IT’S ALL SO DAMN SUBJECTIVE

dr-seuss-be-who-you-are
“SUBJECTIVE” is the word I hear most when discussing the publishing business, and writing in general. At first I really didn’t get what that meant. I figured if I wrote a great book, everyone would like it. (Stop laughing!) Agents always say, “Write the best book you can. If it’s good, it will find a home.” (What they don’t tell you is that home is usually your own. Which is where it stays. Forever.)

Here are some excerpts from various agent form rejection letters we all know and love:

“In my search for clients I wish to represent only the manuscripts with which I feel a real connection. Ultimately—and for purely SUBJECTIVE reasons—this query did not spark that kind of enthusiasm.” (Which we writers interpret to mean, “Your manuscript sucks.”)

“We mold our client list from the many submissions we receive every month, and the process is both SUBJECTIVE and based on the direction of this agency.” (Which we writers interpret to mean, “Your manuscript sucks.”)

“Please keep in mind that mine is a SUBJECTIVE business, and an idea or story one agent does not respond to may well be met with great enthusiasm by another…” (Which we writers interpret to mean, “Your manuscript sucks.”)

Book reviews are also SUBJECTIVE. The most obvious example being the thousands of reviews for Fifty Shades of Grey. The reviews range from “If Heaven exists, it would surely be wallpapered with the pages of this trilogy, so we can all read this masterpiece for eternity,” to “I wouldn’t wipe my dog’s ass with the pages of this crap.”

SUBJECTIVE. SUBJECTIVE. SUBJECTIVE.

What the hell does this word even mean?

Based on (or related to) attitudes, beliefs, or opinions, instead of on verifiable evidence or phenomenon. Contrasts with objective.—BusinessDictionary.com

Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.–thefreedictionary.com

Based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions.—Dictionary.com

Do you see a pattern here? It means what floats one’s boat may not float another’s. What may be one person’s cocaine may be someone else’s bad LSD trip. One person’s kink may be another person’s therapy session.

Personally, I’ve found some of my female friends’ partners revolting. I pretty much think all of my ex-boyfriends’ wives are like, “Ugh.” To each his own, and even more so when it comes to writing.

I bought a book in Target a few months ago by a contemporary romance author I’ve wanted to check out for awhile. She’s been around a long time, has written a gazillion books, has beaucoup fan followers, and is a NYT bestselling author. And yet…

I picked up and put down this book so many times it took me forever to finish it. It wasn’t that this woman wasn’t a good writer; she was. But the heroine bothered me, because she was too adoring of the hero, so she came across (to me) as a sloppy puppy dog. There was too much conversation about feelings and too many internal monologues about feelings, which tend to bore me. I prefer more zingy dialogue. And there just wasn’t enough of a plotline to hold my interest.

But that’s simply my opinion. It wasn’t my cuppa. Hundreds upon hundreds of fans love her books, and loved this one, in particular. Does that mean it sucked because I wasn’t crazy about it? Of course not. It just means it wasn’t my cocaine.

If you were an agent, you’d want to sign someone who wrote a book that was your cocaine. Just like the person you marry should be your cocaine. And your passion should be your cocaine.

The next time you receive a rejection letter or a bad review, or get dumped by your lover, remember that damn word…no, not cocaine…SUBJECTIVE.

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SO YOU WANNA BE A SUCCESSFUL AUTHOR

Photo by aurelio.asiain

The literary agent, Irene Goodman, wrote an article back in 2008, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors.” Most of her successful authors had these following habits in common. The article should be my Bible; it makes so much sense, and yet I fail at each one. I’ll paraphrase the article anyway, because if I were a highly effective author, here’s what my habits would look like:

1. STOP WAITING FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE AND SIT YOUR ASS DOWN ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Picture a writer as a lazy hooker, hanging out on the corner of Procrastination and Despair, south of Writer’s Block, whenever she (or he) feels like it, waiting for a john (an idea) to pick them up. Maybe one comes by, maybe one doesn’t, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have a family to support, or a crack habit to feed, or a book to write. As Janet Dailey said, “Someday is not a day of the week.” Treat writing like a job.

