Author Q&A: Why Does It Take So Long to Publish?

Author and artist Sara A. Noe in cosplay at the NWI Comic-Con in Crown Point, IN


Whew, what a question! Since I encounter it frequently, I decided to address this one in a public Q&A here on my blog rather than a Patreon-exclusive post (author and character Q&As are a membership perk for my Alpha-level subscribers).

First, let me say that as far as publication turnaround times go, I fall somewhere in the middle. I may not be the fastest, but I don’t fall into the slow category, either!

Rapid-release authors are typically exclusive to Amazon (although not always) and are able to release new titles every few months or even every few weeks. How they manage to pull that off is honestly beyond me, but they make it work somehow.

And then, you’ve got authors like George R.R. Martin, who had an infamously lengthy twelve-year gap between book releases.

My novels come out every one and a half to two years, which is actually not that long of a wait… even if it feels like it! But, despite now being a full-time author, I’m actually not spending all of that time writing. Here’s why my release schedule is the way it is at this point in my writing career.

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I Write Big Books

And I cannot lie!

(Sorry… couldn’t help myself!)

But in all seriousness, the average word count for a novel is between 65,000 and 120,000 words. Fantasy can push the boundary a bit more than other genres, but most books fall in that range.

A Fallen Hero was the first novel I published, and it clocked in at 154k words. Not unreasonable. But the books have been getting bigger as the series progresses. Phantom’s Mask was about 194k, while Blood of the Enemy came in at around 204k. Book IV is still in progress, but as I write this post, it’s currently sitting at 218,218 words. That word count will fluctuate as I finish the first draft and trim it up in editing, but it’s still the biggest book in the series so far.

As you can imagine, it takes me a lot longer to write, edit, and publish a novel with more than 200k words than it does for an author releasing books that are half (or less) that size. Rapid-release authors churn out MUCH smaller books that can be written and edited in a very short period of time.

But what can I say? I like big books that have a lot of depth and development. Speaking of…

Worldbuilding & Character Development

I put a lot of thought into my worldbuilding. I enjoy creating my own landscapes, creatures, cultures, hierarchies, power scales, and history rather than pulling from stereotypical fantasy tropes (although I do also like to experiment with reimagining my own spin on iconic creatures). Because of that, I don’t like to rush the process. I try to consider as many facets as I can before cementing those details in a published book. I’d rather take my time and figure everything out than publish quickly without thinking it all through and then later regret some of the worldbuilding choices that might end up becoming contradictions or plot holes down the road as the series unfolds.

I also like to write complex characters that have a chance to undergo development throughout the story. Two-dimensional characters aren’t interesting to me. That means spending a lot of time exploring these characters in my head before they even make it onto the page, and then giving them time to grow in a way that feels organic, not a forced transition within a limited amount of pages.

Ghost Realm candle by Old Soul Artisan

Graphics, Maps, & Covers

Most authors outsource their artwork to freelancers (self-publishing) or artists who are contracted with the publishing house (traditional publishing). I don’t. Since I’ve built my art business along with my author career, it didn’t make sense for me to pass those tasks along to somebody else… nor did I want to. That was a huge part of what drove me to self-publish — I wanted to maintain creative control over my work.

Book III had some delays because I needed time to hammer out the final details of Saros Manor, Phantom Heights, and the Ghost Realm as I created the maps and floorplans that were published in the front of the book. I also design my own book covers in Photoshop and do my own interior print layouts.

Is it just because I’m a control freak? Well… yes, partially, I’ll admit that. But it’s also a way for me to save costs. As you can imagine, big books come with big costs. My line editor, for example, charges me per word in the manuscript. Publishing is expensive for indie authors, so I have to find ways to reduce expenses without cutting too many corners and compromising the quality of my books. Taking these tasks on myself helps my wallet, but it does cost me some extra turnaround time between book releases.

This is why I’m incredibly grateful to the fans who support me by subscribing on Patreon or occasionally buying me a drink! Those donations and subscriptions help me keep up with business and publishing costs. Learn more in this FAQ article.

