The Publishing Timeline: Submission to Contract Signing

This week, we’re wrapping up our Wednesday series on negotiation with a look at the publishing contract timeline.

Many authors assume that once a publisher offers a deal, everything happens at once. Contracts are signed. Money is paid. Books are published. Authors rejoice!

Not so fast, there, partner.

Traditional publishing takes time, and contracts are no exception. The time from offer to contract signing is usually measured in months, not days.The submission and contract process for traditional publication works like this:

Step 1: Submission. The author (or the author’s agent) submits a query or a proposal to an editor at the publishing house. If the editor likes the proposal (s)he will request the full manuscript. The time between query and request can range from days to a couple of months, and review of the author’s full manuscript often takes longer. Average time on submission: 2-12 months.

12L30 Oobie

Step 2: Offer. The publisher (usually working through the editor who will work with the book) contacts the author or the author’s agent to offer a deal. The parties will discuss the major deal points (advances, expected formats, possibility of a series, etc.) and – hopefully – reach an agreement. Average time in negotiation: 1-7 days.

Step 3: Contract. The publisher (working through its contract attorneys) prepares a draft of the publishing contract and sends it to the author (or his or her representative) for review. Preparation of contracts doesn’t happen overnight. Small presses tend to move more quickly than large ones, but authors often find themselves nervously waiting, hoping the publisher hasn’t changed its mind. Average time between deal point agreement and contract receipt: 1-4 MONTHS. (You read that right – months – especially if the publisher is currently revising its standard contract terms.)

Step 4: Negotiations. The author (with the help of an agent or an attorney) reviews the contract and negotiates any desired points or issues. This may involve telephone calls or email exchanges, as well as revisions to the contract. Average time for negotiations: 1-4 weeks.

Oobie Tongue out redact

Step 5: Success! Once the negotiations conclude, the parties can sign the contract and proceed with the publishing process.

When it comes to timing, “your mileage may vary” but the process always involves these same five steps. Independent authors who submit their work to traditional publishing houses will have a similar experience, though those who self-publish will negotiate (or at least review) their contracts without the lengthy submission times. Some view this as an advantage, but the reality is that independent authors who publish through Amazon or similar online services have far less room to negotiate contract terms – essentially trading speed for lack of control. That isn’t always a bad thing, though.

Like everything else, the publishing timeline is merely one more factor an author needs to consider when choosing a publishing path.

Have you been through the contract process? What was the timeline like for you? If not … does it surprise you to learn how long the process can take?

3 thoughts on “The Publishing Timeline: Submission to Contract Signing

  • February 27, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Another great #publaw! Thank you, Susan. By the way, kittie’s eyes are almost cartoonish.

  • March 2, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Oh Susan, how right you are! What shocked me the most was how long it took to get the contract… I was a debut author, so most of it was boilerplate. My agent negotiated what she could, and then I waited. And waited.

    We’d agreed on everything — couldn’t we just get started? “Not without a signed contract.” She said.

    It took THREE MONTHS to get that contract in my hands. And don’t get me started on the time to publish….

    Two and a half years.

    Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

    Is that your cat? I have a Tortie, too!

  • March 2, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for another great, informative post. Waiting for the contract can be panic-inducing (did they change their minds?)…but rewarding. 🙂

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