Thursday, October 4, 2012

Love and Publishing

Imagine if every product you ever purchased required you to “love it.” It wouldn’t be enough to buy a big couch that was merely “comfortable,” or “firm,” or even a “good deal.” No, you would have to love it. Or the quick run through a drive thru to grab a burger . . . just liking something wouldn’t do. You’d have to truly love that particular burger in order to justify buying it. Good luck with that. And how big would our closets be if we were constrained to only those clothes we truly loved? And more importantly, can you ever love a man muumuu too much? But I digress. Let’s face it, using “love” as a litmus test for what we buy is a pretty tough standard.

So here’s the thing: every writer who’s received rejection letters from agents and editors alike has probably heard a variation of this phrase: “I just didn’t love it.” And I suppose what it does is shut down any argument to the contrary (I’m sorry to disagree with you, but you really did love it, so take that!) Love is so personal, so subjective, and so impossible to nail down—you’d have better luck describing what salt tastes like. So does an editor or agent really have to love your manuscript to take it on? Can’t they look to the market with the steely determinism of a newly minted MBA and say something like, “I don’t love these chicken nuggets per se, but I think people will buy them like crazy?”

I think the answer is no. I think they truly must love your work in order to represent it or buy it.

At least that’s been my experience so far. Despite whatever commoditization occurs once your novel becomes a figure on a publisher’s P&L spreadsheet, it begins its life as a work that must be loved—loved by your agent and then loved by your editor. Yes, that’s an impossibly high standard to write to. And yes, love is completely subjective and often not rational. There is no more a formula for writing a book that will be loved as there is for writing a manual for falling in love.

So where do you start? I think this: write the book that you love—because if you don't it will show through and you won't convince anyone else to love it either.

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