Subjectivity

by Amy Atwell (originally posted on former blog July 8, 2006)

Thought I’d share a perfect example of extreme subjectivity in reading. Disclaimer:  I’m leaving out all names here (except mine), because I hold no one accountable for these opinions.  There is no right or wrong when it comes to reading.  Every reader will bring part of herself to the story, just as she will take away a unique experience.  I cheer this kind of subjectivity–I just thought some other writers out there might like to see this example.

I received my scored entries from a recent contest–where I PLACED, so I have no bones about that. The final judges included a well-respected editor with a major print publishing house and an equally well-respected agent.  If they happen by here–I’d like to thank them both for volunteering their time and effort as contest judges.  Thank you!!

Out of 100, the editor gave me a score of 91, but no request to see more.  Perhaps she liked it, but it was wrong for the house.  Or, she liked it, but not enough.  I’ll never know.

Out of 100, the agent gave me a score of 63. Ouch. Needless to say, I didn’t place first in said contest.  And, I’ve removed this agent from my “A” target list.  Not that I respect her less, but unless I write something very different, I have to assume she doesn’t enjoy my style.

I got back comments on the score sheet from both.  This is a boon–how many of us have gotten generically-worded rejection letters and sweated over analyzing what the editor/agent REALLY thought?  Well, these two professionals shared some thoughts.

I loved what they had to say about “Narrative,” including POV.

  • Editor: “Nice job–it doesn’t switch perspectives too much but it gets you inside the hero and heroine’s heads.”
  • Agent: “The POV is uncertain.”

Under Plot, they said:

  • Editor: “It’s just the right amount of conflict and action and emotional balance. And most importantly, there isn’t too much thrown in.”
  • Agent: “Found this to be very confusing, not sure why it mattered who [hero's] father was.

Under Conflict, they were asked if the reader could identify it:

  • Editor: “[Hero] hurt her ages ago and he has a healthy distrust of women from his mother.”
  • Agent: “Again, is [hero] more concerned with getting a violin or saving his reputation?”

Again, let me repeat that I’m posting these here only as an education on subjectivity.  For every writer who’s received differing opinions from critique partners or contest judges, take heart.  There’s every possibility that for every reader who hates your work, someone else will love it.  Of course, this means the opposite is true–for every glowing critique you get, you may receive a rejection that sucks the very life from your bones.

It’s not always about YOU or YOUR work.  The reader opens a book with expectations, life experiences, and varying levels of emotional turmoil and concentration.  They interact with your story, whether you want them to or not.  This is the nature of communication, and there’s no way to disguise storytelling as anything but a primeval need to communicate with others.  I mean, if we didn’t have something to say as writers, why on earth would we attempt the arduous process of getting published?

As for me, I’m grateful to have received these scoresheets with their diverse feedback.  It’s made me look more closely at my text to weigh what I’m saying vs what I thought I was saying.  Remember how I said there’s no right or wrong?  The irony here is that even *I* can’t guarantee that I’m “right” in my own work.  I’m not right if everyone who reads my words thinks I’m wrong.  So, I take my best shot and use all the feedback I receive to craft the best telling of my story possible.

To everyone who is submitting and has ever received a rejection–don’t give up. Keep looking until you find the editor or agent who shares your vision, who “gets” your story. They are out there–believe it!