It's Subjective

on April 16, 2009

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m a news addict. When I worked in the legislature, one of the things I did every morning was read the headlines. My excuse: it was part of my job to keep informed on the important news and events of the day. I used facts in my writing about crime, education, taxes . . . and I liked to use anecdotal stories to illustrate or prove my facts.

When I sold, I switched my news obsession to the publishing industry. It may surprise you to know that I now have to rely on my husband for important news of the day, because I don’t watch television (unless it’s on DVD or my AppleTV) and I rarely read the news, unless it’s crime related.

Now I subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly and the new Lunch Automat on PM is going to be the death of me. Every morning and every night I have to skim the headlines. I’ll admit, I’m pretty good at pulling at the stories I’m interested in, and I can get through the headlines in five minutes–it’s when I click through, then click through, then click through one more time that the process becomes a time suck.

So through all this, I’ve found all the agent blogs. I enjoy them. I don’t know why. I have an agent I love. But I think knowing what’s going on outside of my own little bubble is important. Not just for me and my career, but because I am inundated with questions from aspiring writers. I’m not saying this as a bad thing–I like helping people if I can–but if I didn’t know anything but my finite world, I wouldn’t be much help at all.

This past week there has been a plethora of blogs about the subjective nature of publishing. This is something we all know. Reading itself is subjective. If we all loved and hated the same books, life would be boring. There is a breadth of books out there to suit the tastes of all readers–and thus, there are books out there–many that are hugely successful–that some of don’t care for.

Nathan Bransford with Curtis Brown has a blog I enjoy, and this week he played “Be Agent For A Day” and posted 50 queries he had his blog readers–most of whom, if not all, are aspiring authors. What amazed me was some of the cruelty that came from writers on the queries that were volunteered to Nathan for his project. Comments like, “Burn the manuscript.” Off a query letter someone can tell whether the manuscript is any good? Some of us just don’t write good query letters.

Unpublished author contests, which are prevalent in RWA but not as widely used in other genre writers groups, can offer valuable feedback–or kill your muse. IF you let it. The truth is, I’ve never heard an agent or editor be as cruel to an individual writer as other writers. Agents reject dozens of queries and manuscripts every single day–it’s not personal. It’s truly subjective.

Over at the Thrillerfest Blog, Randall Klein with Bantam reflected on passing up bestsellers. Editors, and agents, have a fear that they might not see the next great thing, but in the end, they have to buy what they are passionate about and what they think they can sell. It has to be both–because honestly, it’s much harder to sell something you can’t be passionate about, and it’s hard to be passionate about something you think has no marketability. Yet it’s not personal–and as we all know, sometimes you just have a bad day and think everything sucks.

Amazon reviews can be harsh. True, you’re now a published author! You have amazon reviews! RT reviews! Maybe a PW review! And you may be trashed by readers who hate your book. Some of the readers are not your readers–they may not love your voice or your twist on their favorite genre. Some of the readers are your readers, but think you wrote a dud. Not everyone will agree on which book is your dud.

Rejection hurts, whether you’re published or not. It’s what you do with the rejection that separates the weak from the strong. Here’s my advice for handling rejection, whether it’s from an agent, editor, or reviewer:


You’ve queried an agent with a one-page letter. They reject it. “It’s not right for me.” “I didn’t connect with the story.” “My list is full.” This is not a personal rejection. Hell, they’re not even rejecting your book–they’re rejecting your query letter. Suck it up and send another. If you think your query letter needs work, then fix it. But in the end, it is always the BOOK ITSELF that will sell an agent on you.


An agent read a partial. “It’s not for us.” Suck it up and query more agents and start your next book. Most authors don’t sell their first book. If they do, more power to them. But it’s common to write two, five, ten books before you sell one.


An agent loved your query enough to read the full manuscript. “I didn’t connect with the characters.” “I didn’t love it enough.” “The story was superficial.” Whatever they say, know that not everyone will agree with them. On my debut novel, I queried twelve agents and five requested fulls, and two others requested partials. Five rejected on the query letter. One full rejected, one partial rejected, and the other partial requested the full, but my very wise and savvy agent had already signed me. They others just too too long 🙂 Their loss, right? My debut novel hit #33 on the NYT list. But would I would an agent who didn’t love it? Hell no. I want an agent who LOVES my book. So it’s worth waiting for that agent, either by sending out more queries, or writing another book.


Learn to discern advice. Read it, if it makes sense and you agree, incorporate it. If you disagree, ignore it. Most of these judges are unpublished authors. Do they know what’s best? No. Do you? Probably not. But you know what’s best for YOUR book. Never change anything because someone (other than an editor!) tells you that you “have” to.

And if they get personal? Screw ’em. Editors don’t reject you personally, they reject your manuscript. Contest judges need to be professional, and if they’re not, they can pound salt.

Whatever you do, do NOT cry or get discouraged because an idiot contest judge told you that you write like an amateur or you’ll never be published or you need to take English Composition 101. If you do, get out of the game now, because you’ll never survive Amazon reviews when you do get published.


There are three camps of authors: Those who read all their reviews (me); those who read only the good reviews their agent/friends send them; those who never read reviews.

If you have a thin skin, don’t read your reviews.

If you do read your reviews, remember that it’s just the opinion of ONE person. A stranger. If they love your book, they have wonderful taste 🙂 . . . if they hate it and trash it, they’re having a bad day. Move on. You’re a published author. A bad review is not going to kill you.


When an agent says, “It’s subjective,” it is. Good books get rejected every day. It’s part of the business.

So be a big girl (or boy) and don’t take rejection, however it comes, personally. Move on, improve your craft, and keep submitting.