• By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 07 2010

I was Tweeting with an author recently when she said “I’m always surprised at how subjective this business is.”

And my very first thought was “Aren’t you glad it is.” This was one of those lightbulb moments for me. We always discuss how subjective this business is and that even though something works for me it might not work for another agent. We even use those words, or something similar, to soften the blow of our rejection letters.

We know it’s subjective, but suddenly through the words of this author I realized how truly wonderful that is.

Subjective means that all opinions can make a difference. It means that because I love one book, even if no other agent does, I can take the time to try my hardest to bring that book to the market. It means variety. Subjective is what brings us romantic comedy, dark thrillers, urban fantasy, and science fiction.

The next time you get frustrated by how subjective everything is, take a moment to be grateful for subjectivity. It’s because we’re subjective that we get variety and it’s because publishing is subjective that there’s always another agent around the corner who might have a different opinion, and another editor to submit to.


20 responses to “Subjective”

  1. Avatar wry wryter says:

    After all isn't subjective why we love who we love? It is from the core of who we are we make the best decisions, in life and in business.

    This is way to serious for me. Subjectively, I'm a smart ass…wait, which one is it.

    Jessica,wise words on a weary, dreary day.

  2. Avatar Erika Marks says:

    Such a good point. If not for differing opinions and tastes, we might as well hang our hats on one query and close up shop if it doesn't come back with an offer of representation. Thankfully, we can always hold out hope that, with a well-crafted project, someone may be "the one" to fall in love with our work.

  3. Avatar Tracy says:

    That's the wonderful thing about working with imaginations,they're free to go wherever they want…there will always be an audience out there somewhere.

  4. Avatar MadDabbler says:

    I agree and disagree. It's great that the subjectivity of the business allows authors to submit to such a variety of agents. It gives us a grain of hope that the next agent might be the One.

    At the same time, the word itself has lost so much of its meaning due to the fact that it's used so freely in rejections to "soften the blow" as you pointed out. Too often it is just another word, another part of rejection, that makes the true definition of subjectivity less valuable.

    Regardless, I'll clutch my little grain of hope and continue to submit, all the while maintaining my love/hate relationship with subjectivity.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  5. I hear the same kind of thing about critique group–what to down when you hear 3 different opinions/ideas about a scene or passage. Yes, it can be frustrating, but the magic part is that somewhere in those opinions–in the one that hits home with you, or a combination of the three that you and your group brainstorm out of the mix–is an answer your book needs!

  6. Avatar Florence says:

    Yes, indeed. It is what Jack Canfield talks about when he and his partner were turned down by over 100 publishers until they found this small press in Deerfield Beach, Fl. The book was Chicken Soup for the Soul which to date has sold over 100 million copies.

    The same held for J.K. Rawlings. So often one person will see "something" in a book that hundreds before didn't see.

    Perception is our only reality. Good post, thanks.

  7. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Excellent point and the only reason any of us are published. 🙂 I believe that we each come to a book with our own baggage–my personal history shapes how I write and how I read. It makes the experience (reading or writing) a totally individual one, and I've discovered that many of my readers who love my books also appreciate my recommendations, because we obviously must share at least SOME of that same baggage!

  8. It's one of the things that keeps me going really. One person may not like it, but there are millions more people that will. To get to those millions, I have to find an agent who make not like it, but there are plenty of other agents that could like my pitch. Subjectivity is a great thing!

  9. This is an issue that has always surprised me. Does the agent, does the editor concern herself only with what she subjectively likes? The "it didn't work for ME" or the "I have to fall in love with it" syndromes?
    Or do the more experienced workers of the industry ask whether objectively, "Can I sell this book?"

  10. My dad, who is a range management guru, always says, "Variety is stability." It seems to apply to things other than natural systems, and most especially to modes of thinking.

    Groupthink is a terrible thing, and books, in their variety, represent a vast array of different modes of thought. Thank God for subjectivity, except when I'm trying to give my students music grades….

  11. Avatar Amy B. says:

    @M Clement Hall:
    The thing is, "Can I sell this book?" is a subjective question. The "I" is still involved. For example, let's say I received "The Da Vinci Code" as a query. I would have asked myself if I could sell it, and I would have answered, "No." And I probably would have been right. That, of course, doesn't mean "The Da Vinci Code" was unsaleable, because obviously it sold quite well. It just means that my way of handling "The Da Vinci Code" would have been different from the agent who took it on, which would have changed the manuscript, which would have who knows how many consequences on the book's outcome.

    A manuscript deserves to be in the hands of someone who best understands it, who will get the appeal and the audience, and I don't yet see how an agent can understand something without at least being a little fond of it. Maybe that idea is my naivety rather than reality, but right now in my career, when I think I can sell a work, it's because I love it that I think it can sell. Because I understand the work and I know the audience it's trying to reach and I know that it can find that audience. So even if the audience is small and I receive rejection after rejection from editors, I will still fight for it because I believe in its potential.

  12. Avatar Sue Harrison says:

    Thank you for that wonderfully hopeful Post!

  13. Avatar Sheila Cull says:


    You make subjectivity lovely.

    Sheila Cull

  14. Absolutely true…plus, it means there's variety. If every agent/publisher liked exactly the same thing, every book would be pretty much alike and how boring would that be?

  15. That's why there's always hope, which enables me to try harder and keep going.

  16. Avatar adam.purple says:

    Good inspiration to keep looking around the corner. Thanks.

  17. Amen to that! Imagine the stress… One book, one agent, one no! UGH. Sure wouldn't be that many writers out there!

  18. I also think we tend to say "subjective" only when things aren't going our way. I see it in the college writing classes I teach. If a student who got an A in a previous writing class gets a C in my class, the student complains that I'm not grading fairly, that I'm being subjective. But I never hear a student say, "I got a C in writing last year, and now I'm getting an A. This is so subjective." I sometimes tell them that it's like an athlete who wins a game one day and loses a game the next.

    Of course, in the publishing industry it's about predicting what thousands of subjective people are going to do when they walk into a bookstore. Sometimes you never can tell, but those subjective readers in the bookstore aren't going to buy all the books just to give them all a chance. They'll choose subjectively, and agents and publishers have to make an educated guess what they'll choose.

  19. Avatar Stavros says:

    I love how you take a very frustrating aspect of the industry and flip to a positive! Thanks. I needed that!

  20. Avatar Leona says:

    I whole heartedly agree–it's a good thing the business is subjective or we'd all be reading the same book over and over. But I have a question.

    Your list of what you are looking for says you take romance all sub-genres. But later it says no military fiction. So, if I have a romantic thriller with military involvement, how would I classify that?

    I'm not clear on what "military fiction" is. I haven't heard this term before. I'm probably clueless, but it seems to me that right when I have my book's genre figured out, I learn about something else. Am I being too literal/subjective?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.