How long does it take to write a book

A number of people have asked me how long it took to write my book, and how much of that time was spent on the actual writing. Luckily I’d thought it would be interesting to know that myself, so I recorded my time from the very beginning of the project. Thank you to Peter Maddox for helping me to turn my dry figures into a pretty chart!

The time tracking starts from mid May 2011, when I began planning the book in earnest. I stopped tracking my time in mid February 2012, when the book became available on Amazon and B&N. The figures include only the work I did myself. Other people put a significant amount of time into the book too. In particular, Richard Hamilton at XML Press did the copy editing and publishing of the book, the illustrator created the cover image and the five images that introduce the parts of the book, and six people worked on the technical review. It would be interesting to know the total time spent by all of us, but I don’t have that information.

Summarising the time I spent on the book

Elapsed time: 9 months
Total time spent on the book: 620 hours
Number of hours spent actually developing content (words and diagrams): 376 hours

So, the time spent developing content was approximately 60% of the total time. I wonder if that’s about average?

Assuming a 5-day week of 8 hours flat-out per day, 620 hours would have taken 16 weeks. That’s approximately 4 months. I did it all while holding down a full-time job – an exciting and challenging one, at that. So, I spent all weekends, all public holidays, and a number of days of my annual leave, on the book. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed it, except that I have a wonderful family who supported me all the way. And it was worth it!

Time per task

This chart shows the number of hours spent per week, on each task. The vertical axis shows the number of hours. The horizontal axis shows a nine-month period by week, from mid May 2011 to mid February 2012. The colours show the different tasks, with a colour-coded key running along the top of the chart.

I’ve totalled the hours per week, since that seems a logical boundary and makes a nice smooth chart. (A daily chart is interesting but very spiky. A monthly chart does not have enough detail.)

Here’s a bit more information about each of the task types. I’ve rounded the figures to the nearest hour in this list:

  • Preparation (39 hours): Choose a publisher. Prepare and discuss the initial outline with the publisher.
  • Writing (376 hours): Map out the structure of a chapter, write it, do my own review, draw any diagrams necessary, develop test data and take screenshots – everything that goes into developing the content.
  • Administrative and technical tasks (66 hours): Sort out the IRS, set up the technical environment, correspond with various people.
  • Design (12 hours): Liaise with the publisher and illustrator about the illustrations, book cover, and other design matters.
  • Technical review comments (34 hours): Discuss and incorporate feedback from the technical reviewers.
  • Promotion (23 hours): Write blog posts, tweet, plan webinars, liaise with companies who may buy the book in bulk. This encompasses just the work done before publication. Promotion ramps up significantly after publication, and is not shown here.
  • Index, captions, footnotes (36 hours): Develop the index for the book, add the image and table captions, and formalise the footnotes.
  • Copy editing and final proofs (35 hours): Incorporate feedback from the copy editor, and review the final proofs and galleys.

The book

Of course, the amount of time it takes to write a book depends on a number of things, including the size and nature of the book. Here are the vital statistics of my book.

Title: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication

Available: Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

Publisher: XML Press

Illustrator: Ryan Maddox

Number of pages: 488

Number of words: Approximately 130,000 (excluding the table of contents and the index)

Number of diagrams: I created 11 diagrams to illustrate various concepts. (These are in addition to the drawings created by the illustrator, and a large number of screenshots.)

Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 1.1 inches

Nature of the book: Technical – see the outline of the book

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About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 29 April 2012, in book, confluence tech comm chocolate, technical writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Sounds right. I reckon I create one 500-word page per day, when averaged over the whole project from start to finish.

    • Hallo Matt

      That’s a pretty good average!

      I spent an hour per day during the week, mainly to keep the content fresh in my mind. Then I worked long and hard on the weekends, and on the days I took as leave.

      Cheers,
      Sarah

  2. Wow Sarah, great data! I spent 2 hours Sunday night on book edits thanks to an awesome husband who can convince little boys to go to bed. :) I am so glad you tracked your time. You must have super focus powers.

    • Hallo Anne :)

      My hubby and family were just so great too. I couldn’t have done it without them. Tracking the time actually turned out to be a bit of a motivator too. “Hmm, only four hours’ writing so far. Must keep going…” :)

      Cheers, Sarah

  3. David Bonilla

    Nice article Sarah! Can you complete the data with the sales figures?

    I wonder how much sold units are ‘a success’ for a technical book. And if there are people still buying printed copies!

    • Hallo David :)

      How many units sold constitute a success for a technical book? That’s a very good question. I have no idea. I guess it depends on the number of people using the product.

      I’m eagerly awaiting the first report on sales. My publisher has given me some good estimates, but accounting happens quarterly, and at a delay of 90 days. So my first real sales figures will be available in July.

      Cheers, Sarah

  4. So about 4 months if it had been a full-time job. Sounds about right; a non-trivial piece of work. I found that if the content has lots of code samples that have to also compile, the work is at least half as much again.

  5. Sarah, great post, interesting data. Start to finish my non-fiction book took about 10 months, following a pattern similar to yours. I could not have imagined tracking the hours while I was writing it as you did. And I couldn’t have finished it without an incredibly supportive life partner (and first editor) either. Ron

    • Hallo Ron
      Thanks! I agree 100% about the incredibly supportive partners and families. They’re stars. It was actually quite fun tracking the hours. It made me feel good to see them stacking up. I could mutter to myself, and anyone else prepared to listen, “Yeah, you see, writing a book is hard work!” ;)
      Cheers
      Sarah

  6. Hello. I actually want to congratulate you, not for the book, but for the statistics you kept. This is something more people should understand needs to be done. I hate it when i ask people “How long does it take to write a book” (For example) and they tell me “It depends”. I’m like OF COURSE but give me some sort of average time overall, or per task, or something so i can have an idea and estimate the time it would take me to do it. You restored my faith in people, smart people.

    • Hallo Hector

      I’m so glad the post has put a little faith back into the world – faith in people, that is. Whoever said “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”? ;) But yes, the graphs and numbers in the post reflect the actual time spent, painstakingly recorded at the time I did the work. It’s good to know they’re useful to people.

      Thanks for your comment! It’s great to hear from you.
      Cheers, Sarah

  1. Pingback: Bloggernama: April 2012 « TechComm Central by Adobe

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