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.
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.