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On the Dangers of Time Limits

I receive a lot of emails from aspiring authors, and most of them are wonderful and curious and sweet. But there is one thing that pops up in those emails occasionally that always, always breaks my heart and has me writing back a hesitant reply.

Time limits.

No, not deadlines. All writers face those. I mean personal time limits.  Things like "I want to be published before I go to college!" or "I want to have a book deal before I graduate!"  I once had a girl write to me because she hoped to get published for her senior project. And all I could do was write back and basically be like, "Not to be a downer, but - don't."

Time limits are a dangerous thing in publishing.  Now time limits like "I must finish this draft by Tuesday" are fine, because finishing that draft is simply up to YOU and YOUR schedule and YOUR abilities.  Getting a book published and on shelves is not.  Setting a time frame in which it "must" happen can lead to a lot of disappointment.

A couple things to remember:

1. Publishing is slow - As I tell all the writers who want to get published in X amount of time, it doesn't happen over night. You can sell a book in 2013, and it might not be out until 2015.  Some books take 18 months to publish. Others take years. And books get moved up and pushed back pretty regularly.  So even if you sold a book before your personal deadline, the chances of it hitting shelves on time aren't always likely.

2. Even the best books don't get published sometimes.  I know a lot of people who would take it as a personal criticism of themselves if their books didn't sell in the time frame they've established, but I'm here to tell you - that isn't fair.  I've seen amazing, brilliant, wonderful books never sell.  I've seen books I expected to get snatched up right away take months or years to find a 'home."  This is one of the dangers of setting a time limit on getting published - this part of the industry doesn't always have to do with you or your abilities. You can write the best book int he world, and it still might take a while for it it find the right editor. These are things we, as writers, cannot control.

I'm all for setting goals. Personally, goal setting always helps me a lot. But time limits are dangerous little monsters when it comes to publishing. They will trip you up, knock you down, and leave you feeling disappointed. Instead, it's better to give yourself a break and know that even if you don't get published before you're 18 or 30 or whatever your goal may be, it doesn't mean you never will be.  It doesn't mean you've failed in any way.  Just keep writing, keep setting goals, and keep trying.  Let yourself enjoy the ride, whether it happens in your desired time frame or not.

Remember, when it comes to getting published, you can only control so much. Don't judge yourself based on those parts you cannot control. Don't put time limits on those things. In the long run, you'll be glad you didn't.
Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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  1. Wonderful post, Kody--you couldn't be more right. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. I agree. The hard part for me is getting other people (friends, family) to understand this every time they ask about my book.

  3. Very much agree. I think it is very unhealthy to set goals that a person physically cannot make happen on their own. It's just a set up for disappointment. There are far too many factors in the publishing industry and many other people to rely on. Goals are very very important to have, but a person cannot base their time goals on a schedule dictated by other people.

    And yes, members and friends don't seem to get how slow the publishing industry is. They expect you to finish a book and the next month it will be on store shelves. LOL!

  4. I think it depends on your personality. If you're like me then you need a date becuase if you dont you'll be 87 beofre it's done. But, I dont tell anyone about it, its a personal goal. That way I dont dissapont. lol

  5. Thanks for this. Going to refer my teenaged students to it OFTEN.

  6. I think this is what frustrates a lot of writers when they enter the query trenches. Even if your MS is ready and polished as much as you can make it, that doesn't mean it'll be snatched up right away. It doesn't even mean there's something wrong with it. Agents' interests vary and they're ultimately salespeople. If they can see the sales potential in something (often due to the popular market) they'll snatch it up. If not, you'll be trying for a long time until you can find an agent who sees that.

    It's been a hard thing for me to realize my publishing future rests in so many other hands. This is because I've made the choice to go traditional. Knowing it's a slow process helps and knowing the fault isn't in my writing helps even more.

    Thanks for this post.

  7. This is a wonderful post. I have personally goals that I'd like to reach by a certain time (like New Year's resolutions) but I know there is really only so much I can control. I can't guarantee that I'll have a literary agent by the end of the year, but I'd like it to happen. I'd also love to get a book deal in the next two to three years, but these aren't musts of mine. I'm just going to keep writing and keep trying. If I do that, I know someday it will happen. Maybe not this year or the next or the ten after that, but someday it will.

    Great post. Thank you for sharing it :)

  8. Perfect advise-exactly what I needed today. Deadlines are for things I can control, not for the things I can't.

  9. I think we are the hardest critiques on ourselves and sometimes we have goals that sometimes cant be reached. It happens. But never give up! What a great post because it needed to be said. Thank you for dissolving some of my anxiety. I can move forward clear headed.

  10. Good advice! I wanted to set myself a "get an agent this year" goal, but that's NOT in my control. So I set myself with: start querying this year. It's achievable and it's heading down the path of my ultimate goal too. Bonus. ;)

  11. I don't know if this a cultural thing? Because American media honors and glorifies youth? But it's so good to be reminded of why we started writing. It was never to cross off an item on our bucket list. It was the journey of it, the process, the love of it. Easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

  12. Thanks for putting this out there, Kody. I think it's particularly valuable coming from somebody who *did* start publishing very early in life, because you know it happens, but you also know how many crazy, weird, beyond-the-writer's-control factors it takes for it to happen.

  13. If you'd like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.


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Item Reviewed: On the Dangers of Time Limits Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger