Thursday, May 03, 2007

But . . . but . . . but So-and-So Loved it!

I imagine we've all been guilty of this at some point or another. A rejection comes in, maybe a harsh critique, we're feeling a little low and all we can think is, "But my mom/ my cousin /my hairdresser/ my garbage man /everyone who's ever read it loves it! Why can't this agent/editor see that the general public would appreciate this?!?"

I've done it. I admit it.

But you know what I've discovered? That's not the point.

Picture the average reader. I actually consider myself an average reader and I'll use that to justify this slightly less than complimentary description.:) The average reader in the U.S. does not read for errors or consciously check out your point of view. They are not looking at your pacing or the way your story weaves so intricately with the subplots. They are reading for entertainment.

(Now, if you have written your story right, they won't have to look for these elements. They may not be able to tell you in all of the above words, but they just know that everything "clicked.")

The average reader will pick up books their friends recommended to them, spines that caught their eye in the bookstore or library, the paperback that was sitting on their friend's coffee table. The average reader will often slog through a boring middle of the book to find out who-dun-it or if the guy gets the girl. (I'm a cheater, if I'm getting bored I will often skip to the end and if the end looks good then I will decide if I want to finish the book and see how they got there.:))

Like the average spectator at the Olympics, viewer at the art gallery, and diner at a five-star-restaurant, the average reader is more easily satisfied than the professional judge/critic/agent/editor asked to evaluate the athlete/art/food/book.

If all of your beta readers are average readers, you will probably get less out of them than if you chose some beta readers from the industry as well. Why? Because the average reader will be more impressed than the average editor. I've heard so many people lately say, "I don't understand, everyone who reads my MS loves it! Why can't I get an agent/published?" People will reference their muse with the same tender affection. "My muse was just guiding this book, why can't anyone see what an inspired work it is?"

Well, the fact of the matter is that neither your average reader nor your muse are acquiring manuscripts.

And would you really want it any other way? What if we held other industries to the simple standard of what their average consumer likes? I know a lot of people who are happy if you simply put a reasonably done steak in front of them. (Hehe, like me when I'm pregnant.:)) I personally love fine food. I am so glad that there are chefs out their working hard to please the food critics. Why? Because it means that I am going to get a very, very nice meal. Now, I don't know what to look for . . . the cut of the meat? I'm clueless. How seasonable the vegetables are? How should I know. But boy, because someone who does know is watching this chef very carefully, I know that when I get my meal, it is going to be just right.

Same for publishing. Find someone, who knows what they're talking about, and ask them not, "did you like my book," but "Tell me what was wrong with my book." Then listen. Really listen.

Like all critics/judges/agents/editors their judgement will not be infallible, but it will probably be better than your average reader.



Anonymous said...

Wow. I really liked this blog. Good insight and some great points. Thanks for sharing!


P.S. I fall into the average reader catagory, too...but I still like reading yours!

David L. McAfee said...

So true. So very true.

Yet...there are books that make it to the shelf that cause me to wonder what the editor liked so much about them. I read one recently that was rife with POV issues and stale dialogue. Major house, though. Someone important liked it.

Then again, to use your food analogy, not everyone likes escargot, but that doesn't stop millions from ordering it.

I'm rambling again, aren't I?

Well, poop.

ORION said...

Yes. Yes and yes.
To each his own.
Some like it and other do not.
We have to figure when to stand by our vision or to bend and admit that our work is not ready.
It's hard to tell what to do.

Kari Diane Pike said...

great post!
Love the food analogy...but I'm just an average reader!

tomdg said...

Great point, and really well made.

reality said...

Nicely put.

But as they say there are no rules in writing. I guess when an agent or editor wants to reject your writing,good or bad, the rules come into play.
Otherwise not.

The Writers' Group said...

True, all true, but even the very best books have been rejected at some point. It's been said many times that art is subjective. How does one measure a great writer? Craft, pacing, story arc, characters, lyrical writing or a damn fine story? I'm not sure how it is for others, but for me it's all in how connected the author is to telling a story that resonates on a universal level.


sean ferrell said...

Excellent post. It's not about getting everyone to join you on the trip, its about getting those who want to go to go with you.

John Elder Robison said...

When you get mixed reviews it's very hard to know which way to go.

Revise it or pick someone else to submit to?

Even when all the editors/readers vote for you, it's still hard to know which way to turn because they all see something unique. Look at my experience. All the editors who wanted to do the book had different ideas. One would emphasize the KISS stories. Another focused on the car business. One would print it just as it was. And the editor I chose wanted to emphasize the struggling child and his subsequent triumphs, which was why I gave her the book.

But even then, there is no way to know for sure if that was the best choice. You just have to believe it to be so and move forward, without looking back.

Heidi the Hick said...

this is a very good point, and one that I've been proving to myself over and over for the last year!

My best friend loved it, my mom didn't hate it, my neighbour friend who teaches grade school pointed out a few problems but otherwise was impressed, same with a fellow writer. I'm learning who will be able to give me the best criticism.