When discussing the timeframe for securing a publisher, the process can vary greatly from project to project, but below is a basic timeline. My assumption is that you have a complete proposal that your agent is ready to submit. Our agency has occasionally received a new proposal ready to shop right from the beginning, but more often than not, we spend weeks, if not months, with our clients just on the proposal. As we've described before, this is your chance to put your best foot forward and we take it seriously. But once you have a proposal complete, what's the process and how long does it take?
We work with our clients to establish a list of publishers to submit the finished proposal to. For a typical author without a pre-existing publishing relationship, this process takes a day or two. We always want our authors to be fully aware of who we are presenting their proposal to and why, and so we take the time to share this list, but this obviously isn't a time-consuming process.
Once the proposal has been on submission, we typically request publishers to provide a substantive response to us within 4-6 weeks. This will vary based on time of year and typical vacation periods within the industry, but your potential publisher needs this time to accomplish the following:
- The editor will review the proposal herself, and may have questions or need additional information from the agent or the author;
- The editor will prepare their own internal document, which is then shared with colleagues, assuming the editor wants to present the proposal to a larger team for acquisition;
- The editor will first present the proposal to an editorial committee, typically consisting of other editors and the publisher, which meeting typically occurs 1-4 times per month;
- If the proposal makes it past the editorial committee, the proposal will then be presented in a meeting to the publishing committee, which will include marketing and sales representatives, and typically takes place once or twice per month;
- If your proposal makes it past both committees and is approved for acquisition, then your editor needs to obtain sales projections from the sales team, prepare a pro forma of anticipated sales, foreign rights and other licenses (basically all potential income), and obtain approval for a specific offer (the amount of the offer will often dictate additional rounds of approvals);
- At this point, the editor will submit a formal offer to your agent.
This entire process usually takes 4-6 weeks, and can occasionally take longer for one or two of the publishers your agent has submitted to, depending on when their meetings take place.
Once your agent has obtained all initial offers for your proposal, there may be additional rounds of discussion or negotiation with regard to the initial offers, sometimes with multiple publishers at once, sometimes with one specific publisher. But again, because of the approvals process internally, this can often take another 1-2 weeks.
When you and your agent have decided to formally accept an offer, you then have to negotiate the publishing agreement. The amount of time it takes for the publisher to provide an initial draft of the publishing agreement can vary widely. Some publishers can provide this within 1 week, and others take 4-6 weeks, but this too will often depend on internal schedules and other work at the time. It then can take anywhere from another 2-4 weeks to accomplish the negotiation on your publishing agreement and route the agreement for signatures.
All told, this can feel like an interminable amount of time. But you should expect this process to take roughly 3-5 months from the first date of submission to actual execution of a publishing agreement with your new publisher, taking into account all of the above. There are always exceptions, but unfortunately those exceptions lie on both sides of the time table.