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Calendar to a Book Deal

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Aspiring authors often get enraged at the lack of true, specific information about publishing. We’re constantly told, “There’s no standard timetable for a publisher to respond.” You can substitute timetable for dollar amount or print runs or book tours or literary groupies or type of wine served at booksignings or anything else you can imagine. All these blogs and interviews and magazines dedicated to publishing and yet it’s damn near impossible to get a clear answer to anything.

Well, I must admit, that unfortunately all those vague are general responses are true. There is no standard answer to many queries.

But in hopes of providing you with at least some small measure of concrete information, here is the calendar to my own experience with book deals.

–Proposal Submitted to Editors: March 9, 2009
–Editor Interviews: March 18, 2009 thru March 30, 2009
–Offer(s) Made and Discussed and Counteroffer(s) Made: April 16, 2009 thru April 29, 2009
–Offer Accepted:April 30, 2009
–Deal Announced in Media: June 8, 2009
–Contract Signed: July 15, 2009
–Advance Check Received: August 11, 2009

In my instance, there were a couple of factors that lengthened the process. The London Book Fair took place in the middle of April so the publishing industry’s focus was there, more so than on books being discussed here at home. My agent did a fine job of staying in touch with all the players and keeping me updated, but editorial attention was obviously focused on London during that time.

Also, a couple of key vacations played a role in my situation. This person needs to review the proposal and pass off, but he’s out of the office this week. That person needs to review the comps but they’re gone for a long weekend. That sort of thing.

And finally, it goes without saying that the general downturn affecting all of publishing (except for bigtime celebrity projects, I suppose) makes the entire process move distractingly slowly. Book submissions are simply much more difficult to get accepted these days. More people have to agree, stronger cases have to be made.

The fact is that while those 1% of overnight deals grab the headlines, the vast majority of other deals take a while. One industry professional told me an average (although he was quick to add the caveat that there is no such thing as “standard”) was 2 to 5 weeks. Most agents have stories of deals that take a year or so to complete.

And once you have a deal, don’t think you’re going to rush right out and buy a Ferrari. As Matt Bondurant, author of The Third Translation and The Wettest County in the World, told me in a past interview, it take “a lot longer than you think, and longer than they say,” to receive the advance check. In my case, I was pretty pleased with the turnaround on the check. My agent did a good job of setting my expectations and the payment was actually received a little bit quicker than I thought. Once again, I’m sure this varies wildly from publisher to publisher, deal to deal.

Just as an example of how dramatically these things can vary, a buddy of mine submitted his book on a Friday and had a deal 10 days later.