Racing Along at the Speed of Publishing

Publishing is not a fast business.  I’ve been submitting my work since 1995.  I once had a publisher make an offer on my novel after 2.5 years.  I have short stories which sat at magazines for over a year before being rejected.

Even now that I’m a big, fancy, egotistical author with three books in print, it’s still slow.  Contracts take weeks or months of back-and-forth before an agreement is reached, and then it has to go to the agent, the author, and back through various people at the publisher before everything is official.  Actually getting a book to press?  Well, my publisher has been pretty fast compared to some, but it’s going to be January of 2009 before a book I sold back in 2007 starts showing up in bookstores.

For some aspects of the business, there’s no excuse.  The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is legendary for its lightning-quick rejections, shooting out “Alas” letters within a week or two of submission.  If one of the top genre magazines can respond so quickly, why do the rest need months or years?  For other aspects though, the delays are there for a reason.

In the case of novels, I’ve seen it argued that the slow pace of commercial publishing is a reason to self-publish.  You could see your book in print within months, not years!

That’s true.  But it’s not necessarily a good thing.  I wrote four novels before one of them sold.  I hated having to wait so long before finally landing a book deal.  The thing is, I needed those years.  Sure, I thought the earlier books were publishable.  I was wrong.  Moving quickly and publishing those books would have been a very bad thing.

Waiting 2 years to go from contract to published book?  It’s frustrating as anything, but again, there are reasons.  It takes time to get a professional artist to work on the cover, and there may be several rounds of revision to make it as strong a cover as possible.  The editor may ask for revisions, after which the pages need to be typeset, copyeditors need to go through the pages, the author needs to review the copyedits, any last-minute changes need to be input….  In the meantime, marketing needs to figure out how to sell this book.  Cover copy is written and revised, blurbs are solicited from various names, Advance Review Copies need to be prepped and sent out months before the release in order to generate those early reviews.  There are meetings with the buyers for various bookstore chains, trying to convince them to stock 2 copies in every store instead of just 1.

Could some aspects of the business be faster?  Absolutely, and I wish they were.  I’m impatient as hell to get my hands on a copy of The Stepsister Scheme.  But I’m okay with waiting until 2009, because I know the finished product will be better, and will sell better, as a result of that wait.

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There are 6 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. S.C. Butler

    When I talk to school groups about being a writer I tell them patience is almost as important as knowing how to spell.

  2. 2. Jim C. Hines

    But spelling isn’t important anymore, is it? That’s what the editor is for, to fix anything that Spellcheck doesn’t catch, right?

  3. 3. Laura Reeve

    Jim, I’m in the middle of my expanding/shrinking time problem, so I enjoyed your post. It took three novels and ten years to get an editor’s call and then I agonized over the four months between call and contract. Of course, I thought my first book was taking too long (it’ll be out this Dec). But when I got the editor’s changes — funny how time just started racing along without me. Now I’m facing the deadline on submitting book #2 as I polish book #1 and put together a proposal for book #3. Yikes! I’m not going to complain about publishing being slow (again) until I can keep my head above water.

  4. 4. Jim C. Hines

    I’m in a similar position, Laura. I just turned in revisions on one book, I’m rewriting another, and I’ve got a third project waiting in the rafters to pounce in about a week. It’s funny how much quicker it all feels when you’ve got deadlines :)

  5. 5. Karen Wester Newton

    I always compare writing to creating bonsai. Work, work, work, then wait, wait, wait.

  6. 6. cyn

    i’m into 9th week of querying hell.

    with two fulls out.

    i trump everyone by virtue of the
    fact that i haven’t even gotten through
    the blessed gates yet.

Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.



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