You've started reading a book and just couldn't get into it, right? It could even be a well-recommended award-winning book, but it didn't grab you. Sometimes you try the book later and this time you're hooked. Other books, later comes and they still don't do it for you. That's subjective reading.
So why then are we surprised when an editor or agent isn't hooked by our writing? Yes, our query got their attention but responses vary from "I didn't love it enough" to "This isn't right for me (I just personally don't like...)" to "I simply did not connect with the voice here enough" to the "we only respond if we're interested" no response. If we pin our hopes to much on one person's opinion, it's too easy to be heartbroken.
I experienced the subjectivity effect on the other side of the desk recently. I teach a correspondence course for writing for children's magazines. Student lessons either come by email or regular mail. One response to a student got lost and I had to re-edit the lesson. The first time, I looked at the lesson and basically said "not in the right format, please redo." The second time, yes, I still noticed it was not in the right format, but I also noticed a paragraph that would make a good opening. I spent more time the second time on the positives and less on the negative. Why is that? It's that subjective thing again. Perhaps the first time I'd had a number of students not following directions and so was pre-set to be irritated. The second time it was the first lesson of the day, so I was more open minded. The student got a better response...on the same material.
So, back to editors and agents and their subjectivity...
- Their responses can be influenced by what has happened that day. Agent Jenny Bent shared how agents can feel like losers on a March 2010 blog post. Here's the link.
- They can be influenced by personal taste. Agent Suzie Townsend said on her blog, "Here's the thing. Reading is subjective and it's a matter of personal tastes. I don't read business books. I don't really find them interesting and I wouldn't pick one up off a shelf in a store, which means I wouldn't request one from my slush pile either."
- The responses can be hindered by what else they've said "yes" to.
That means we can't take one "no" too much to heart. We need more responses.
And then we need to look at those responses not subjectively (oh, poor me, another no), but objectively. We need to see the big picture. What are they saying? Are there any common threads in these responses? Perhaps a number mentioning character or voice? Or maybe several say it's an overdone topic? Whatever it is we can learn from a consensus in feedback. It points out a problem with our writing that we can address. Here's a blog post on Good Rejections--Deciphering Notes from Editors and Literary Agents by another writer Althyia Brown--you might find it helpful too.
We can also take heart from any positive comments and use them to help us move on to rewriting, making our book better, so that one day, someone subjectively says, "yes."
Thanks to godidwlr on morguefile.com for the above picture.