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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THE PUBLISHING AGE OF INNOCENCE

Photo by psd

Nathan Bransford posted this little gem on his blog last week: The Publishing Process in GIF form. It takes a while to load, but it’s well worth the wait. For those of you who don’t know him, Nathan Bransford was a former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. He left to focus on his own writing career, but he’s still an authority on all things publishing.

Some of my writing friends felt his video parody wasn’t a realistic portrayal of the publishing process; that it made it look too easy. I have to admit back when I was an optimistic (I use that term lightly), naïve dreamer of a writer, I thought things would play out just like the post suggests:

I’d write my first novel and then query agents. CHECK √

That’s how far I made it. Even after writing and querying my second novel, I still couldn’t land an agent. Boy, was that depressing. It wasn’t until I joined a well-known writers’ site that my traditional publishing hymen broke.

I got to hear stories of other writers in various stages of the game. Here are some sobering things I learned:

1. Even if an agent requests a full read of your manuscript, you may never hear from that agent again. This is called a non-responder, and it’s the equivalent of being stood up for a blind date. I can’t tell you how many agents don’t respond at all to a simple query unless they’re interested. It feels like high school all over again, and you’re being picked last for the basketball team, because you suck.

2. Even if you sign with an agent who’s over the moon for your book, it doesn’t mean they will be able to sell it. Remember, it has to be loved by an editor too, and then they have to convince their bosses to buy it. It’s like being a contestant on The Bachelorette (or The Bachelor) and making it to the final three, yet still needing to work it so you’ll be invited to spend the night in the Fantasy Suite.

3. Sometimes your book doesn’t sell, and the wonderful agent whom you were considering making godmother to your next child up and drops you. That’s right. She terminates your contract. Kinda like being a mail-order bride and getting sent back. Then you must start the entire freaking process of searching for an agent all over again.

4. Even worse-case scenario? Your book sells, doesn’t sell well enough, and the publisher drops you. Now that’s like marrying the man of your dreams, and having him leave you after three years for his mistress who’s prettier and thinner than you are. Ouch.

Before you start thinking, Geez, singlewritermom, you’re a little black rain cloud, I’m sorry I even signed up to follow you, know that for the first time in publishing, a writer has OPTIONS. No, not stock options—other routes available to them, rather than the traditional one that has been in place for many years. Authors nowadays have so much more CONTROL over their work, and that’s empowering for a great many of us who also happen to be perfectionist control freaks.

We no longer have to sit around, waiting for an agent’s response, which may or may not happen in our lifetime. There are small-and medium-sized presses we can submit our work to, and e-publishers—many who request the full ms right off the bat, which makes me giddy inside, because I hate the pressure of having to titillate an agent in ONE fucking paragraph.

And for those who have an entrepreneur spirit to them and prefer to be the dominant over the submissive, there’s self-publishing—the humdinger of responsibility, because in this situation, one must be writer, editor, and publicist. This route is not for the weak, meek, or easily overwhelmed author. Not only must you wear many hats, you must figure out how to distinguish yourself from the gazillion other self-pubbies out there. Short of committing a heinous-enough crime to wind up on TV, and managing to spit out the name of your book while being dragged away by cops, I have zero suggestions for how to go about doing this. But all the more power to you, I say.

No matter which avenue is right for you, it’s important to remember one thing: You wrote a goddamn book! Here, let me say it again: YOU WROTE A GODDAMN BOOK! You may be a failure in every other area of your life, but you accomplished something that most only dream about. It’s not an easy thing to do. And for that you should be proud.

THE ALMOST EMAIL

Patience is NOT one of my virtues, which is unfortunate for me, since every writer NEEDS, I repeat, NEEDS to have it. There is so much waiting involved in the business of publishing – waiting to hear back regarding a query, a partial, a full, rewrites and revisions. Waiting for a pub date, an advance, royalties, and the list goes on and on.

I submitted my romantic comedy, THE ACCIDENTAL COUGAR, to an epublisher some months back. My manuscript changed hands four different times, in the hope of finding a fit for it within their press. “Not erotic enough,” so off to the contemporary line it went. “Heroine too old” (She’s 41!), so off to the Last Chance at Love line (Last chance? At 41? Oy!). “Heroine too young,” so back to the contemporary line, only to wind up in the hands of a paranormal editor. What did they want to do — turn my hero into a ghost? I didn’t know, but I was starting to feel like a cheap hooker being passed around at a bachelor party.

The paranormal editor gave me a date for when she’d get back to me with a response. Bad idea, because I treated that date like the Absolute Truth. Nothing else existed for me, except the 24 hours of said date. House on fire? Trip to the ER? No big deal, as long as I had access to a computer to check email…

The date came and went. No news is good news, I told myself. A week passed. I bit off all my nails. Week two arrived. I started snapping at my son for no good reason.

I HATE WAITING! I’d yell to the dog. She’d look at me like I was nuts and then lick herself. I got on my favorite writer’s forum and asked them: Should I ask for an update? (otherwise known as a status query)

The response was unanimous. “No good ever comes of it. Don’t. Do. It.”

All these thoughts rushed through my head: What if the editor’s email got lost in cyberspace? What if Yahoo is having problems? Maybe she meant she’d get back to me in 2012, not 2011.

