A Firsthand Look at Subjectivity

As writers, we’re told A LOT about how subjective this business is. “Keep trying, someone else might really like this.” “Strong writing but it’s not for me.” The variations on “Thanks, but no thanks” are endless. Sometimes, you’re left scratching your head and going, “Okay, but how do I fix it? WHAT do I need to fix actually? IS there anything to fix or has this just not crossed the right agent/editor’s desk yet?”

Well, up until this last month, I’d been pretty down on my manuscript and hating the very mention of the word “subjective.” No one seemed to like what I was doing and therefore, it couldn’t REALLY be that subjective if every contest entry/twitter pitch/query sent out resulted in a “Not for me.”

Then enter Pitch to Publication and three fantastic editors that, despite not selecting me for the contest, gave me some pretty great feedback. And maybe without meaning to they also gave me an insight on JUST how subjective this business really is. Let me preface: I’ve entered pretty much every writing contest in the last year and to this point had received not so much as a sentence as to why no one wanted to look at anything more than a page of my MS. I had no idea if I was cut first or last, had no idea if maybe I was closer than I thought to getting in or maybe I sucked so badly I ought to quit and take up a different passion.

Without naming names, let’s take a look at the feedback I was given ON THE EXACT SAME ENTRY by three different editors:

Editor #1- She actually told me I was one of her favorite pitches. She didn’t care for my MC and she hadn’t read enough in my sub-genre to feel like she could best edit this, but hoped someone else picked me. In fact, she wanted a time machine so she could go back, read the books sitting on her shelf in my genre so she could pick me, but since that’s not possible, she hopes I’ll either hire her or enter again in October for the next P2P. (I was flattered. Especially about the time machine. Keep this in mind as we read on.)

Editor #2- This editor felt I had great voice, pacing, and she LOVED my MC. But my concept in the query was muddled, not succinct, and therefore she couldn’t connect with my project. I ended up on her short list. (And keep this in mind as you read even further.)

Editor #3- She liked my concept but thought I had issues with voice, pacing, and my MS would need more work than the allotted month for the contest. (If I had to guess, I did NOT make this editor’s short list.)

Okay. So did you catch that? I’ve read this feedback over and over… and it’s really subjective isn’t it? One editor loved my MC, while another liked everything BUT my MC. One thought I had fantastic voice and pacing, while another thought I had issues with both. One, if she’d read enough in my genre, thought the issues with my MS could have been fixed in a month and might have picked my entry, while the another thought it’d need more time.

You know what I loved about this though? Even though they said different, contradictory things I learned SO MUCH from this experience. Like: I’m getting closer than I thought I was. I ended up on two short lists, which is something I wouldn’t have known if the editors hadn’t said as much. I’d still be in “Well, I didn’t get picked but am I getting better?” mode. I learned that even though my MS has some definite issues, it also has potential. LOTS of it. So I have to keep going. I also learned that THIS is the reason you don’t accept and use every piece of feedback you’re given, because what works for one MS might not for another, and HOW ON EARTH COULD I IMPLEMENT SUCH DIFFERENT FEEDBACK?????

(A good rule of thumb for feedback: One person says it, it’s an opinion. Two people say it and you might need to look into it. Three or more people say it, it’s an issue.)

So once I had this feedback, I did what they say you’re supposed to do: I sat on it. I thought about it from every angle, asked for some impartial third party advice (HI LANA!) on what I could do to improve, and I played around (in thought only) about what changes I would make if I agreed and accepted certain aspect of my feedback.

And guess what happened? I had a breakthrough. Suddenly, I saw that ALL the editors (Plus other betas and CPs) were right about different things, and I knew how to fix it.

Some people didn’t like my MC because, as I came to realize with my ‘muddled’ concept, she wasn’t the true MC and was difficult to relate to. I’d told my story from a limited perspective (which is why I’m adding a few more POVs and changing many of the existing scenes to a different character’s POV), I’d focused on the wrong story arc (which is why the pacing was off), and I’d pushed so much of what made my story unique into the background that what was front and center felt too common, which is why it wasn’t gaining interest.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t make it into P2P. It definitely will take more than a month to correct this, and now I’m free to recreate as much of the story as I need to, and have an opportunity to fully realize the new vision for my novel. Of course, a tiny part of me is sad that I went from something almost ready to query, to something that’s going to be In Progress for a while still, but my novel will be the better for it.

I’m so grateful for my failures, as well as the feedback from these editors, my CPs and Betas, and I’m grateful for the chance to do this story right- the way it deserved to be told all along.

You know what else I’m grateful for? Subjectivity. Because while my project might not be right for everyone, it will be exactly right for someone, and that someone will make all the difference.

Write on, Friends…

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Comparing: STOP IT!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a big problem. I tend to compare my writing journey with those of my peers, and it results in nothing but depression, self-loathing, and serious doubt in my writing abilities. This is clearly not a good thing, and I need to stop it. If you’re doing it, you need to stop it too.

Really. Because if you’ve read about any handful of famous authors, you’ll see their journeys are as different as their writing styles. For example:

Both Veronica Roth and Stephanie Meyers wrote, found an agent for, and sold their books within a 5-6 month period. Meanwhile Kathryn Stockett queried for 3 YEARS before finding representation.

Nicholas Sparks got an offer of representation with the first query he sent, while Stephen King talks about having enough rejections that he had to nail them to the wall with a spike.

J.K. Rowling spent the better part of 6 years writing the first Harry Potter book, and it was out on submission for a year before finding a home at Bloomsbury. (Did you know, Rowling said there were times she HATED her book while she was editing it? HATED it. Can you imagine?)

As you see, no two stories are the same, and the amount of time it takes to “catch your break” doesn’t indicate the level of success you’ll have.

I have friends that have been querying for years with no luck. I have friends that jumped into the query trenches after me and have book deals already.

Personally, I’ve been in the trenches over a year now and I don’t know if I’m any closer to finding an agent than I was when I started. But I’ve learned a lot. My manuscript gets better with each rejection. I keep writing, and I tell myself that I’ll get there if I just keep moving.

In the meantime, I need to remember that my journey is my own. I don’t need to follow somebody else’s path or feel threatened when someone finds success before me. Because that would be comparing. And I need to stop it. So do you.

Good luck on your individual writing journey, and write on friends!

Shout out in the comments: Whose writing journey inspires/surprises you the most?