Thursday, September 15, 2011

Aspiring Advice: The Subjective Subject

I give credit to Micheal Offutt for inspiring this week's topic. Why? Because the man's a genius. That's why!

Lately, I've read a lot of letters. Many of them have something in common. Publishing is a very subjective business. Subjective. What is that, exactly? My trusted dandy dictionary has this to say on the ... subject:

Subjective (adj): taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias.

Individual Bias. Those are the key words.

Regardless of genre, when you write a book, you're giving us a story told through something known as your World View. Never mind Nature vs. Nurture. Everyone has a unique perspective of the very same world we share. A single sunset can be described in a million different ways. It makes sense that your presentation might clash with someone's world view. It will. On the flip side, someone will fall head-over-heals for your writing.

Finding the person who will publish you is the fun part. 

When it comes to publishing, subjectivity takes on a new meaning. Agents and editors are bombarded every day by submissions. I can't imagine what they and their assistants wade through. Given their circumstances, schedules, and personal lives, they must be subjective. You may have the best novel of the last century in your possession, but if they don't catch the vision of your world view ... that's okay! I'd rather have my work represented by someone who loves my vision and is willing to sit for hours-on-end reading my shlock.

Here's a personal example. My latest novel, Woven. I researched the genre and can safely say there's nothing out there quite like it. But what's out there, right now, is what's selling. That's the job of an agent--find someone new that will sell with the other guys. As an unpublished author, how do I sell something completely untested in the present market? If you have an answer, do tell!

I've had over a dozen readers get back to me. Every one of them loved it. One went as far as to say, "Dude ... you're like, the male Shannon Hale!" Considering we own the Bayern books, that was quite a compliment!

Now, take Rachel Harrie's latest Campaign Challenge. My entry is not among the finalists. I wasn't even a semi-finalist. Am I bitter? No no no no! I helped judge. I read oodles of entries that far surpass mine. Based on who the judge was, they subjected my story and others. To that awesome person's world view, someone else's entry appealed to them more. And kudos to them.

If you check my entry, you'll find well over a hundred comments. Though not perfect and written on the fly, the story was well received. Can I say it? You liked it!

What better reward could I ask for?

That, my friends, is what I consider a healthy attitude about writing. Be patient. Don't fret if your work doesn't mesh with most agents and editors. Someone will catch your vision. You want someone who sees your story the way you do and will make it better. Don't settle for less.

Do you write with hopes of making bank? Winning awards? Having uncountable/adoring fans?

Or do you write simply because you love it?

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. We're in this subjective business together. Some of us need to polish our voice. Some of us are on the cusp. Some of us have names on book covers. Not all #1 best sellers are that great. Some of the most amazing books ever never made it to the top 100. It's all subjective.

And that's okay.

Your match is out there. Looking. Waiting. 

Show your stuff!

Do you write outside your genre because agents want another? Do you write what you love and stick with it? What authors have others compared you to?

I'm David, and I'm the male Shannon Hale!


  1. I write what I want when I want to, never catering to trends. Lovely post.

  2. I write what I love. I think a piece is stronger when you really have passion for it. =)

  3. Great thoughts, David! And I think Michael is a genius too. :0)

    In the end, you have to write about what sings to you in the morning and whispers in your ear at night. Otherwise it stands no chance of being inspired.

    I think the entire market conversation is going away. The Internet allows you to reach just about anyone, and so long as something is well-written there will be fans--regardless of genre. You need to understand who might enjoy it and try to make them aware of it as best you can, yes. However, the idea that you need to have some pre-ordained idea of your niche before you start writing really isn't as valid anymore. Write, figure out who it will appeal to and shout it from the rooftops is what I say.



  4. I enjoy certain genres and therefore write in them. I'd never think of tailoring my stories to fit what's selling right now. By the time I get to the market place, what's to say that hot thing I was chasing won't be yesterday's fad. Also, if I try writing to order, my story mightn't ring true.

    I think that once a story is well-written, it'll find a place somewhere out there in the publishing world - even if you have to resort to publishing it yourself. :D

  5. This was a great post, David. A great reminder to write the story you must tell, and not try to write to the current fad.

  6. I think to have any satisfaction out of writing, you need to write for yourself at some level. But in order to get better and develop your craft and voice, you need to push yourself to explore other genres/techniques and go outside your comfort zone. That doesn't mean you should chase trends or avoid writing the story of your heart because it doesn't have a market. How many stories had difficultly getting published but once they did started their own trend? I hope you find luck with Woven!

  7. My submission for the challenge didn't make it to the semi-finals either. And I'm okay with that, because I got to read a lot of entries and learned some tips and tricks for next time. I write what I love and what's meaningful for me, and if people like it, great. If they don't, I still do, so it doesn't really matter. :)

  8. Wow, David you have such a great attitude, and it's contagious!! You really made my morning. I think your campaign entry was very Stephen Kingish, and I think it ROCKED.

