Subjectivity sucks. It just does. It’s a fickle mistress. One that every writer must be, er… subjected to if they want to put their shiny darlings out on display for the world to read. Wouldn’t it be great if we could write a book with characters we love, an engaging plot, and words that speak directly to the core of every single reader’s soul? It’d be like the writer version of the One Ring. One book to rule them all, and I would keep it in my pocketses and call it my Precioussss.
Unfortunately, pleasing ALL THE READERS is a thing that doesn’t exist. People are unique. Readers have different interests and experiences that they bring to the pages. It affects their interpretation of what they read. No writer can control that. It’s out of our reach.
However, sitting here and telling you that is a very different thing than believing it for myself. I can type the words until my fingers fall off, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sting when that rejection shows up in my inbox. We writers pour everything into our manuscripts. We put off time with our loved ones, let the dishes pile up, and the DVR fill to the brim with unwatched shows, all in the name of making our book the very best it can be. Obviously EVERYONE should enjoy it, right? Because if someone doesn’t, it’s like they’re saying, “Your best isn’t good enough for me.”
Except that’s NOT what they’re saying. It may very well feel like it, but it isn’t. Not even close.
I’ve seen both sides of Internet writing contests. I’ve been a contestant as well as a slush reader. As a contestant, when you don’t get chosen, it’s hard to deal with. It’s even worse when you read the tweets or comments and see that ugly word SUBJECTIVITY pop up over and over. It’s difficult to believe that the slush readers, or mentors, or agents, or editors you’re submitting to might like your words just fine, but they aren’t grabbed by them.
As a slush reader, you’re wading through these wonderful words and there are SO MANY GREAT ENTRIES it truly is torture to try to choose only one. To make matters worse, there may be an entry that grabs you by the collar and won’t let you go. It haunts your dreams and you’re still thinking about it when you get out of bed to brush your teeth. But, maybe it’s a genre that isn’t selling. Or maybe the agents didn’t have it on their wish lists. Should you go with your gut and choose that entry even though there’s a chance no one else will love that brain eating zombie princess the way you do? Or should you choose the other incredible gnome erotica because erotica is super hot* right now? It’s a really tough decision. And when it comes down to it, agents and editors have families to feed, just like writers do. Sometimes taking that chance might be slightly too risky for them.
Unfortunately, subjectivity is an ugly monster that you can’t conquer, no matter how hard you try. Having trouble with grammar? Go grab Strunk & White or get some quick and dirty tips from Grammar Girl. Can't seem to pin down showing vs telling? Get a handy dandy Critique Partner to call you out on it. Your ms is 10k too long for your genre? Grab a chainsaw and hack those words to bits.
These are all things you have control over. Subjectivity? Not so much. It’s that elusive ethereal thing that no one can quite put their finger on.
Simon Cowell probably can't define what it is that gives some singers the X-Factor--that special spark that takes them from being another member of a church choir, to overnight superstar. He simply knows it when he sees it, and even HE doesn't nail it every single time.
Agents and editors know how to spot that X-Factor in the slush pile. Simon Cowell is just one person. The best part about the literary world is that there are TONS of agents, LOADS of editors, and ALL the readers.
So, yeah, subjectivity may be fickle, but the pool of potential readership is deep and wide. As long as you write a book YOU want to read, and more importantly, DON'T GIVE UP, you can find someone else out there who loves what you've created as much as you do.
*I read this five times before I caught my own pun. I is clearly kan write good. #TWSS
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