Map of the Ghost Realm Avilesor in Blood of the Enemy by Sara A. Noe

Writing Speed

When it comes to writing, I’m not the fastest. I have a tendency to write scenes as they pop into my head, even if they’re not chronological in the plot. That means I end up having to stitch scenes together and rearrange the pieces, and I often edit as I go rather than resuming where I left off and simply filling the blank page with words to edit later. My style is messy, slow, and unorganized in comparison, but I still get the job done in the end.

A lot of authors keep track of their word count and set progress goals. I fall into the unorthodox category of not paying attention to that at all. Some days, I can get several chapters done. Other days, I don’t even touch my book because I’m chipping away at an endless to-do list that’s still related to my business. I honestly couldn’t tell you what my average word count per day is.

My unpopular opinion is that word count really isn’t that important. I think stories should be as long or as short as they need to be. I can’t think of an idea for a book and say, “Okay, I want this book to be 115k words.” My brain doesn’t work like that. The only reason word count is even on my radar is because I’m aware of how print costs affect pricing. I don’t slash my story to fit into a smaller book, nor do I pack useless fluff to stretch a weak plot into big enough size. My word count will be what it needs to be.

(On a side note, I do sometimes split a story in half if it’s too big. That’s what I ended up doing with A Fallen Hero and Phantom’s Mask.)

Editing Phases

I think it’s safe to say that I put my books through more editing phases than most other authors do. After I finish the first draft, I do a thorough self-edit before passing it out to multiple beta readers and a content editor and gathering their feedback, which brings me into another round of self-editing to incorporate their notes. After that, it goes to a professional line editor.

Even after that’s done, I also read through every proof copy version (hardcover, paperback, and ebook) prior to releasing the novel for the public. Sometimes, an error will somehow manage to slip through the first two versions until I catch it in the third and then have to update all three.

This is why I know I’ll never be a rapid-release author. Editing alone takes me a few months… I can’t fathom how some authors are able to write a book in a matter of weeks and then move through the editing phase so quickly. I have to give my beta readers and line editor plenty of time to read, digest, and share their feedback. I know readers are chomping at the bit for the next book, but I won’t risk sacrificing quality by rushing through either the writing or editing process.

Marketing & Content Creation

Marketing is the part of self-publishing that most indie authors, myself included, grossly underestimate. Writing and publishing a book is one thing. Getting it into the hands of readers is quite another.

And, since we don’t have a publishing house or agent helping us, we’re on our own. That means spending a lot of time creating engaging social media content, ads, videos, and much, much more to give our books an online presence.

Some rapid-release authors don’t have to worry about this as much because they already have a strong following waiting for their next book. For me, it’s been an intense uphill battle… but, as exhausting and time-consuming as it’s been, I’m so happy to look back and see how far I’ve come.

Still, marketing my existing books does take time away from publishing the next one. I can’t survive as an author if I don’t have readers, after all! I have to keep working to introduce my series to new readers whenever I can.

And there’s more to writing than just working on books! Keep in mind that I also write content for two separate blogs (including this one), Patreon, social media, my monthly newsletter, and freelance writing projects that come in.

Event Schedule

My event schedule was, shall we say, overly ambitious last year. I did FIFTY events!! And really, that was too much. Traveling, setting up, and tearing down my extensive display is a lot of work, and because I was struggling to regain my momentum after the winter break, I was accepting tiny artist pop-ups and little markets that weren’t suited to my demographic, just to fill my schedule and try to bring in revenue to get back on my feet.

That cost me. Not just time, but also burnout. I didn’t have time to focus on the next book because I was too busy managing my inventory and driving between multiple events every weekend.

This year, I’m in a much better position with my event schedule. I’m prioritizing quality over quantity now that I’ve had a couple of years to experiment with different types of markets, conventions, and festivals to learn which ones are the best for me.

Still, events require time, even when I’m not physically at an event. I have to search for new events online, fill out vendor applications, keep track of deadlines and fees, etc. And, of course, managing my inventory, creating handmade products, and placing periodic orders to replenish my outsourced products (like the books) when I’m low on stock. There’s so much time and work that goes into events, but they’ve proven to be the best way for me to reach new readers and generate enough income to be a full-time author.