    I've never been compared to anyone.

  9. You're right... writing is and getting published and read is so subjective. I've heard of a lot of great books that weren't the top of my "favorites" list - and that's okay. We all are individuals. It's important to remember that, especially during the querying stage. I love the tips and information that you have shared here.

  10. Love, love, love this post, David. I write b/c I love it. If I never get a book published, I will still write. It is not my fault that agents don't find my work marketable--it is what I enjoy writing. Of course, I would love to make a living as a writer b/c it would ease things a bit, but it is what it is.
    Great post and great writing from you, as well!

  11. Oh my...thank you for the compliment.

    On publishing...I think that the biggest tragedy of publishing is that IT IS A business. If it wasn't a business...if the people working in it had guaranteed income that never changed...I think books would be a lot different. The industry would take risks on a lot of things.

    As far as you not being a semi-finalist or finalist in the Rachael Harrie thing...she is going to do a "People's Choice" award. So even though the official judging didn't get you that far, if you have a lot of likes and comments on your story...chances are you will be in the running for "People's Choice."

  12. Awesome points, E.J. and Bluestocking. I started with sci-fi and found myself writing fairytale-ish fantasy stuff. Odd turn-a-round, eh? And I love it. I've got a new series planned that would make for a good MG, but not because that's what the demand is.

    Michael - I did not know that. Cool. I hope my point came out the way I meant it. I'm not a sore loser. I didn't enter to win. It was just an example of subjectivity in action. :)

    Great comments, everyone! I enjoy reading your takes on the topic. Love the discussion!

  13. I'm totally in love with Shannon Hale so that makes me even more excited to read your book. And even she had a hard time. She had to dump one agent and spring for another. The most important thing about the publishing business is to never give up or settle for second best, the hard thing is - that takes time!

  14. Love this post! Your attitude is very refreshing. I write what I love :) And if I never get published, I'll still write--because it makes me happy. I have fun with it.

    By the way, I passed the Versatile Blogger award on to you! Info is here:

  15. I rewrote my first book just to see if I could do it. Finding a publisher and then readers who liked it was a bonus!

  16. I decided to switch genres recently when it became too saturated. Now my new genre is my genre bc I love it.

  17. Like most of your followers, I too ploughed through the mine field of agents and publishers. Stick in there, is all I can suggest. I did, and have just signed a contract. The wait and arduous queries seem like nothing when you finally get a yes.

  18. The hard thing is that even when you start out with total faith in your writing, it's hard to remember that rejections aren't objective. We assume because a professional has looked at our stuff and said no, that they know something we don't, like that maybe our stuff isn't on par with everything else they're seeing. And that's just not the case. Because it's SUBJECTIVE. Great post.

  19. I write what I like and if I didn't enjoy it I don't think I could do a very good job of writing something. I figure if I like what I've written there's someone else out there who will also like it. I just have to find the niche audience for my work and reach out to them.

    Tossing It Out

  20. Excellent post, I write what I love too, the story I absolutely feel I must tell :)

  21. That sounds like my first rejection letter. I had to look up what subjective meant too. They basically just have to like your story enough to see if they can market it. And every one who's read mine so far likes it. Too bad they're not agents or publishers. I've rewritten tons of times now. Good fight. :)

  22. Very interesting thoughts, David. I've been thinking a lot about this lately too. Everyone brings their own life to a book, and so everyone sees it a little differently. That's why there are so many books to choose from, and why so many people like different books. For me, I write what I love, because if I don't love it, why am I writing it? I do want to sell my books. I want other people to love them too. But if I don't love them first, I'm pretty sure no one else will either.

  23. I think you are spot-on! I definitely want an agent who thinks my ms is the bees knees. Someone who completely falls in love with it. And you're right-- it takes loads of PATIENCE. And that's okay, too.

  24. You said it well, David. I must confess I never even realized our little submissions were being judged. If I'd known that I might not have joined the campaign. I know. Coward!

    But I am writing a query. Never thought I'd get up the nerve to do that.

  25. Hey David! I didn't see your e-mail address on your user profile and I was wondering if you could send me the pictures from the roundup. my e-mail is jenniefire (at) yahoo (dot) com. Thanks so much!

  26. I stick with what I like to write, what I'm passionate about. Though I do want to be published one day! Still waiting on someone to subjectively love my work :)

  27. Since I love Shannon Hale, I will be sure to check out Woven :P Great post!

  28. Hi David, this was the exact post I wanted to read today. I always need a little reminder that publishing is a subjective business.
    I write what I'm most interested in. I write because I love to hear what kids have to say about my stories and if I'm lucky I get to see them laugh or smile while reading it.
    p.s. Thank you for the compliment on my illustrations yesterday.
    Jennifer Young - Castles in the Sky