Monday, November 5, 2012

SUBJECTIVE is Not a Dirty Word

by J. Lea López

How many times have you heard this: The publishing industry is so subjective. Probably a lot. Maybe enough to make you want to tear your hair out and wonder if, by subjective, someone is trying to tell you you'll never be published. I know people for whom publishing being a subjective business is a reason for hope, and others for whom it is a reason to despair.

After all, it isn't really that much of a leap from subjective to sheer luck, is it? I'm sure many writers feel that way. The thought that you just have get lucky enough to find the right agent or editor at the right time, with the right manuscript, in the right market can certainly be disheartening.

But I don't think it's quite so random as that, and I really believe that the inherent subjectivity of the publishing industry should be a source of hope more often than not. While I'm still unagented and unpublished as far as my novels go, I recently had an experience in subjectivity that I hope will be as inspiring to you as it is for me.

Last week I received a rejection letter that made me giddy with joy.

Wait a minute. Hold up. Giddy with joy??? From a rejection? Yep, you read that correctly. A small press editor was reading my manuscript as the result of a contest. At first it was a partial, then a full. Naturally, I was pretty damn excited to see where it would go. A week and a half after I sent the full, I got her response. (I was impressed with her response time!) I've already said it was a pass, but it was one of those ones all writers covet and hope to receive - the kind with feedback.

She told me what she loved and didn't love, and the exact part of the manuscript that didn't quite do it for her and ultimately resulted in her passing on it. But she liked my writing and encouraged me to submit again with other projects. How could I not want to frame that letter and hang it on my wall?

It's also important to note that this editor requested the manuscript after reading my query and first 150 words in a contest. This was the same 150 words that was the first page I submitted to an agent and editor panel at the Baltimore Book Festival in September. No one on the panel liked that first page. No one. Including an agent who was on my potential to-query list.

It was that first page that got the interest of an editor, and even though she did pass on it, the positive things she had to say reinforced my faith that there is a good fit for my manuscript out there. As harsh as it may sound, we have to remember that despite striving for our own unique voice and style, putting our own twists on plots and characters, we are still not SO unique that finding an agent or editor to take on our projects is a literal crap shoot. If we were really that unique, finding readers wouldn't be easy either.

The publishing industry is subjective, so make sure you know and love your story and that you can stand by it. It will take work, and sure, it might even take a tiny bit of luck, but there is an agent and/or editor who will fall in love with your writing. Without a bit of subjectivity, publishing would be terribly boring and homogenous, so worry not.  

Subjective is not a dirty word. I know all of those already, trust me. *wink*

J. Lea López is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the anthologies The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse and Spring Fevers.


In an upcoming post, From The Write Angle contributors will answer your questions. What's it like to "get the call" either from an agent or a publisher? How do I get my MS in to Hollywood? How do historical writers do all of that research?

What are your questions for our contributors? Keep an eye out for our upcoming call for questions.


SC Author said...

OOh, can't wait to question you guys! Except I don't know what to ask....

Yes, I know this is an hour after you posted this post. I don't sleep early.

I love the subjectivity thing. I'm just going to have to believe in it, because if I don't, my WIP will have a hard time getting past my own blocks. The biggest dream is finding an agent who loves your book for the same reasons you love it. Inspiring post (to me, at least). Sigh. I need to learn this subjectivity lesson and get some hope.

Sorry, I get wordy and a bit depressed when I'm tired.

Jemi Fraser said...

Totally agree, Jen. I've had a few pieces of incredibly helpful feedback from agents and it is awesome! :)

JeffO said...

Really, it's subjective at every level, writer, agent, editor, reader, and that's part of what makes it great.

J. Lea Lopez said...

SC, I'm glad it was inspiring for you. It can be a challenge to find the right fit, but there is an agent and/or editor out there who will fall in love with your story too.

Jemi, thanks for reading. Gotta love that feedback from industry professionals. :)

Jeff, that definitely is the beauty of publishing. Plenty of room for all sorts of books.

Jean Oram said...

Subjectivity... ah yes. The dread of most writers. I LOVE your spin on it, Jen. You are so right in that it can really depend. What is one person's best book ever... isn't always someone else's.

And a big yay for feedback!

J. Lea Lopez said...

Exactly, Jean. Just like some of us might hate the NUT bestseller that thousands of other people loved, it's the same with agents and editors.

J. Lea Lopez said...

oh god, the NUT bestseller??? hahaha obviously that should be NYT. This is why proofreading/editing is important! :-P