All too frequently I talk to first-time writers who have completely unrealistic expectations of when they’ll be publishing.
“I just finished my book,” they might say. “I’d like to have it published next month.”
Theoretically, yes, they could probably pull it off—but anything published on that timeline is guaranteed to be a mess.
There is an ideal sequence of events from first draft to publication. This is the path I took to publishing my own book, and it’s the sequence that traditional publishing follows as well.
1.) Writing the First Draft: Obviously, how long this takes is entirely dependent on you. I finished the first draft of my first book in about 2 months. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the first draft of my second book for about a year now. Clearly motherhood has given me much less time to work on personal projects!
2.) Developmental Editing: A good developmental edit will typically take two to four weeks to complete. Keep in mind that most professional developmental editors book up weeks to months in advance. So if you wait until your first draft is finished to book your developmental editor, you could be looking at a few months before this step is complete.
3.) Rewrites Based on Your Developmental Edit (and Additional Developmental Edits, if Necessary): Again, this is entirely dependent on you. For me, this was actually the longest part of the publishing process the first time around. Writing the first draft was a breeze. But getting to the final draft took me about a year. How many developmental edits you go through is also fairly personal. Some authors will complete as many as five developmental edits with me on the same book, while others choose to move forward after the first. For context, I went through three developmental edits on my own book.
4.) Cover Design: This step can really take place at any point in the process, but might be good to focus on while you’re waiting to receive your developmental edit back. A good cover designer is usually booked up several months in advance, but once they get to your project, they can usually turn around a design in a week or two.
5.) Beta Reads: Once you’re at a place where you feel fairly confident in the content of your novel, it’s time for beta readers to take a look. Beta readers can be found for fairly cheap ($25 to $50 each) and can often get started within a week or two. Plan on the beta reading phase taking two to four weeks.
6.) Potential Rewrites Based on Beta Reads: The changes most people make based on beta reads are usually pretty small. This stage only takes about a week or two.
7.) Copy/Line Editing: This usually takes about two weeks. But again, a good line editor often books up several weeks to months in advance—so you may want to book early.
8.) Formatting: If you hire someone to do the formatting for you, it usually takes less than a week. If you do it yourself, how long this step takes all depends on your skill level.
9.) Final Proofread: This is your final “oops” check before going to publication. It’s the cheapest and easiest form of editing, and usually only takes about a week. But good proofreaders also tend to book up far in advance.
The issue I see plenty of authors run into is booking all these services right up front, because they don’t want to be waiting for an editor when they are ready to move forward. The problem with that is they then often rush their end of the process, failing to spend as much time on rewrites as they probably should. My recommendation is to book one service at a time, about a month before you think you’ll actually need them. That way you give yourself a reasonable timeline, and you’re not piling up a bunch of deadlines you may not be able to meet.
Now, not every self-published book will go through all these steps. It’s ideal, but the costs can definitely add up. If you’re having to pick and choose, I would argue that every book should have at least one developmental editing round, followed up by one copy editing round. That’s the bare minimum.
If you’re using me for developmental editing first, I do have copy editors, cover designers, formatters and proofreaders I can recommend for every stage of the process.