Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yet another reminder that reading is subjective

As writers, we're supposed to read in the genre we write. We're supposed to know what our potential audience reads, and keep that in mind when writing. Nicola Morgan addressed this topic on her blog today.

I try to read a balanced mix of middle grade, YA and adult books. I read adult because I am one, YA because I like it, and middle grade because I love it and that's what I write. I pay attention to what people in the library are reading. I read many publishing/book review blogs, and I try to read books I see mentioned in lots of different places. Because most of the information I get about who is reading what comes from bloggers or the library public, I feel like I have a pretty good idea what is popular with readers versus what is being heavily marketed.

I found out the other day that this is not a perfect system. We got our next batch of books for the girls' book group at the library. Our first book of 2010 is by a very well-known middle grade author, and I've read maybe five or six of her books. I love two of them, like one, and could take or leave the others. As we have some younger girls this go-around, we will be reading the shorter, less emotional, lower stakes one of the two that I love.

When one of the girls' mom was picking up her copy of the book, I found out she had already read the other book I love by this author. Apparently the whole fifth grade reads that book. I asked her mom if she liked it. She hated it. The whole fifth grade hated it. I was stunned. This is a child whose reading choices I respect, and we often have the same taste in books. We recommend books to each other.

I immediately began to worry about the book for the club. After all, if they all hated this author's other book, would they hate this one too? But I remembered that I didn't love every book by this author. Reading is subjective, and that goes for all levels of readers, including ten-year-olds. As writers, we can never hear this often enough, because the same is true of agents, editors, and the book-buying and reading public.

I have read many books because they got a lot of buzz, but then I was disappointed. An agent, an editor, and thousands, maybe millions of readers adored those books, but I didn't. So I remind myself that a rejection here or there does not mean everyone will hate my book.

And the early feedback on the club book? So far, so good.


Davin Malasarn said...

I think this is always a good reminder. Even when I love a book, I'm never fully surprised when someone else hates it. But, what often makes me feel better is the idea that different readers can often agree on different elements of a book. Both may think the language is nice, even if one hated the book while the other one loved it.

Lisa said...

Oh, I love to argue about books--why they're good or why they're terrible. They can be such meaty discussions that reveal the juiciest bits of our personalities--what we want out of life, what we lay ourselves open to for entertainment.

About rejection, or people not liking your work: I think it's good for us as writers to know our strengths, not just our weaknesses, and hold them firmly in our minds, even as we get rejection after rejection. Whatever else someone may say about my work, I know that I am good at _______ (you fill in the blank).

Corey Schwartz said...

So true. My friend sent the same PB manuscript to two agents and one wrote back, "Cute story, but rhyme is poorly executed," and the other one said, "you're a rhyming genius. I'd like to represent you." Ha!

Not kidding!

Sarah said...

Davin, I agree about the writers agreeing about elements of a story even if they don't agree about the whole.

Lisa, you're right about reminding ourselves of what we're good at. The problem is when you're convinced of your own greatness, but I have yet to meet many who are like that. (Have met a few. They're a joy to talk with, let me tell you.)

Corey, what a great example!

Michelle said...

Davin, I like your comment about elements of the book. This happens a lot in the adult book club I belong to.

Lisa, I agree about strengths and weaknesses in our own writing. We are always reinforcing that as Slushbusters, aren't we?

Corey, I agree with Sarah. That's a perfect example!