By "How long" I'm assuming from the time they actually start trying to actively publish to the time they finally get published. For example, I've been writing since I was 10 years old - but if I ever (finally) publish a book one of these days, I'm certainly not going to tell people that it took me 20 years.

I realize that the time frames will also vary, but I am wondering if there are any general patterns. I've known far too many people who have churned out a book in six months and expected to become a famous, published author right away. I don't expect that - I've been trying for three years. But it can become discouraging sometimes.

I'm not interested in self-publishing, by the way. This is a question specifically addressing the 'traditional' publishing industry.

I would especially be interested in hearing from people who have actually gotten a book published - how long it took them to get to that point.

EDIT: Edited the title question for clarity's sake.

  • Are you asking for fiction? Or something else? I think there are different ways to publish.
    – way0utwest
    Dec 10, 2010 at 15:41
  • I was thinking fiction, I suppose, but I found way0utwest's answer incredibly interesting. Now I'm curious about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. I'd never considered that before. Dec 10, 2010 at 16:49
  • I strongly recommend this answer and this blog post.
    – Ben
    Apr 16 at 12:04

4 Answers 4


This depends highly on the genre. @Way0utwest has responded with a technical non-fiction article. For novelists, the numbers are a lot longer, and the number I hear tossed around a lot is "ten years". Here's a detailed post that surveys a wide variety of published novelists and asks them that question, with an extremely informative breakdown of the responses.

  • I accepted this as the answer to my question, because the post you linked to was EXACTLY the kind of thing I was looking for. Thank you! Dec 10, 2010 at 16:52

I would encourage you to not compare yourself to other authors. I understand you're just trying to get a ballpark estimate, but in this case, the ballpark is gigantic. The figures aren't really useful.

How long you've been writing, in terms of days, weeks, months and years, is just not a very useful figure for comparison. How much have you been reading? Do you write every day? How much do you write per day? Do you write short stories in addition to novels? Do you get critiqued regularly? What genre are you writing? How much do you edit each page?

Even two people who have the exact same answers to these questions could have wildly different outcomes. You might have a harder time getting your book in front of the right publisher. Your book may have a smaller or larger market, and thus be easier to sell. The variables are endless, and each difference can change the equation by years.

We all get discouraged. It's just what happens in a profession as variable as writing, with people as unstable as writers. Buck up. You're not alone, not by a long shot.

When professional writers are asked about the most important trait for a new writer to develop, almost all of them say the same thing: persistence. Keep writing, editing and submitting. Once you submit something, get to work on the next project. And the next. If you care enough to try to improve and you keep sending things out, you will eventually succeed.

Don't get hung up on numbers. It would be a shame to decide that it will take three years (or somesuch) to get published, and then give up if you don't hit that mark.

  • Well said ;). Also rather positive, much better than what most seem to say.
    – RolandiXor
    Jun 22, 2011 at 14:10

I published my first book after about 11 months. This was a technical book, I was approached by a publisher after I had written a number of articles in different places. I spent a hard 7-8 months writing and then 3 months later it was published and released.

The computer/technical industry operates on a fairly tight schedule, they typically approach authors, a schedule is agreed to, they often need to find replacement authors, and you have a bounded subject.

I think for fiction and other types of non-fiction, schedules/timelines may be much different.


I'm inclined to invoke the Niven rule (named for well-known science fiction author Larry Niven): "You have to write about a million words of crap before you get to the good stuff." Niven was on record as counting himself lucky, in that he inherited money and was able to write full time, hence getting through his "million words" in a year or so (BTW, that isn't a bad figure for words per year at full time; my partner writes romance, and produces approximately a million words of published work a year).

Of course, if you have to work for a living, it'll take a lot longer -- maybe even much more than the ten year figure from another answer -- to get through your million words. I've been writing when I could for most of forty years, and I'm just now approaching the point where I'm confident I can finish a novel of publication quality -- and even once finished and published, I expect to need to write half a dozen more before my sales get good enough to live on (which will coincide nicely with starting to collect Social Security).

And, of course, some writers will require fewer words, or more (the more attention you pay to the quality of your writing, and the more help you have in the form of editing and critiques, the lower your own figure likely to be). Beyond that, there's no real guarantee you'll "get to the good stuff" after your million words -- it also depends on working at your craft. If you just pump out a million random words, you're unlikely to learn anything about writing in the process -- but if you spend that time comparing your work to work you respect, trying to make your writing read better, carry the story better, portray the characters better, build the world better, a million words is just about right to learn enough to be able to produce work that will sell.

  • 1
    Which we should probably caveat by saying that there is no guarantee of good stuff at the million word mark.
    – user16226
    Sep 18, 2017 at 20:22

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