What is the timeline from proposal to printed book? How long does each stage take, and when should authors expect a response from the publisher?
Every author wants to know how long the publishing process takes, from submitting a proposal until the publication of the book. The honest answer is, it depends: It depends on the field of study, the publisher, and most of all, the author. When you start talking with editors about your project, you should ask about the timeline to make sure you get accurate information for your particular project and that particular publisher.
That said, in general you should expect to receive an acknowledgement of the receipt of your proposal within a few days and a decision on it about two to three months after you submit it. This period may be shorter if you have already been in discussion with the editor and they are expecting your proposal; it may be longer if you are working in a very competitive field or with a very competitive publisher, if your project is unusually complex, if your proposal went to a series editor or series board for consideration, or if the editor has to get peer reviews or editorial board approval of the proposal prior to inviting a manuscript. You should ask when you submit the proposal when you can expect to get a decision, and you should follow up if you don’t hear back in a timely way.
Once an editor has invited you to submit a full manuscript, the ball is in your court. If you don’t already have a full draft of the manuscript ready to share, it is most helpful for everyone involved if you set a deadline that is realistic in light of your other commitments and the pace at which you typically produce finished pages. Don’t set yourself up for failure and your editor up for frustration.
After you deliver the full manuscript, the editor will send it out for peer review. As with the proposal evaluation, you should ask how long this process typically takes and follow up with the editor if you haven’t heard in that timeline. (See also How Long Does It Take to Peer Review and Publish a Book?) Generally, peer review takes three to four months, but it may take longer depending on how specialized your work is, how long or complex the manuscript is, the time of year (few people want to take on extra work at the start of a semester, for example), and other factors. Please keep in mind that peer review is a voluntary community service typically performed by busy scholar-teachers and other experts with demanding jobs. It may take several weeks for the editor to find people with the appropriate expertise who are willing to do the review, and they may need more time than you or the editor would prefer to read and evaluate your work.
Assuming the peer reviews are positive, you will then negotiate a new deadline with your editor as part of revising the manuscript in light of the reviewers’ suggestions (your editor may have some suggestions as well). See above about realistic deadlines. In addition to revising the text, you may need to acquire or commission illustrations (photographs, maps, charts, and so on) and obtain permission to reprint any copyrighted works you plan to include in your book. Be sure to factor in plenty of time for these tasks.
Once you deliver the final manuscript—with all illustrations, permissions, appendixes, and everything large and small that you intend to appear in the book—to your editor, it will generally take at least a year to produce the book. It may take longer, depending on how many other books the publisher has in process at that time. Again, ask your editor for a specific timeline. And check out these handy graphics on the publishing life cycleto get a sense of what’s happening during this year.
A universally applicable caveat: If you are on the tenure track and have to reach specific stages of the publishing process by certain dates, you should be sure to let your editor know what your timeline is. The editor will explain what the press needs from you at what times in order to make your deadlines. Keep in mind, though, that publishers can’t expedite a single project at the expense of the dozens or scores of others we are working on, or shortchange essential quality measures like peer review and copyediting.