02 Aug 2018
How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?
The key to completing any book is breaking it into smaller, manageable parts, and then scheduling the work on those smaller parts. Self-publishing a book is no different. When you break it down, it might surprise you how fast you can write a book.
So how fast can you reasonably expect a book to take? The answer is 2-3 weeks, minimum. Whether you’re making a fiction book, a non-fiction book, or a visual book, you’re looking at roughly 15-20 sessions of raw production, provided you’re working at full-speed in your area of expertise, with everything you need in front of you.
Here’s the breakdown
Industry-standard word counts:
- 55,000 words for non-fiction
- 80,000-100,000 words for fiction
- 50-140 pages for visual books, like monographs, photography books, travel books, cookbooks, etc.
The average writer can do 750-3,000 words per session. This might be 1 hour, 5 hours, or a day, depending on your speed and your inspiration. Not all sessions yield the same, so we’re taking an average. If you’re working on a visual book, say each session is 1-3 spreads (which is 2 facing pages), with images, captions, design styling, and layout. Fiction writing may produce more words per session than non-fiction, but it requires more words overall.
There are two ways to approach this: You can either shape your writing sessions by the length of time you have to complete them, or you can shape their length by how much you complete for your book. If your sessions need to be shorter, you’ll need more of them. If your sessions come less frequently, you’ll need longer sessions with higher output to finish in the same time (or extend your estimate).
Once you’ve taken your finished goal and broken your output into scheduled writing sessions, it can be really inspiring to know that you’ll have something finished in a set amount of time.
YOUR SETUP ALSO TAKES TIME
Those production sessions can only happen if you have everything you need to do them in front of you. This means you’ll have already spent time on research, outlining, and if it’s a visual book, time producing the art that will go in it.
The good news is that it’s possible to create a work-back for this, too.
Decide ahead of time how much research/work is enough for your book
Before you start researching, decide ahead of time what will be enough research. This is the phase where many writers and creators get lost. They find too much, or stay in this phase too long and lose momentum. Remember the old saying that reading 3 books on something makes you the expert compared to 80% of the rest of the people. You might know it’ll take more than 3 books, but decide up front how many is enough. If you take in too many, both you and your project will lose focus.
The same is true for art in a visual book. Decide ahead of time how many photographs, how many illustrations, designs, etc. is enough for your book. Where writers get lost in research, creators get lost in not having the work that they consider “the one”. You can’t put everything in a single book. If you’re still waiting for that perfect piece, think about the project as a whole; you can’t say everything in a single book, so you’ll get it on the next one. Don’t let not having the perfect piece keep you from starting.
Build in “sorting sessions” as part of the outlining
One part of outlining is taking inventory of your research, story elements, or body of creative work. Before you can put things in order, you have to know what you have and how it relates. Divide your material up into manageable “piles”, and sort that pile into categories or create relationships between parts of that pile for a session. In a single session, either finish the “pile”, or schedule another session to work on that section of material. Sorting sessions are key to taking a body of research, work, or other materials into an outline you can use to write your own book.
The better your outline, the faster your production
Outlining uses the same “muscles” as writing, and it, too, can be done in sessions. One session you may pull together your research and identify your main point or the story arch. Another, you may roughly build out one of the main points, or one part of the story situation. By turning your book into a list of points for development, the development sessions produce real, working results.
Again, don’t let the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good”. Most book outlines change a little as they’re used. Just be careful with the difference between pressing on and glossing over problems. Ask yourself: Can I work with this as it is (even if I don’t love it), or is this too incomplete to use at all later? Don’t get stuck on something, but don’t set yourself up to get stuck, later.
After the first draft
First-time book writers are often surprised to find that everything that comes after that first manuscript is just as, if not more than, involved as the creation of the manuscript itself. This is editing, revising, feedback, proofreading, and packaging. This part gets trickier to time, because it often depends on other people, and it’s often the part of the book that takes the longest. Here are some tips for keeping momentum in this phase of the project.
Remind yourself you’ve only finished Phase 1
Break your own revision into sessions
You’ll want to hand off the cleanest manuscript you can to an editor and proofreader. Go back to your original outline, and use the breakdown of your project to schedule what you’ll edit and revise and schedule those sessions.
Budget about double the time you think it will take
Editing and revising inevitably poses surprise challenges.
Diligently schedule your sessions
Follow up with those that are helping you with your project. Put both your work sessions and following-up with people on your calendar.
YOU’VE GOT THIS
The last thing you need to know is that your book goes only as fast as your commitment is strong. You can parse and schedule all the way to the end, but unless you sit down and follow your schedule, regularly hitting the goals of your sessions (or maybe adjusting the goals) you won’t finish. Most of the time, when you’re scheduled to work, you don’t “feel” like writing your book. That’s why it’s on your calendar; that’s why you haven’t finished your project already. If you could sustain the inspiration and motivation to always feel great when you were finishing a project, you’d have this project done already. So any time you have a session scheduled, and you don’t want to do it or something seems more important, remember that will often be the case and that these feelings are not the whole story. The other half of the story is that you have a book in you that’s waiting to be finished, and you have what it takes to finish it, no matter what.
For ideas to get you started, check out our blog and get inspired.