2. NEVER GIVE UP.

I used to pray to my God every day to take away the craving to write, the need to live a creative life, and replace it with a burning desire to be a banker instead.  I wanted the stability and routine of a normal job. Funny thing is whenever I’ve worked a normal job in the past, I’d have regular visions of jumping off bridges or cliffs or buildings—anything to avoid being at the same place at the same time, day in and day out. Those jobs equaled death of my spirit, and the perks just weren’t worth it. No matter how craptastic you think the writing life is, realize that the alternative is even worse. Ride out those downs.

3. DON’T LOOK A FEEDBACK HORSE IN THE MOUTH.

Nobody likes criticism, even less so when it’s about their writing. Writers always think whatever they’ve written is crap. So you can imagine how it feels when someone confirms it. I entered the first chapter of my romantic comedy, The Accidental Cougar, in a contest last year. Two judges trashed it, and one thought it was perfectly written. Guess what I focused on? The criticism, of course. I went back and forth between thinking the judges didn’t know shit to me feeling like the worst writer on the planet. When I received a contract for the manuscript soon after, and went through the editing process, I didn’t change much. But what I did have to change was indeed what the wise judges had suggested I should change. Hmmm, maybe I don’t know everything there is to know about writing.

4. IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT.

I understand writers become bored, they want to branch out and try new things, chase a trend, and hopefully target a new set of readers. But writers have fans for a reason, so if you up and change the program, or in my case, give me Fifty Shades of Grey when I’m expecting a well-written, sexy erotic romance that doesn’t resemble Twilight in the least, you’ll be met with a cranky bitch. Never alienate your bread-and-butter just because you have ADD. Nobody wants to see Cindy Crawford do Shakespeare, just like there’s a reason Matthew McConaughey takes his shirt off in movies. Give your audience what it wants, or be prepared to suffer their wrath.

5. ALWAYS WEAR CLEAN UNDERWEAR.

Accidents are when you rear end someone or the condom breaks. Very rarely should a career be accidental. Even E.L. James who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey had a plan in mind: Steal another writer’s idea, opps, I mean, write fanfiction; Don’t edit it; Have a well-known NY blogger talk it up; Sit back and rake in millions. While most writers will never come close to seeing their book translated somehow into makeup, bed sheets, or sex toys, it’s still no excuse for having a career without a sense of direction. Even though I despise this word, Plan, write down goals and meet them. Be the tortoise, not the hare in the race.

6. TAKE A VALIUM EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE, OR HAVE A GLASS OF WINE FOR GOD’S SAKE!

In other words…Chillax (Chill out + Relax) as my twelve-year-old neighbor would say. You must replenish the well, smell the flowers, enjoy the fruits of your labor—lest your creativity run dry. Um, yeah. Sorry, I can’t comment on this one, because I don’t relax. Ever. I have too much shit to do. Writing is a full-time job. You want eight-hour shifts, with a half-hour for lunch and two fifteens? Go work at Costco.

7. NEVER REFUSE SEX.

This is actually a metaphor about missed opportunities, although if a woman wants sex and her man tells her he needs to eat a sandwich first and take a shower? That man better be prepared to wait a long, long time before getting another offer again. Also, when you’re travelling, never turn down a meal. And those cute shoes you’re not sure you should buy? They won’t be there when you go back to the store. Ever notice how a lot of actors always say they didn’t want to do a certain movie, but then their agent convinces them to and they end up winning an Oscar for their performance? Same is true with writing. If a once-in-a-lifetime chance comes along, take it, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

There you have it—seven habits that make a successful author. Does anyone have anything to add?