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Writing as a Business

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but I’m managing a real business every day. Last month, I finally launched my ecommerce website where I can sell autographed copies of my books along with my art products that were previously event exclusive since I don’t have a brick-and-mortar store. That project in and of itself consumed a ton of time and attention!

But there’s also the number side of a business. That’s not my strong suit, but I have to keep track of my sales, finances, expenses, loans, event reports, and more. I track print and ebook sales through IngramSpark, Kindle sales through KDP, and audiobook sales through Findaway Voices.

In addition, I manage three website domains: On The Cobblestone Road, Chronicles of Avilésor, and Green Witch Lunar Witch hosted through GoDaddy and Wealthy Affiliate. I also sell my own personally designed merchandise on Spring (CoA) and Redbubble (GWLW), which each have their own online storefronts.

Yes, writing is my passion, but it’s also a business, so I have to divide my time for various tasks. This is my full-time job. I have to earn enough revenue not only to survive, but also to invest in publishing the next book… and, you know, enjoy life at least a little bit.

Author and artist Sara A. Noe in cosplay at the NWI Comic-Con in Crown Point, IN

Art & Handmade Products

As I mentioned earlier, part of my business is focused on my art. I strive to produce a new featured art piece every month, and I share a timelapse video of its creation with my Level 2 and 3 Patreon subscribers.

But it goes so much deeper than that! I also create new designs for my two online merch and apparel shops, digital art like the popular Kit emojis for the Chronicles of Avilésor Discord server, and handmade products such as bookmarks, resin page holders, necklaces, earrings, and book prints featuring my character sketches printed on real book pages from A Fallen Hero.

I also order my art prints and digital designs on a variety of products including keychains, mouse pads, notecards, postcards, puzzles, stickers, canvases, artboards, etc. This requires time and work to digitize and scale the artwork to the specifications for each item and then also manage that inventory for events.

Bookmarks, stickers, and other products by author and artist Sara A. Noe
Artwork by Sara A. Noe on mousepads, postcards, and notecards

So, while the art and handmade items are a comparably smaller part of my business than the books, they’re still an important facet that allow me to cross over into markets that are more art-centric. At some of my events, I never know which will perform better — the art or the books. (I have a real talent for guessing incorrectly.)

Creating handmade products to sell at events sometimes takes me a full week of prep to have enough inventory on hand, especially for large events. I recently introduced brand-new bookmarks at my last event, and those took me several days to make. I try to strike a reasonable balance between handmade and outsourced products. My profit margins are higher on the items that I can make myself, but of course, the tradeoff is always time.

There You Have It!

I know it sucks waiting for the next book. Trust me, as a reader, I totally understand! But as an author, I have so many tasks to juggle while frugally managing my expenses as I continue to establish my business. After all, this is only my second year doing this full time. I’m in the process of scaling up to larger events and growing my audience.

I wish I could put everything on hold and get Book IV out (since it’s my favorite one in the series), but I can’t afford to do that. But I promise that I’m doing my best and working on it whenever I can. It will be worth the wait… trust me!

Patreon membership tiers for Sara A. Noe
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I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first three novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series have received awards from Literary Titan.

After some time working as a freelance writer, I was shocked by how many website articles are actually written by paid "ghost writers" but published under the byline of a different author. It was a jolt seeing my articles presented as if they were written by a high-profile CEO or an industry expert with decades of experience. I'll be honest; it felt slimy and dishonest. I had none of the credentials readers assumed the author of the article actually had. Ghost writing is a perfectly legal, astonishingly common practice, and now, AI has entered the playing field to further muddy the waters. It's hard to trust who (or what) actually wrote the content you'll read online these days.

That's not the case here at On The Cobblestone Road. I do not and never will pay a ghost writer, then slap my name on their work as if I'd written it. This website is 100% authentic. No outsourcing. No ghost writing. No AI-generated content. It's just me... as it should be.

If you would like to support my work, check out the Support The Creator page for more information. Thank you for finding my website! 🖤