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Sunday, September 6, 2015

On Subjectivity and Writing

In my last post, I discussed how I went about combing through submissions for Pitch Wars, a writing contest for which I’m a mentor to an unagented writer of my choosing. As I explained, I was trying to be as logical as possible, but that I couldn’t ignore my gut. And my gut is subjective.

Now, two weeks later, I find myself attempting and failing at writing rejections.

I know the 76 rejections I have to write (I ended up with two fabulous mentees, if you’re wondering why I’m not writing 77 for my 78 submissions) are only truly useful to those who submitted if I give them specific feedback. These people already know they weren’t chosen. I’m not even sure they’ll open the email when I send it because, really, writers are subjected to enough rejection, why actually read one you knew was coming?

But also, all 76 of those rejections are for reasons that are completely subjective.

Completely. Even if I give each entrant the specific reason my gut veered away.

And how does one truly explain subjectivity?

As Keanu says above, what if what I see is completely different from how others see it? Subjectivity is a stew of so many factors—preferences, education, background, mood, interests, etc.—what can a writer gain except information that can be used with someone who is similarly subjective?

So, if we constantly tell each other that “writing is subjective” what are we truly supposed to learn from that? What do you think?


Jim Jackson said...

My son is partially colorblind. His green’s pop; red’s are very dull. Once I learned that, I understood why his favorite piece of clothing at a young age was a pair of green Osh Kosh.

Each of us has a reaction to anything that is informed by our past. However, when it comes to writing, the key is to hit the right buttons for enough people to be successful. James Patterson’s current output is not my cuppa, but that does not stop him from selling millions of each book he writes and/or produces.

Which leads me to a funny story. I was at the local store (Tall Pines for those of you who have read Cabin Fever) and we were talking about authors. Earlier in the week, one of the store clerks had been talking with another about James Patterson and a guy overhears them and says, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen him in the store.” “Er, no,” they say. “That’s James Jackson.”

Don’t I wish….

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

Unfortunately, what makes writing popular can also make for cookie-cutter novels. I read lots of new authors. Many, its seems, make a list of must-have elements of a cozy or suspense (you fill in the subgenre) and write to the popular specifications. In cozy, add one quirky side-kick, recipes, a dog or supernatural cat, a romantic lead, a Native American or a Latina who maybe gay, a timely social issue that reflects the MC's righteousness, and then have them all team to solve a murder. They are fun reads, but after the first ten, boredom sets in. I don't fault the authors. Everyone wants to get published.

In your situation, Sarah, I'm not sure I'd spend too much time. You've volunteered by making your selections. When the contest is smaller or has more volunteers, provide what feedback you can. Seventy-six is asking too much.

KM Rockwood said...

"There's no accounting for taste."

Very true.

And we do see blue differently. Taste things differently. Hear things differently.

I don't think you owe each author anything beyond "Thank you. I enjoyed it, and the decision was difficult, but I selected another work."

It's a good thing we don't all see things the same way. The world would be a very boring place, and we'd all be competing fiercely for the same job, home, etc.instead of letting our individual preferences guide us.

Warren Bull said...

There might have been a few that were really close to being selected. For those few it might be helpful to them to know why they were not chosen. I value feedback about what I could have better.

Linda Rodriguez said...


I think you're right in thinking that, if you give them feedback, it probably won't be helpful. Also, with that many applicants, no one can reasonably expect any real feedback on the ones rejected. That's not to say that some won't expect it anyway--the key word is "reasonably."

Gloria Alden said...

Sarah, even reading that many submissions would be daunting, but to have to give helpful or meaningful criticism i n any way is impossible. Are you going to volunteer for this again???

I recently was scolded by two members of one of my book club because I quit reading the book for that month after five chapters - which incidentally the member who chose it hadn't read it in advance. I was scolded not by the person who was hosting our club that evening and had picked the book, but two others who said if I'm going to belong to a book club, I should read the books picked or what's the use to belonging to a book club. Actually, I don't think anyone cared much for the book from the discussion. In my busy life with so many books I want to read, I can't see reading a book I didn't like. I'm with E.B. in that I'm seeing too many books that are formulaic now. A few of them I can enjoy, but others seems to be what she calls cookie-cutter.

Also, Jim, I can see why you'd like to have his name. I've never read anything by him, or intend, too, but he does have a huge amount of fans and is raking in the money even though from what I've heard he has others largely writing the books for him once he gives them the idea and/or plot.