FIFTY SHADES OF OH CRAP

wedding vow

I wasn’t ever going to post on Fifty Shades of Grey. I am well aware of the fact that there are already thousands upon thousands of opinions out there regarding this first novel in E.L. James’ erotic romance trilogy. These novels have been discussed ad nauseam, by everyone who doesn’t live under a rock. What I have to say about it is neither enlightening nor profound, and yet, I still can’t seem to keep my pie hole shut regardless.

Now I haven’t read FSOG in its entirety, because the writing is so atrocious that I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’d rather get a gynecological exam, or have my nipples clamped, or my clit whipped, or…well, you get the idea. I’ve been reading excerpts of it in blog posts penned by a hilarious writer who is critiquing the book chapter-by-chapter, and just from those horrid excerpts, I feel I’ve seen enough. If you want a good laugh, you should check out her blog: jenniferarmintrout.blogspot.com. You won’t be sorry.

“Lighten up!” the fans say to us haters. “It’s just a book.” Ah yes, but to writers it means so much more. It signifies a poorly-written piece of work unjustly catapulted to the top of the bestseller list. There are so many talented writers in the world who have been toiling away for years, and yet their words will never see the published page.

Most writers spend hours upon hours painstakingly choosing the right word to use, searching for a way to describe something that causes the reader to see it in a new light, mulling over phrases so as not to be cliché, and yet here is an author whose heroine “flushes” or “blushes” 125 times. Really, I’m not kidding. Certain repetitive phrases or words have been searched for on Kindle, and here are some of the things that came up:

The heroine bites her lip 35 times.

Characters raise their eyebrows 50 times.

The heroine says “Jeez” 81 times.

The heroine says “Oh my” 72 times.

Characters murmur 199 times.

Characters whisper 195 times.

There are 92 repetitions of the heroine saying some form of crap, from “Oh crap,” “Holy crap,” “Double crap,” and when she’s on a really good one, “Triple crap.”

Now, I’m not expecting Jane Austen or even Anaïs Nin here, but I expect a writer to have some standards, for God’s sake! Yes, I know FSOG was originally written as Twilight fanfic, a methadone of sorts for all the Twihards going through withdrawals. Yes, I know that even though this is the author’s first published novel, no one, including her publisher, felt the need to use the services of an editor. Yes, I know E. L. James’s inner goddess, subconscious, Id, ego, super-ego, clitoris, spleen, and what have you are all laughing their way to the bank.

Sadly, this leaves me with only one thing to say to the fans of Fifty: SHAME ON YOU!

Shame on you for praising a novel that reads like it was written by an over-sexed twelve-year-old.

Shame on you for glorifying an extremely jealous, possessive and controlling hero, who at times, is downright creepy. (For all you wives out there wishing your husbands were more like Christian Grey, get thee to a therapist and fast!)

Shame on you for buying into the fantasy that the only thing a broken man needs in order to be “fixed” is the love of a good woman. Anyone who has ever been involved with an abusive man or a “bad boy” knows what a crock of shit that is. Just go to the local women’s shelter and ask some of them.

Shame on you all you bored, frustrated housewives out there who think light BDSM is way kinky and totally “out there,” and/or is a fetish that needs to be cured. I get that your husbands are passive vanilla pussies in bed, but please, do yourselves a favor and go buy yourselves some quality erotica that doesn’t degrade women.

I’ve come to the sad conclusion that based on what constitutes a bestseller nowadays, our society prefers their reading to be more on the Kraft macaroni & cheese and Wonder bread side. No one wants to have to look up a word, and based on the fact that the “average” American reads at a 7th or 8th grade level, or hardly at all, the choices of reading material is going to be limited. And probably have mostly pictures.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise though, considering we’re the same culture that has made the members of “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” millionaires.

So I guess I don’t begrudge the author of FSOG anything. If someone were offering me boatloads of money for crap I’d written, I certainly wouldn’t go on national television apologizing for my crap. In my humble opinion, it’s our society that’s fifty shades of fucked up.