querying · Writing

Subjectivity in Publishing

Subjectivity can be so frustrating for querying authors and those on submission to houses. When you are trying to get an agent you will get tired of hearing about how subjective the industry is but it is so true. Subjectivity is real and not some myth created to frustrate or console rejected writers. As frustrating as it can be for those trying to get published, subjectivity is what lands all the varying books out there on shelves for readers.

What is subjectivity? You know how some people prefer chocolate ice cream but those who are wrong prefer vanilla or strawberry? (Guess which flavor is my favorite!) That is subjectivity. What one person might prefer another disagrees with. In publishing subjectivity is why some of us prefer specific genres or third person point of view over first person or vice versa. You know how a friend or family member recommended that one book to you that everyone was raving about? Yet when you read it you didn’t much care for it? That’s subjectivity in the industry. For me the most recent book that happened with was A Darker Shade of Magic. But subjectivity is why we get so many different types of books and writing on shelves. If not for subjectivity our reading options would be narrower. I’ve seen several books written in verse lately, but that sort of writing doesn’t appeal to me but it does appeal to others, so we can thank subjectivity for the variety of books it gives us. As they say variety is the spice of life.

Just like how no book is right for every reader, agents prefer different manuscripts. If multiple agents tell you the same feedback then you should take a step back and think hard about what they are saying since it could be an issue within your manuscript that needs revised. But when you get two opposing viewpoints from feedback, that’s subjectivity at work. Subjectivity is why it can be hard to pinpoint which books might be bestsellers and which ones might flop in the market. Unexpected books can become bestsellers while publishers put a lot of effort into books that don’t sell as well as expected.

When it comes to querying you want to query far and wide because of subjectivity. You are likely to get more rejections than requests and offers and sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint an agent’s tastes. I’ve gotten likes in pitch parties from agents I didn’t even plan on querying because I didn’t think my historical would suit their tastes. Even the agents I’ve assisted have taken or requests books with writing I wasn’t partial to even when we liked so many similar published books. When I read for an agent I keep their tastes in mind and sometimes pass on books that I personally would never consider, but know it would suit the agent’s tastes better than mine.

Need more proof of how subjective the industry is? Twelve publishers rejected Harry Potter before Bloomsbury accepted it. Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she ended up self-publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And remember, it’s not just writers who have to face subjectivity but agents when they try to sell books to publishing houses and houses when they try to sell books to readers. We all face the trials of subjectivity eventually.


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