Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's All About Taste

It occurred to me about a month ago that all of the steps in the publishing process come down to one thing: personal taste.

You can write the most brilliant novel ever about sea slugs, and if you only submit it to one agent, and that agent happens to detest sea slugs, it won't get published.

Or perhaps you'll find an agent who is crazy about sea slugs and loves your chatty MC and thinks the story is wonderful, but when he submits it to editors, one editor doesn't like the chatty MC, and one likes the MC, but thinks the story is lame, and another just hates sea slugs.

And then if you manage to sell the book you have to worry about reviewers who hate sea slugs or chatty MC's or books with alternating points of view. And then readers... you get the point.

Every person in this world has their own set of likes and dislikes. I dislike books where people seem to fall in love/infatuation for no clear reason. This scenario drives me crazy. But there are a lot of books like this that are popular, so just because I don't like them doesn't mean someone else (or millions of someone elses) won't.

I think it's important to remember when you query agents, or your agent submits to editors, that in the end it comes down to taste. The agent has to love your book in order to take it on. And if one agent doesn't love it, that doesn't mean it isn't great. It could be the hottest book since Harry Potter, but it just didn't fit with that agent's interests. I think this is why we're told over and over again to query widely.

So there you go. Don't feel bad about rejection, it's all (or at least a lot) about personal taste.

Have you ever read a bestseller that you hated? Or have you ever read a quiet little book that you loved?


I was supposed to unplug this week, but I didn't. So, I'm going to officially unplug tomorrow and stay unplugged until a week from Monday. I'll miss you!

My goal during unplugged time will be to FINALLY finish this first draft. It's close. I just need some time to focus.


35 comments:

Kelly Lyman said...

Ahh- personal taste. Sometimes I think that it's a good thing and other times? Not so much. It can be so frustrating that I think, "Why am I doing this again?"

Aubrie said...

It is very subjective, just like any of the arts: music, painting, even figure skating can be subjective at times.

L. T. Host said...

Subjectivity is honestly the bane of my existence as a writer, haha. I can't control what someone else likes and doesn't like!

Melissa said...

How true this is! I've read a few bestsellers that I just didn't get at all. And I've read books that had some bad reviews and I loved them. So it is all a matter of taste:)

Anita Saxena said...

Subjectivity is definitely the name of the game. I've read "small" books that I loved and was floored that it was "small." And I've read best-sellers, that I was like really...you're a best-seller?

Sandy Shin said...

Taste is definitely the deciding factor that many aspiring writers often overlook when submitting to agents/editors. That's the cause of many dissatisfied (and sometimes rathe mean) comments about the multitude of "bad" books out there that get published. Those books too have avid readers who don't consider them "bad" at all.

It really helps to realize that one one agent or editor is the be all, end all of the publishing world, though it might feel like that sometimes when one's receiving rejection after rejection.

Thomas Taylor said...

There's one best seller I read recently that still has me grinding my teeth with rage. A great idea flushed down the toilet, but selling anyway because it's a great idea.

Taste is important, but I think attempts to anticipate the tastes of others plays a bigger role in rejection. Editors will turn down books they love if they suspect other publishing houses won't buy co-editions, for example. The whole publishing industry is built on trying to imagine what's going on in someone else's mind.

I'm still trying to work out what's going on in mine.

Marybeth Poppins said...

All too true! Great post. Good luck on unplugging. I'm not sure I could go without the WHOLE internet. Facebook and twitter is hard enough!!!

Kristi Faith said...

Such a good reminder. I am always reminded of this when I sit down to read a bestseller and think.. "UGH" :0)

Have a great unplugged week!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Yup. I agree. Are you trying to say something with the sea slug analogy? lol. And you know all about a recent "great" book I haven't been able to get halfway through. It's all subjective.
You deserve an unplug week. Maybe I'll unplug too.

CKHB said...

I'm usually only surprised by some of the incredibly sweeping statements people make about their own tastes. "I don't read 1st-person narratives." Really? REALLY? NEVER?

Bestsellers I hated (but read all the way through anyway, because I felt like I would be missing out on the ability to talk with people if I hadn't read them): The DaVinci Code, Jodi Picoult's Handle With Care.

I'm more likely to hate a popular movie.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I just read two bestsellers that I didn't like. You're right. Personal taste. I want to read that book about the sea slugs.

kathrynjankowski said...

True enough, although it's still hard when an agent says he doesn't love your work enough to rep you.

