This is, of course, an entirely subjective question. For some people, a lifetime isn’t enough time. For others, they are churned out like a factory. Most authors are in between. I can only offer my own information.
I’m an accountant, so I’m used to keeping track of my time. However, I’ve not done a detailed tracking yet, so these are all estimates. For my new book, I’m actually determined to keep track of the time in hours I spend on each phase. I promise I shall share my results. But in the meantime, here are my estimates.
I’ve written six novels, on average 100K words each. Some are as low as 60K, but some are more like 120K. It evens out.
Each has taken about two months from basic idea to first draft, another three to six months of editing, alpha reading and beta reading, and then six months with the publisher going through edits and proofreads. And that’s if there are no ‘real life’ interruptions, as there always are. I usually take a good break between first draft and first edit, and work on another project to ‘cleanse my palate’ and read through the draft with fresh eyes. This could be a month, or six months, depending on the other project. There may also be considerable delay during the beta reading, as some readers are slower than others. It can take months to get feedback from a good beta reader. And you may decide, after editing for those beta readers, that the novel could benefit from a new beta read.
In terms of daily time, I try for a minimum of 2000 words a day during the first draft, and that takes anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on my flow and distractions for additional research. The research itself probably adds about 30 hours to that. So that comes to about 75+30=105 hours on average for a 100K word novel.
A full read-through edit takes me about 20 hours of time. I do at least 3 of those, as well as spot edits after alpha or beta readers have given feedback. So say another 100 hours for pre-submission editing.
Then there are the publisher edits, which don’t take as long – maybe another 10 hours for all three rounds and proofreading.
That’s a total of 225 hours from start to finish.
And then there’s marketing
So, when is the last time you spent 225 hours – which comes to almost six weeks of working a full time job, 40 hours a week? And when you completed that project, what reward did you get?
After all that work, would you be happy getting a 30 cent royalty on each copy sold? That’s about what authors get from small press or self-published books listed at $0.99. They may get $1 if the books are listed at $2.99, but of course, that makes sales slower.
Many small press and indie published books sell less than 100 copies a year. At 30 cents a copy, that’s $30 a year reward for six solid weeks of work.
Reward an author. Buy their book and don’t complain when it’s $2.99 rather than free or $0.99. A decent novel is entertainment for several hours. Good characters and good stories stick with you and live in your brain. You pay $5 for coffee each morning – is it too much to spend $3 on several hours’ entertainment?
Leave a review. Support authors’ efforts. It’s truly a labor of love.