I have a friend who has written a book. She's just discovered she has terminal cancer and the one thing she wants more than anything else is to hold a copy of her published book in her hand. The doctors say she has anything between six and eighteen months left.
My question is, can she get a book published in this timeframe? How long does it generally take?
Out of Time
Dear Out of Time,
So sorry to hear about your friend. That is sad news and not something anyone ever wants to hear.
On a more positive note, yes, your friend can hold her published book in her hand within this timeframe. Just probably not if she wants to be traditionally published by one of the big publishers.
To get published by a traditional publisher, in most cases you need an agent. And to get an agent you need to query. Querying is a time consuming exercise because you need to research which agents might be looking for books like the one you've written, tailor each query to said agent (and they all have slightly different requirements) and then wait for responses. And once you start getting them, if they are mainly rejections (and I'm afraid they usually are), you may need to tweak your query to make it stronger and more appealing. The whole querying process can take months, if not years, and there is no guarantee of success.
If you do manage to get an agent, you will likely need to do a round or two of revisions with her before she'll take the book out on submission. And there is no guarantee that the book will sell in the first round of submissions. Another round or two of editing may be required based on feedback from this first submission round before the agent will go out again.
And then, even if an editor does love the book and manages to get it through the company's editorial board, the publication date is likely to be at least 18 months away. Publishing is glacially slow.
So I don't think your friend can realistically expect to be traditionally published and still have the chance to hold the book in her hands.
Luckily, there are other options. Many small presses have much shorter editing time built into their release schedules and do edits simultaneously with cover design and creating marketing materials. My publisher tends to get books from signed contract to print within 6 months. I've actually had to push back my release date a couple of times just to get enough lead-in to set up decent publicity and marketing.
And there is always the option of self-publishing which is the fastest way to get that book into her hands. She will need to pay for her own editing and cover design in this case, but if holding that book is as important to her as you make out, then she won't resent it.
Hopefully this is helpful. I wish you all the luck in the world with helping your friend achieve this lifelong dream.
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