Good luck with your draft. I finished mine after unplugging. It's wonderful what you can achieve when you focus.
;-)

Jen said...

Good Luck with finishing your first draft!!!

Taste is taste, there are quite a few bestsellers that I don't understand and don't enjoy... but obviously several would disagree with me!

Great post!

Sarah Skilton said...

I've definitely read some books I had major issues with, only to see 99% glowing reviews on Amazon.com, etc., which makes me wonder if I'm crazy or everyone else is! Perhaps both!

Best of luck finishing your draft. It's really exciting that you're nearly done :)

Jessica said...

Yeah, definitely have read a bestseller that left me scratching my head and wondering how the author did it. LOL
It's all personal taste. To me, that makes rejections so much easier. :-)

roxy said...

I read 5-6 books a month. I'm always hoping they will be as good as they look. Yet, they are often disappointing. I sometimes wish I could turn my books into a writer's Better Business Bureau and get my money back. I guess that's why book reviews are so important.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

This is a great point to keep in mind. And I've definitely read best sellers that I put down thinking--huh, what the heck did people see in this? Can't please everyone. :)

quixotic said...

Great reminder. It's all subjective.

Lisa and Laura said...

This is so true. It's amazing how much agents/editors have to love your book to get on board. But, I guess that's the way we'd want it!

One example of a book I loved that Lisa didn't care for was The Time Traveler's Wife. I stand by that book, but Lisa was like, "meh." Shocking.

Erica said...

Great post! So true. A good thing to remember. Good Luck with finishing your first draft ;o) Enjoy your unplugged week too!

Derek Whisman said...

I know this is going to sound unpopular (especially in midst of a such a strong female crowd) but I have, in fact, read a popular best seller that I HATED. Twilight. I can't stand it.

Maybe it is the fact that the hero/damsel in distress concept doesn't make sense here. Could have something to do with the fact that Edward is cold, controlling and stalkerish (he watches her sleep without her knowing it for crying out loud). Maybe I don't understand why so many girls pine away for that kind of hero.

Or it could be the fact that literally nothing happens in the first book and I'm jealous of her success. Either/or.

Ha. Goodluck with your draft! But unplugging is a serious, serious chore. Hard to completely tear yourself away.

Amy Tate said...

Great post! So true, Natalie. If only we could figure out their mood from day to day, think of all the manuscripts we could sell!

VR Barkowski said...

Subjectivity is the curse of the writer. One could dwell on it 24/7 if given a mind. When it disheartens, I think about a world where there is no subjectivity, where we're all the same, where there's no reason for personal choice. Then I take a moment and thank God for subjectivity.

Note to Derek: I hated the Twilight series for the exact reasons you mention, but I can't fault it for attracting young readers. Whatever works.

David said...

I can't help thinking that there aren't too many novels about sea slugs, so the world's best novel about sea slugs might be a just plain mediocre novel.

Anyone read any good novels about sea slugs yet?

Renee Collins said...

(Ha! I knew someone was going to mention Twilight.)

Anyway, true true, Natalie. I've had those same thoughts. So really, if you think about it, the fact that a book makes it to the shelves really does say something. They had to impress not just one person's personal, subjective taste, but several. It's like finding needles in four or five haystacks. You gotta give every published book props on that basis alone.

paulgreci said...

Good luck finishing! That will feel great!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is all so true.

You get your draft to me at the end of the week, and I'll send mine off around the same time!

Vonna said...

I've read many MG and YA books that I don't care for, but surprisingly, when young readers ask me for recommendations, some of these books come to mind for that particular person. It's great when they come back and tell me they loved it.

Linda Kage said...

I beleive you hit the nail on the head with this post. Books are so subjective; it takes a miracle to find the right person who likes the right book.

Have fun on your unplugged time.

Kittie Howard said...

"The Book Thief" comes to mind. I'm clueless as to how that got published, save for a string of tastes that lacked taste. Anyway, lovely blog!

kimberlyloomis said...

Most excellent words. Far too many books in certain genres have left me scratching my head going "this is quality control?" Marketing and the subjectivity are all things authors need to take note of and to *try* and not take personally.

Thanks for this post!

Voidwalker said...

Boy, someone sure does have it out for sea slugs... :P

Catherine Denton said...

What an encouraging post! It's true but easy to forget. And I've DEFINITELY read a bestseller I hated and a quiet book I loved.

David said...

Hey, I just about finished my first draft too! Even when you posted this, it seemed further away.