Still, no one wants to pressure an editor into a premature rejection, so I sat on my hands and waited. For two days. And then I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know. I had to query. I had no sponsor to call who could tell me, “Step away from the keyboard. The urge will pass.”

I sent a short polite inquiry, asking where I was in the evaluation process. And then I waited. My mood turned foul. I expected rejection, of course. Who wouldn’t after being rejected as many times as I had? Why would this time be any different? I’m 43 years old. Success had eluded me thus far. Maybe I would never amount to anything. I’d die penniless, husbandless, and 401Kless.

My self-pity rant continued with a vengeance, because once I board the express train to Worthless Loserville, there’s no getting off until I reach my destination.

What a big fat waste of time all this writing crap had been. Time that could have been spent with my son, playing Monopoly and Go Fish. Time I could have used to learn Spanish, or bake cookies, or meditate.

No wonder my father didn’t love me. Who could love a loser like me? No wonder my relationships never work out. How could they? I have a huge “L” branded on my chest, and my name’s not Laverne.

Things that had no rhyme or reason began to enter into the equation at this point.

No wonder my cat throws up every time I feed her. And why I don’t get reception on the TV even though I have one of those converter boxes, which should be called crapola boxes, because they don’t work!  No wonder I was overcharged at the grocery store the other day. Because I am a LOSER.

I checked my email for the 500th time that day. Finally, there was the email that held my fate.

I took a few deep breaths. The longer I waited to open that email, the longer I was able to hold onto the elusive emotion of HOPE. Hope is like a beautiful soaring butterfly that can quickly transform itself into an ugly cockroach, smushed by a steel-toed boot at a moment’s notice.

“I have submitted a request for contract from the senior editor of the contemporary line.” Did my eyes deceive me? Were these words of acceptance? Well, almost…I suppose if I had waited longer to query I might have received an email offering an actual contract. It would have been the equivalent of “THE CALL.” But that’s what happens when you’re impatient. No matter. I’ll take this.

The heavens opened up. Colors became brighter. I had a spring in my step, and a smile on my face. It was like the feeling of being in love – only better, because there was no man involved. It was a sense of validation; all my hard work coming to fruition. One person other than my mother liking and appreciating my novel. See Dad, I’m not a loser. I can actually string sentences together to create a story that someone “enjoyed immensely.”

There is the slight chance a contract might not come through for me. The pessimist in me says, “Ain’t nothin’ final till you sign on the dotted line.” But for right now I’m walking on sunshine and feeling worthy.

REJECTION SHOULD BE A FOUR-LETTER WORD

The word Rejection should be right up there with:

ACNE

LOSE

DUMB

…and all the other four-letter words that make us feel bad
about ourselves. REJECTION SUCKS. There’s no other way to say it. I am a
writer, trying to get two novels published. Combined, my rejection letters
total way over a hundred, and that’s not even counting the non-responders where
silence in and of itself equals rejection.

Do I take it personally? Of course I do. I interpret the
rejections as: Your writing sucks! Your concept sucks! And by the way, you suck too!

I was also a commercial and theater actress for many years –
another profession not unlike publishing that vomits rejection. “Not young
enough, pretty enough, skinny enough…just not enough…

It takes a thick skin to deal with constant rejection. I
should have given up long ago. Anyone with self-esteem issues knows that these
two professions, writing and acting, will tear you up inside if you don’t have
an ounce of self-confidence.

And yet I persist with the writing thing. Granted, I’ve
tried to consider many, many other professions in the hope that one will club
me over the head and drag me onto the Stability bus I’ve been chasing and missing
for so many years.

Dental Hygienist — Hey, they make decent money. I roll it
around in my head, and try not to gag on the idea of what it would be like to
probe plaque-and disease-ridden mouths…

Medical Assistant — Now there’s a profession that’s always
in demand. Maybe I can ignore the fact that I’m not very nurturing, nor can I
stand bodily fluids or the thought of wiping a stranger’s ass…

Any 9-5 office job — So what if my varicose veins get worse
and my weight triples from sitting at a desk all day? And really, who needs to
see the light of day anyway?

“Think of your son and what you need to do to support him. Forget what you want to do.” I hear that a lot.
If I thought I could excel at anything else, or retain my sanity doing something else, I would run to it. I
wish I was able to keep a “normal” job like 98% of the population. The journey I’m supposed to be enjoying has
left me stressed-out, broke, and queasy from motion sickness.

Numerous actors have said they fell into acting simply
because they couldn’t stand the idea of doing anything else. Or weren’t capable
of doing anything else, for that matter. They had literally sucked at every job
they attempted.

When actors accept their Academy Awards, singers accept
their Grammys, or best-selling authors who, after 1000 rejections FINALLY get
published, they all say the same thing: “NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAM.” It’s
easy to spit out “never give up” in hindsight, while you’re holding that shiny
statue, or signing a 3-book deal.

But how long does one stick it out to pursue the dream? How long does one pick half-eaten hot dogs
out of the trash, sleep on a futon, drive a 1986 car?

How many writers out there have received one rejection too
many, and have chosen to bow out gracefully because they’re tired of seeing
those form-letter words?

“Your work is not the right fit for us at this time…”

“Your project isn’t quite right for me…”

“Please know that this business is highly subjective…”

And yet, all it takes is a single yes from one
person and the dream will have come true. That is what keeps us going.