The time it takes to publish a book

Most writers know the difference between paying to get your book published and getting a publisher to invest in your work. The publishers who do the latter are called traditional publishers. But people don’t always know the difference.

This didn’t matter to me until I got into the game. You see, I have been telling people about my novel for over a year…two years? It’s still not published (although it will be at the end of the year.)

Every time I meet someone who knows I have written a book, I get asked the same question again and again, in different ways.


What? Your book is still not published?

Why is your book taking so long?

Where is this book you’ve been talking about? 

When will your book be published?

All they know is that their old aunt, the neighbour’s son or first cousin has just published a book…and they did it so quickly! How come I was finding it difficult to get a publisher? They look at me sympathetically. I know the unasked questions running through their mind. Has she really written a book? If yes, isn’t it good enough?

I try to explain the difference between publishing the traditional way and doing it yourself. I tell them it can take a year or more to get a traditional publisher’s attention. If a publisher accepts your book, they could take another year to publish it. Because obviously, traditional publishers don’t just publish at any random time…they have their seasons, their lists, and they have deals with distributors. There is a method and there is a schedule. Naturally.

A person who wants to self-publish can do it the very next day, as soon as the book is ready. All that is needed is a printing press. These presses are more than eager for business. You don’t have to try to get them to publish your book. They try to get you to publish with them. Try making just one call, and they will hound you.

So why bother with traditional publishers who treat you like a speck of dirt most of the time (unless you are a celebrity or they think you are a genius). Well, it’s not because you need their stamp of approval but because you need their marketing and distribution muscle. Bookshops rarely stock self-published books. And self-published books are banned from many reputed competitions.

I have nothing against self-publishing or some type of hybrid publishing where authors pay for publishing their book. But it should be the author’s last, desperate choice.

Sure, there are some very good self-published books. But I have seen plenty with bad covers and grammatical mistakes. Poor sentence construction is also common.

boredom-1977519_1280One self-published author had the temerity to tell me: What does it matter if there are grammatical mistakes…as long as the book is interesting! 

That’s one argument I cannot quite digest.


The grey area between a pantser and a plotter

I am neither a pantser nor a plotter. I have my own method. It’s worked for me so far.

Pantsers write without a structure in mind and plotters outline and then fill in the blanks. The pantsers and the plotters. I never really got this distinction. The grey area between these two extremes is just too huge. Experts tell you to do what suits you best. I figured it out, for me.

I wrote my first crime thriller (to be published in September 2019) as a pantser. It took several rewrites and several years and a lot of muddling about. I want a better method. Fun as it was.

The second time around (I am working on my second novel, a sequel) I thought I would try the plotting method. Total Fail. Got writer’s block. So that’s out of the window.

What I did next was write the first half of the novel (rough first draft) and then took a break…because this is where I usually meander.

I started to flesh out the characters in greater detail. Not the main characters like the protagonist and the villain, because I already knew them well. But the minor characters weren’t as vivid in my mind as I would have liked them to be. So I wrote out detailed physical descriptions, personality traits, goals, motivations, and interviewed them, asking them all sorts of questions. This included the characters who play bit parts. It took time and at times seemed a futile exercise. But I enjoyed doing it. I got some interesting plot ideas and insights.


I found out what these minor characters were thinking. All of them had serious personality issues. There would be consequences.

I picked up the draft where I had left off. The protagonist was in the thick of it already but now I knew the parts the minor characters were going to play. It wasn’t a magic pill. After the exercise was over, it wasn’t as if that I knew exactly what was going to happen.

That is why I did not plot or outline the rest of the novel. A few chapters were done this way (the last 3-4 chapters) but the rest were written out as I went along. They were written very roughly, not bothering with grammar and paragraphs. Some chapters were barely a page or so. Quite basic really, not like the first half of the book, which was also a rough first draft.

In the second half of the book, there are mostly half sentences, dialogues without tags, and plenty of notes and questions to myself. It wasn’t an outline but it wasn’t really a proper draft.

The next step is to go back and flesh it out.

I hope to finish writing a proper first draft by March/April 2019 and then the second draft in the next 3-4 months.

Then I’ll give myself a break for a month or two and then go back and write the third draft. If this works, it will be faster than my first novel, but it’s not as if I will be churning out book after book.

I am a slow writer. But it feels good to be confident about the story and the plot. That’s what matters.


A writer’s journey

If there is a major pothole a writer should avoid falling into, it’s the fear of rejection. I fell into it, and am just about getting out of it. Now that I look back, maybe (partly at least) it was because I revered authors. Whether it was Charles Dickens or Minette Walters, it didn’t matter. How could I even dream of walking amongst them?

The fear of not being good enough paralysed me for years. I had wanted to write a novel since I was ten actually, and I wrote several, starting from the time I was a teenager. Not just novels and novellas, but short stories, fan fiction, and screenplays. I would read these out to friends and family off and on, but never sent anything for publication. I threw almost all of my early writings away, except for the poetry.

I turned into a journalist –  a fairly good one at that. I liked to see my byline out there in mainstream newspapers and I liked the paychecks. Often, I would submit a humour piece or a short story, and my editors liked it and published it. But writing a whole novel? That was a different ballgame. The project fell by the wayside. When I did draft a novel one day, it was in a tentative fashion. Then I kept it away and concentrated on my “real” work.

Last year, my daughter told me it was time I published it. So what if it was rejected she said. I was an experienced writer by now and should not feel insecure. She was right. The years of writing had done me well. My words flowed better. I felt more confident and decided that I was ready.  So I re-wrote my crime novel and was happy with the result.

But when I sent in the book proposals, I realised no one even wanted to read my novel, leave alone give it a shot.

I read up on self-publishing. Most of what I read was discouraging. Besides the obvious challenges that were underlined, the message was that if the holy grail of traditional publishers did not want even want to read it, something must be wrong with the book. I did not let it get me down. I sent my novel out to beta readers, and now it’s just come back from a professional edit. I will continue to search for a traditional publisher and if I am not successful in finding one, it does not mean that I will give up on my book.

(This post was originally written for a writer’s group which I am no longer a part of and therefore all references to it have been removed)