Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Subjectivity is Out of Control!

Last night Danielle and I did a live Google Hangout with the amazing WriteOnCon! (Seriously, amazing doesn’t even cover it! It is still going on today – go here for the best writer’s conference on the internet! And bonus: it’s free!) The attendees pitched their books on Twitter, which is incredibly challenging at only 140 characters, and we had our live reactions and advice aired for the entire world to see (in fact, it has been immortalized on YouTube and you can watch it here, if you like!)

We had an absolute blast working with the phenomenal team that runs WriteOnCon and were so grateful to all of the amazing writers who came out and took a leap to share what their story is about and have their pitch critiqued live. That takes guts and we got so many amazing entries! 

We talk a lot in the video about what makes a good pitch, so I thought instead I would talk today about subjectivity and how it relates to your path in publishing. I’m only going to touch on the second topic briefly, if you are looking for a far better explanation of your publishing path choices please read The Daily Dahlia post on it here!

So while the list of things in publishing that are out of a writer’s control is extensive, I think one of the greatest is subjectivity. When you think about it, every single step of the process is subjective: From your first thoughts about your own work, to what you change based on your crit partners’ thoughts, to what agents think, to what editors think, and all the way down the line and including what readers think! Subjectivity is completely beyond control, even internally for most! People like what they like, connect with what they connect with, and on the flip side don’t like what they don’t like. Sometimes there are really strong eloquent reasons for these feelings and other times it’s just a feeling, no explanation. 

The important thing to remember while lamenting your inability to control subjectivity (or maybe that’s just me…) is that, with a few notable exceptions, NO ONE IS WRONG. As an editor, I receive pitches and manuscripts from agents on a daily basis and how I feel about them is dependent on an infinite number of factors including, but by no means limited to: What do I feel like reading right now? What was the last thing I read in this genre? Did I love that or hate it? Is this a concept that sounds unique to me? Are the comps titles/movies/etc. things I recognize and like? Did I eat breakfast this morning? Is it raining outside? The list could seriously go on forever.

For this reason I always give myself multiple days to consider submissions AND have numerous members of my team read books that I’m interested in to make sure that the things that are sparking my interest about this particular book are going to do the same OUTSIDE of my head. Sometimes I get feedback that is perfectly in line with how I was feeling and sometimes it’s completely the opposite. But more often than not, it falls somewhere in the middle and the acquisitions team gets involved to add their business-related thoughts to the decision. It’s a team effort, and it has to be, because when the books go out into the world they are going to encounter a vast number of wonderful readers and we want to find the books that those readers are going to love.

That being said, there are non-work related, published books I’ve read and loved like they had been written for my soul alone that other people thought were rubbish. And there are books that’s I’ve thought were terrible and other people felt as though they are the answer to all of life’s most pressing questions. And all of the things that come into play about how I feel about a submission and more play into how a reader feels about a book. I have definitely had books that I DNF’ed because I just wasn’t feeling them, that later I read and adored. It’s all about timing and mood. Both things out of an authors’ control. 

The best thing you can do? Write the most amazing book you can! There are books out there so incredible they blow this entire post out of the water because they transcend timing and mood and are just ALWAYS amazing. They are the books that readers go back to again and again to get them out of a reading slump or to remind them of how amazing they felt the first time they read it. And writing that amazing book is totally within the author’s control! (Bottom line: YOU CAN DO IT!)
The last thing I want to mention is your publishing path with regard to subjectivity. Just like no two books are exactly the same, no two publishing paths are going to be perfectly identical. The number of drafts you write, queries you send, rejections you get, offers you get, etc. is going to vary drastically from everyone else. But it is SO critical to remember that rejection DOES NOT equal failure. 

If you send out 10 queries and get one offer, that doesn’t mean you failed 9 times, it means it took you 10 tries to find the RIGHT person.  The same is true if you send out 500 queries before you get an offer. All that means is that you were waiting to find the RIGHT agent or editor at exactly the RIGHT moment for your book. And when you find that agent or editor that GETS your book and loves your writing, all the other subjectivity and rejections you waded through to get there will fade into the background as stepping stones on your path. 

What are your thoughts on subjectivity in publishing? Do you think there are ways to influence it? Does it affect how/what you write? What are the books that you can read, in any mood or at any time, that are always amazing no matter how many times you read them?

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  1. This is a good insight. I remember talking with my agent about subjectivity and how it doesn't mean that the work is bad but finding the person whose taste matches what you're offering. If you're a cheese pizza and everyone wants pepperoni, you'll eventually find the person who wants the cheese pizza.

  2. Rereading Harry Potter right now, because they are DEFINITELY AMAZING everytime I read them. Or, you know, at least to me... ;)

  3. This is a great post! I especially liked the last paragraph and that's definitely something to keep in mind when you're trying to stay positive!

  4. We understand subjectivity as readers (there are plenty of books I don't like that others love), but it frustrates us as writers. It's the reason we send out 100 query letters in hopes of getting that ONE agent to sign us and why that agent pitches to a 100 editors to get it sold to the ONE publisher. Publishing is a tough biz. Worth it, but tough. Subjectivity makes it tough because there's nothing we could've done better or different.

    It's like 'he's just not that into you' regarding a guy you like.