Critiquing, Querying, Writing

Why Subjectivity Is Your Friend

Like many writers, I have a love/hate relationship with the concept of subjectivity. It’s the indefinable reason for countless rejections in the publishing world, many of them even quite complimentary. It’s also the source of invaluable opinions from other writers who provide feedback on your work. (I’ve blogged on the benefits of multiple subjective opinions before.) And someday, subjectivity may result in both an agent and an editor who love a manuscript so much they champion it all the way to a finished, physical book you can hold in your hands. Without subjectivity, you never get there. So, all in all, subjectivity is your friend.

It’s like the children’s story we all know: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Goldilocks wasn’t comfortable in Mama or Papa Bear’s bed or chair. She didn’t like the porridge too warm or too cold. It had to be just right. And I, for one, don’t want a representative who’s lukewarm. (Wait, did Goldilocks pick the lukewarm porridge??)

But …

That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated sometimes and need to give myself a pep talk, so I figured I could pass one along to my readers as well. I’ve been thinking about this lately in a couple of different contexts.

Querying

It’s always hard to know when to query, when to revise, and when to finish querying a project. I’ve gotten better about having faith in the work I’ve put out in the world, and you know what? I can spot a subjective response more easily than I could a few years ago. I used to jump on any agent feedback I received. Now I’m better able to let it simmer, weigh it against what feels right for my manuscript, and sit on it if it doesn’t ring true to me. It’s not always easy, but then when someone else comes along a month or two later with opposite feedback? Justification! (Of course there are times the feedback does ring true, and I absolutely act on that.)

Receiving Critiques

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I receive those first comments from a critique partner, I want to dive right in.

And that would be a mistake.

Because I need to see comments from everyone who is reading for me before I start revising. The light bulb moments happen when I synthesize feedback from all of my readers, even recalling what readers from a previous round have said if I’m on round two, three or four. It all comes back to my word of the day: subjectivity. I ask a variety of people to read for me because they have different backgrounds and experiences and world views. They approach my story from different places–much as my eventual readers would, I expect–so their subjective responses are necessary to whip the manuscript into shape.

Sure, there is such a thing as too subjective. I know I have my buttons, and when I’m reading for someone and they push on a sensitive area, I note it. But you know what? As writers, we need to know about those, too, and decide if we want to address them or not. And just as with agents, it’s important to check the comments against your gut to determine what’s right for the manuscript. I incorporate much of what my CPs and readers suggest but definitely not all.

So, I’m all for subjectivity … except for that brief moment when I open an email and it makes my heart skip in disappointment. But hey, it’s temporary. And it’s never the final word on my publishing journey. I’m still waiting on that email that will make me break into a spontaneous chair dance. Plus, I’m also working on my next project. Speaking of which, I just posted a description, so you can read about it here!

And in the meantime, I’ll repeat this mantra, and you can, too:

Subjectivity is your friend. Subjectivity is your friend.

If you say it enough, you really will believe it :).

What are your thoughts on subjectivity? How well do you keep it in perspective?

Critiquing, Revising, Writing

Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions

When I first started writing seriously, I didn’t understand the importance of getting multiple opinions on my work. I wrote a draft, sent it out to one person, incorporated that person’s thoughts, revised, sent to another person, and so on.

Can you see the issue here? I was relying too heavily on one person’s opinion. For me, that problem was exacerbated by the fact that I tend to be a people pleaser. I want people to like my work, so I’m inclined to make all the changes someone suggests, unless they just really don’t fit with what I’m trying to do with the story. By the time I shelved that first manuscript, I figured out that approach wasn’t working. And here’s why: subjectivity.

Consider this:

Reader A is a married mother of two children under the age of six, living in the Midwest. She is politically conservative. She writes middle grade and young adult but also reads a lot of adult romance, mysteries, and suspense. She writes full-time with some freelance PR work on the side, plays the violin, cross-stitches, watches a lot of TV and movies, and is very involved in her church. (Yes, this is me.)

Reader B is a single mom of teenagers, living in the South. She is politically ambivalent. She writes only middle grade but also reads adult science fiction and fantasy. She is an accountant, plays golf, is president of the PTO, and gardens.

Reader C is a single man, without kids, living on the West Coast. He is politically liberal. He writes only young adult and reads pretty much anything. He works as a computer programmer, plays video games, is active in his local writing group, and loves basketball.

Obviously these three readers are going to approach the same manuscript differently. They have different world views and experiences, different likes and dislikes, different levels of familiarity with the category and genre. One person will love the POV; another will struggle with it. One person will love the climax; another will think the stakes aren’t high enough. One person will totally identify with the main character; another wants more depth and change throughout the story.

This might seem daunting, but getting these multiple opinions helps me focus as I revise. Say Reader A hates a certain plot point but Readers B and C love it. If I’d only gotten Reader A’s opinion, I might have changed it, even if it went against my better judgment. But because I have the other opinions, I can make a more measured decision while keeping that note in mind for the future. As I stated in my post “If You Have to Explain It, Something’s Not Working,” often a comment from someone is a reflection that the existing story is not providing sufficient support for the plot point rather than the plot point itself being intrinsically wrong. I’ve also discovered that having multiple comments on the same issue makes it much easier to focus on how to make that change. Often different readers will comment on the same thing in a different way, and that brings clarity to me for revision purposes. (I posted about that here.)

So now, instead of sending to one reader, revising, then sending to another, I send to two or three readers in each of the first few rounds. After that, I might do one at a time because I can always compare back to earlier opinions.

I will never be able to revise my work to make every single person who reads it love it exactly the way it is. It’s not possible because they’re not me, with my unique voice, world view and experiences. The best I can do is gather the opinions of trusted readers and pull out the advice that resonates with the story I’m trying to convey.

How do you resign yourself to the subjectivity of this business? I try not to let it discourage me. Sometimes I just have to put it down in writing like this to remind myself how different we all are.