopefully you have one ready to go.
(See Chapters 1 and 2 of The Book Proposal Book if you need a little help identifying which presses might be the best fits and how to query them for interest.)
If you’re looking for a little extra structure and motivation to get your book proposal done this summer, my Book Proposal Shortcut for Busy Scholars is currently open for enrollment. It’s a self-paced program that guides you step by step through drafting the book proposal document and how to pitch your book to scholarly publishers. The idea is to save you time and struggle by spelling out exactly what information you need to provide about your book project and how to present it in a way that will be legible and appealing to publishers. The program also includes pep talks in every module to keep your spirits up, as well as a library of worksheets and successful proposal examples.
One scholar who recently completed the program said, “I signed up for the Shortcut during a semester's teaching-leave where I knew I would have a dedicated amount of time to devote to my book proposal. The Shortcut helped me structure my time, meet small goals at my own pace, and think long-term about the book proposal but also my larger goals in writing a book. I highly recommend to any scholar preparing a book proposal who is looking for some guided structure at their own pace."
You can see what other participants had to say and find out more about the program by clicking the button below.
See you with another newsletter and more author Q&A next week. Be kind to yourself!