Monday, May 2, 2011

It's all subjective.

I knew this, but it didn't really sink in until this weekend. We always here that when it comes to hooking an agent you are really looking for the right person. The one that "gets" your book and makes a strong enough connection with it that they want to help you on your journey to publication.

When I sent out those first twenty queries, I searched for agents that said they like science fiction and fantasy. But you know what? There are all kinds of styles within those two genres. When querying within that umbrella, you have to find the agent that likes your style. And that's hard because it's so subjective.
1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).
2. pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.
3. placing excessive emphasis on one's own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

This finally became real this weekend. I put the top 15 short stories (from the High School Contest I helped judge) in order from my favorite to least favorite. First of all, that was REALLY hard! All the stories were really good and I felt bad putting anyone last. But it had to be done. 

Anyway, I put them in order and sent my list to the other two judges. The next day one of the other judges sent her list. My top two choices were her bottom two choices. 

Now, you have to understand our only judging criteria was pick what we liked. We didn't look at plot, characterization, setting, or anything else. Granted those affected the overall feel of the story, but we didn't break down the parts and pick the best writing. We were told to put them in order of the stories we liked the best. I picked the ones I kept thinking about. 


I loved what the other judge said when she compared our lists. 
"I suspect you're watching Law and Order while I'm watching Arrested Development."

And she was right! I've never met her but she could pick that out based on how I ordered the stories. I think she must be brilliant. 

Anyway, the whole point is this:
Rejection should never send you into a depression because it's all subjective. It simply means you haven't found the right agent yet

One caveat--The above is true if you've done everything in your power to present agents with a polished MS. One that has gone through several rounds of critique and editing.  

So, how has this concept become real in your life? Does it still bother you? 


  1. It bothers me when an agent says 'specifically' she wants stories in my niche genre, and I send her what I have and she doens't even request 20 pages. That bothers me a lot.

    I can understand the subjective, what I can't understand is why they don't request when they say they want what I've written.

  2. Rejection always sucks. Nuff said.

  3. Wow, that was a really interesting way to look at it! I like how you put it. At the end of the day, genre and quality of writing is a small part of whether or not we like a book.

    Sometimes it just comes down to did we like the story or not? What resonates with us exactly?

    Great post!

  4. Great reminder! I'm hoping to query in June and will keep this in mind. I know that rejection is coming, but it is good to keep telling myself that it's because of the subjective nature of it all! Thanks!

  5. Great point and great example. I'll try to keep it in mind when I query next, but it is hard not to get down from rejections.


  6. Excellent advice and insight. I love the subjectivity and hate it too. But in the end, I think it helps more than hinders in writing. Someones crap is anothers masterpiece!

  7. You nailed it - it's completely subjective. And not just the right person who likes your story and style and twist on the genre - but that they're feeling it at the exact time that they're reading your query. If it's a well written query and polished MS, the same agent might hate it on Day X but love it on Day Z, all because they just weren't in that mood on Day X but had 150 queries to read so they had to plow through the pile. So not only subjective, but a gamble at timing. Rejections should not be taken personally - a hard obstacle to get past in our writer's mind, but we must. After all, after acceptance and publication, you get reviews.

  8. Anne, I think Kristie answered your unspoken question. They may ask for certain types of novels and still not like them based on what kind of day they're having. It stinks, but there isn't much we can do about it. Take your frustration out with some physical activity, but don't take it personally.

    Rogue, even the best of us hate rejection. But I'm an optimist and so this is my way of psyching myself out to jump back into the query game. :)

    Thanks Elizabeth! It helps to realize we do the same thing when we read books. I may hate someone else's favorite book. And that's alright. It doesn't mean that author wasn't a good writer; I just didn't connect with the story.

    I guess we have to learn to give agents the same right.

    Kelly, I hope to join you in June. Good luck!

    Thanks Michael and vbtremper!

    Colene, I think it helps too. The sting is still there, but it doesn't last as long, or make me want to quit when I can remember this one lesson. It's all subjective and perseverance will eventually pay off.

    Kristie, well said!

  9. Very true - and I try not to let it bother me (even though its hard). Because I know every book has its audience somewhere (assuming you've done the hard work to make it the best book it can be).

  10. This is so very true. I've seen this in my novel writers' group. Every month, we all read 5000 words from someone's work and then critique it out loud at the meeting. Quite often, something raised as a detractor by one person will be another person's favourite part. Yes it's frustrating when it comes to querying, but I think subjectivity is part of what makes writing so interesting - so many different opinions and thoughts can spring from one piece of writing!

    PS Make sure you check out my and Rach Writes' Power of Tension Blogfest! :-D


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