How much time do I need to get my story ready for publishing?

This is a question that comes up often, especially during the holiday season.  Many authors seek to publish novels with a Christmas theme, but unfortunately, the time to jump into a holiday novel is not the same time we begin our holiday shopping.  Time and time again, authors contact me in October or early November to discuss plans for the editing and publication of a book they wish to sell throughout December.  Unfortunately, this is often too late!  My advice for authors seeking to publish holiday novels is simple: Plan ahead.

  • Plan the end-date first. Holiday books should ideally be ready for sale the day after Thanksgiving to capitalize on the busiest buying season of the year.  Teachers have used backwards design in lesson planning for years—create the assessment first, then work backward to decide what kids need to learn when.  The same idea applies here.  Once you have your end-date in mind, determine when you should schedule editing dates.
  • Give yourself, your editor, and your formatter enough time to do the job correctly. If you know that it takes you three months to complete a first draft of a 60,000-word book, give yourself the time you need.  But, do not ignore that a good edit also takes time, and after that edit, you will surely need to revise your manuscript and possibly have it edited again.  Although you, the author, determine the number and type of edits you need, also keep in mind that producing a quality product will be better for your career in the long run.

Note: Some authors do not complete all steps of the editing process, so your schedule might look a bit different than that below.  The important idea here is to figure out a timeline well in advance of publication. 

Suggested Editing Timeline:

  1. 15 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Book Editing and Formatting Dates.

The very best editors and formatters book at least a month in advance and sometimes two! As you near the end of your first draft, contact your preferred editor and book a date for the first and second rounds of editing.  Contact your formatter and get on his/her schedule for a date at least 2 weeks prior to your intended publication date.  Planning ahead now will save you time and stress later.

  1. 10 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Developmental Edit Round 1:

Round 1- A developmental edit (or a story edit) is typically completed in two or more rounds.  This edit will take 1-2 weeks. The editor will focus mostly on character and plot development, with some attention to major stylistic, construction, and grammatical issues.  The editor will likely send the manuscript back to the author with a list of suggestions for revision.

  1. 8 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date- Author revises based on editor’s suggestions. The author most often takes another 1-2 weeks to complete revisions and return the book to the editor for a second round of editing.
  2. 6 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Developmental Edit Round 2-The editor will need at least a week, if not more, to complete a second round of story editing.
  3. 5 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Author revises based on editor’s suggestions. Authors typically take a week to revise after the second round.
  4. 4 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Copy Edit/Line Edit:

A copy edit/line edit should be done after the story is set.  The editor will typically make changes within the manuscript during this phase, correcting grammatical, typographical, and sentence construction errors.  The author may point out any inconsistencies in plot, but the focus is on getting the manuscript as clean as possible.  Editors typically require 5-7 days to complete a copy/line edit.  Though authors can easily accept and reject changes in a day or two.

  1. 3 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Proofreading:

The final step before publication is to proofread the manuscript.  Editors will complete a final read to catch any remaining typographical errors.  This typically takes approximately 3-5 days, depending upon the editor. Even if you have hired an editor to proof your manuscript, know that he or she may not get all of the errors. I suggest that authors re-read their own manuscript and enlist the help of friends and family members.

  1. 1-2 Weeks Before Expected Publication Date-Formatting:

Professional formatters might require more time than this, so checking in advance and booking time on the formatter’s schedule should take place at the same time you book time with an editor.

It is essential that the book be proofed again after formatting as the formatting process tends to add errors to the manuscript that were not there prior to formatting. All told, the author might need another week or two to proof their own book.  Some might send it out to beta readers as well during this time.  I would not recommend involving beta readers any sooner in the process.  (I will save my discussion of the pros and cons of beta readers for another time.)

Many of my most successful authors have their e-books re-proofed once every few years simply to produce a cleaner copy.  This does not mean the editor did not do his or her job; it is simply proof that catching every error is impossible.

Recently, I found myself involved in a conversation with a frustrated author who had used another editor.  She was angry that her readers had found ten errors in a book she had paid someone to proof.  As we spoke, she admitted that the editor had found and corrected 600+ errors in the manuscript.  While perhaps I should have lamented with the author about the poor performance of the editor, instead I could not help but point out that the author HAD FOUND AND FIXED more than 600 mistakes.  Missing only 10 was, in my opinion, a job well done.

As you can see, a complete and total edit of a manuscript needs to be in the works almost 4 months before the intended publication date in order to go off without a hitch. That means that your Christmas novel should be well underway by the end of July! In the end, planning ahead will lead to less stress in the days and weeks that lead up to your release date.

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