Subjective: adjective, səb-ˈjek-tiv
(1) Peculiar to a particular individual (2) Modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background
One of the most common phrases (at least it seems to me) in aspiring-authorland is that finding an agent/getting published is very subjective. This phrase has been running rampant the last few weeks as Pitch Madness took over Twitter and the lives of so many authors. I was beyond thrilled to make it into agent round (you can see my entry here). And once the entries were announced, there was some serious twitter activity about The Art of Breaking. But when it came time for the agents to go in and bid on their favorites, I got one bid. (One I am incredibly excited about because I adore the agent and would love to have her represent me!) But even the blog host expected me to get more. Which brings me back to…
When people say “it’s subjective”, they’re not just spouting some line to make you feel better about one rejection (or two or twenty). They’re trying to get you to understand the reality of the publishing game. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always fun. But that’s the way it is.
What agents and editors like is defined by who they are as a person as much as by the trends in publishing. Maybe even more. Maybe your setting is similar to the town they grew up in (for good or bad), maybe your plot parallels something that happened to them or another book they loved/hated, maybe your MC sounds just like their best friend/enemy from high school, maybe they got cut off on the way to work by someone who looks like your MC/antagonist. All of these things factor in when they read a manuscript. And they subconsciously help the agent/editor form an opinion of your story that has nothing to do with you. But at the end of the day, they have to really love your book to want to take it on. And sometimes that means no matter how brilliant/well-written/innovative/insert-adjective-here your story is, it might not be right for them.
It’s the writing world’s equivalent of “it’s not you, it’s me” but with a little more finesse. You shouldn’t take it personally. And you shouldn’t change who you are just to make someone else happy.
That said, if an agent or editor gives you constructive feedback, I highly recommend you listen. Only you can decide if taking their advice will make your book better, but you sent your manuscript to them for a reason (presumably because you think they are smart, knowledgeable industry-peeps who you would kill to work with), so don’t just throw up your hands screaming “you just don’t get me” and storm off to grumble about how brilliant you are and how stupid they are for not seeing it. I understand the need to do that sometimes (and I’ve definitely done it a few times myself). But the ones that take the time to offer their opinions saw something in your work and cared enough about it to tell you. So be grateful for the feedback. Let it percolate for a while. Then go back to your story with fresh eyes and see if you can see what they did and use that advice to make your story even better.