Why I can’t tell you how long it will take to write your book

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My Options Review Sessions vary a lot from one client to another. People show up for those sessions with wildly different expectations and ideas and questions about writing and publishing a book. But you can be pretty sure that they all will ask two questions.

The first one is “What’s this going to cost me?” The answer to that one always begins with “It depends.” It depends on how long your book will be and how many books you want to print and what things you will do yourself versus hiring them out. That’s pretty straightforward. The other question is a little bit tougher.

It’s “How long will it take?” And the answer to that one is, “Beats me.”

There’s usually a long pause after I deliver that answer. Then people want to know, logically, why I can’t give them a better answer. Here’s why.

A Book Is Different

A book is different from every kind of writing you’ve ever done. Even if you’re a good writer and have written lots of articles and blog posts, you’ll discover that writing a book is different. Obviously, a book is longer, but it’s not simply a matter of writing four or five articles and stringing them together.

A good book needs a common theme, and common style. It needs a through line, the basic thing that keeps people reading. And, it’s a complex system where lots of parts must work together smoothly, so that when you change one part, you probably have to change others.

Books Involve Other People

Sure, you can write the book yourself, but you’re still not the only person involved in the project. You’ll certainly need a professional editor. You’ll probably want some beta readers to review your copy. When your manuscript is done, after three or four revisions at least, you will hand the book off to interior designers and cover designers. And, guess what? All those people have schedules.

It may take that editor 10 working days to do your manuscript. But that can easily turn into 20 or 30 days if the editor can’t take your manuscript until he or she completes other work.

There’s also some natural friction. You may know that you can write 500 words a day and count on doing that five days a week, but you’ll find that won’t work some weeks. One week, your long-lost cousin, Horatio, will come to town, and you will need to show him around. Another week, you’ll get that stomach flu that’s been going around and won’t be able to do any work. Maybe you scheduled an interview with an important source, but suddenly, she needs to go out of the country on a business emergency, and the next time you can get together is a month from now.

What If You Work with Someone Like Me?

If you work with another person, like a writing partner or a coach, there’s another factor in play. You and that other person need to learn to work together. In my experience, it usually takes three to four chapters before we settle into a method that works for us.

Two Basic Ways to Think of The Project

There are two basic ways to think about the plan for writing your book that affect the amount of time it will take. Some of my clients want to write the best book that they can. Obviously, resources can be a constraint, but usually, we can come up with an extended pay option to handle the writing portion of the project. Clients who want to write the best book possible usually don’t set a deadline for the project. That’s because the best books are a learning journey as well as a writing project and there will be surprises along the way.

The other common client goal is to have the best book possible by a specific date. The date might be an anniversary, or historical date. It might be the date they’re speaking at a major conference. Whatever it is, it’s usually a date that we sacrifice some quality or some ideas to. That’s okay if the book makes a difference for readers and achieves the author’s business objectives, but it’s also a situation where we, effectively, say “We didn’t do everything we could, but we ran out of time.”

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