Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Subjectivity and Quality

by Annette Lyon

Generally speaking, if you hand over a really bad writing sample to a qualified reader (such as an editor or agent), they'll likely recognize it as trash.

Do the same with a mediocre piece of writing, and the result will be the same.

But what about works that range from pretty good to really great?

Says who?

There's a huge range where opinion and subjectivity step in. It's why agent after agent passed on Harry Potter before someone decided they loved it . . . and it did what no other series has ever done in history.

It's why some people hate Twilight while others are obsessed with the series.

It's why you can find rejection letters out there addressed to some of the best writers the world has ever created.

And it's why some people love Faulkner while others can't stand him.

Once a writer reaches a certain skill level, "quality" becomes a bit vague. Objectivity exists only to a point.

Remember that when submitting your work. I've followed agent blogs where they admit that a writer had the chops, but that the style or topic just wasn't their cup of tea, or they didn't think they personally could sell it.

Recently I've been involved with a published author awards program and the judging involved with it. It's been fascinating to hear different judges' opinions. By and large, certain books had a consensus (this one was really great, that one was really poor). But several titles garnered totally conflicting opinions.

In several cases, judges were stunned that certain titles weren't finalists, while another judge might have seriously disliked the same book.

Each and every judge was extremely qualified. Yet none of them had the exact same opinion, and sometimes they clashed on what was a quality book and what wasn't.

Of course you should constantly try to improve. After a rejection, analyzing your work critically to see if they're right can only help.

But at the same time, remember that sometimes a rejection simply means that you haven't found the right person to look at your work yet. Maybe it is fantastic, and you just need to get it into the hands of someone who "gets" and likes you and your style.

Here's one more evidence that writing can be extremely subjective: personally, I never did see why so many people like Faulkner. Ugh.


Amanda said...

haha, I LOVE Faulkner!

Julie Wright said...

The joy of judging another's work. It's amazing that after the technical stuff, it comes down to personal taste. Great thoughts! I don't like faulkner either, BTW. But I wasn't all that thrilled by a lot of the greats. Something must be wrong with me.

Anna Maria Junus said...

I couldn't get through the first chapter of Angela's Ashes, or The Grapes of Wrath although I loved East of Eden.

Good thing too that there's so many different tastes.

Stephanie Black said...

It is fascinating how different people can have wildly different opinions about the same book. I've seen glowing reviews for books I thought were mediocre, and a one-star rating for a book I thought was fantastic.

Good thing there are lots of different kinds of books.

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

You have no idea how your post has lifted my spirits. I follow a few blogs by agents and find myself depressed after reading their posts.

I really want to become a published author out there. I want everyone to adore my work. I know that is dreaming big, but it's nice to be reminded that there will be people out there who will like my work and they are the ones who matter!

Danette said...

I talked with an author about quality and publishing the other day. As we talked I envisioned American Idol for some reason. There we see those who have talent really stand out and others that are good but don't have that star factor. IT was then I thought it has to be the same with writing. (maybe a visual) There are probably tons of good writers out there but the publishers are looking for that one that stands out more than the rest. But like every session it changes.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I've a few friends who could do with reading this post. Well put!