How much time does it take to write a book?

There are 5 main opportunity costs of writing. Organising, research and re-reading, interviewing, writing, time away from other things.

Writing, like most things takes commitment, consistency and self discipline. Yes, there are online courses and that promote writing your book in a week, 10 days or a month, and I am sure many people could write something in this amount of time. But would people want to buy it, is it going to add value to your chosen target audiences or simply add to the already bloated world of useless content?

Realistically, it will take most people between 4-6 months to write their book, and I’m talking here of a book between 15,000-20,000 words.

What does this word length translate to in terms of time . . . this is the opportunity cost you really want to know. I’ve shared my experience below and I’d be really interested to hear your feedback as well.

1.  Opportunity cost of organising

Unless you’re superhuman and have managed to retain everything you’ve ever read, heard or seen, you’re going to need to find and organised a whole range of material and information you’ve collected into a coherent form so that you can easily access it when you’re actually ready to write.

Most of us will have created and/or collected documents, books and articles related to what our area of expertise is. Some will have also bookmarked articles, videos, specific Blog posts and YouTube presentations – these need to be organised as well. I’ve got files of stuff, piles of other stuff, more piles of books, print-outs of articles, bookmarks on Google…everything.

Once you’ve created your book plan you’ll need to review, mark-up and organise all these sources as you’ll probably need to refer to them when you’re writing. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to refer to something you know you’ve read or seen but for the life of you, you can’t remember where. I’ve spent hours looking for that one sentence/paragraph that I read and wanted to use, so I’ve learnt the hard way to organise my research.

This might take 1-2 months working approx. 6 hours a week. Clearly, if you can set aside one day a week for 1 month it might take you a shorter amount of time, but you’ll need approx. 48 hours

2. The opportunity cost of re-reading and tagging your sources.

Once you’ve pulled together all your source documents you’re going to need to re-read everything again to familiarise yourself with all the material and focus in on those parts of it that are relevant to your content outline. While this might take a while you’ll be surprised at what you’ve forgotten, where you actually got some of your thoughts and ideas from, and how different inputs have informed your particular perspective/concept.

I also write notes – the old fashioned ones on paper – to summarise the key points of the documents/books I’ve read. For me this is partly HOW I remember so much and it also acts as a quick summary when I’m writing if I need a prompt.

This might take another 1-2 months, 1 day per week – that another 64 hours

3. The cost of interviewing and engaging key people

Most business-related books require the author to organise interviews with a range of people from their sector. This takes time and money. You need to set aside time to work out who you want to interview, contact them and prepare the questions/topics you want to cover with them. Then you’ll need to meet with them, conduct the interview and then get a transcript of the interview so you can work from it.

Depending on where people are there this takes time and there are travel cots.

There’s also transcription costs, unless you’re prepared to do this yourself. As a guide, a 1-hour interview will take between 2-3 hours of time to transcribe at about $40 per hour. So, if you interview 10 people for an hour each, that’s approx. 30 hours of transcribing time or $1,200.00

Most interviews take 3-4 hours to organise, attend and follow up as you need to prepare questions and research around your topic and the key insights/knowledge you’re seeking from the interviewee. So that’s 40 hours of your time for the interviews.

4. The cost of writing – your time

There’s no set amount of time it will take to write your book. That said, if you’re going to write a book of approx. 20,000 words then I would allocate 1 day a week (or two sessions per week of 4 hours) over a 4-6 month period. This includes reworking your first draft a couple of times as this is a usual part of the writing process.

This means a commitment of 8 hours per week over 4-6 months. Taking 6 months as a guide you’re up for 192 hours.

The real questions then are:

  1. Can you ‘find’ 8 hours per week, either one day or two sessions of 4 hours? Anything less than this is simply not worth it as you can’t focus long enough to progress with your writing. There’s no such thing as a ‘power book’ process despite what some may want you to believe;
  2. Can you commit to 8 hours per week for a 4-6 month period?
  3. Can you create a space in your home or office where you can work undisturbed?
  4. Are you disciplined enough to remove all distractions and work, uninterrupted for at least 4 hours? This means turning the phone off, switching the message alert off on your computer, resisting the urge to do those chores you’ve been meaning to do?
  5. Are you organised enough to arrange the interviews you want to do, follow through, plan and execute them well?
  6. Is your partner in life and/or business willing and supportive of you, there’s a huge opportunity cost for them as well in your decision, and for your children if they are younger?

Clearly, you may choose to take shorter or longer to write your book because of other commitments you have, or not. That’s totally ok, but remember to be really effective in your writing you need at least a four-hour block of time on a regular basis to make progress.

In summary the opportunity cost in time of writing your book is:

1.Organising 48 hours

2. Re-reading your research material 64 hours

3. Interview 40 hours

4. Writing time 192 hours

TOTAL TIME          344 hours

Actual cost

  1. Interview transcribing                                $1,200 approx.
  2. Travel + accommodation costs                Variable
  3. Copying and book purchases                    Variable (say $500.00)

TOTAL actual costs                                      $1,700 and up

The other hidden cost – lost space

When I am in full-on writing mode I have documents, books, papers, articles and stuff spread out across my study and, sometimes, it stays in these seemingly random piles for weeks/months, as I know just where every document or piece of paper is.

If you don’t have a study you need to make sure you have a place where you can literally spread out, that’s safe from children, pets, partners, the cleaner or helpful others who ‘just want to tidy your room’. Someone else/your family might have to give up their space for your project

Let me know what I’ve missed about the costs of writing, [email protected]