Monday, May 14, 2012

Accepting the Subjective Truth


What does a picture of shelves and shelves of books have to do with accepting the truth?  The answer is: A lot.  Or even more specifically:  A lot of books.

A fellow writer in our local writers group replied to another writer's email about contest scores with a legitimate statement.  "So much of this business is personal taste."

Let me first say that the second writer's scores were very good.  All four of the scores were in the top 25% of the total.  That's nothing to feel bad about, and she should feel very proud.

Now look at that photo on the left and imagine a huge room filled with those shelves.  Some of those books are newer than others, but they're all books.  At some point in time, they're all read by someone.  Some are read more than others.

Which brings us back to the comment about so much of this business being personal taste.  That sentence, that statement, begs the question of how much of any business--or product--is personal taste.  My answer to the question (and it's subjective aka personal opinion aka personal taste) is probably about 99.something%.

Instead of diving into this strange percentage and reason for it, let's take a look at some current publishing stats.  (This information and much, much more on publishing and books can be found at  It's definitely worth reading through it all.)

What genres/categories are people buying?
55% Popular fiction
10% Religious nonfiction
9% Cooking/Crafts
--2001 Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing by the Book Industry Study Group,

It's obvious that popular fiction is currently, well, the most popular.  Don't stop there, though.  Break that down into genres, and things get a little more into popularity, who likes what, and...wait for it...personal taste.

In romance alone, there are enough genres and subgenres to make a readers head spin.  For instance, Romance Writers of America (RWA) lists nine (9) subgenres.  They are:

  • Contemporary Series Romance
  • Contemporary Single Title Romance
  • Historical Romance
  • Inspirational Romance
  • Novels with Strong Romantic Elements
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Regency Romance
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Young Adult Romance
If you're a romance reader or writer, you know that the above is only the tip of the iceberg.  There are mixes of subgenres, such as Young Adult Historical Romance, Inspirational Suspense Romance, and Paranormal Romance, all of which include many sub-subgenres.  There are Time-Travel Romances, Futuristic, Fantasy, Western Historical, Western Contemporary, Medieval, Scottish Historical, English Historical, Chick-Lit, Romantic Comedy...  Yeah, you get the picture.

So why all the genres, subgenres and sub-subgenres?  Personal Taste.  And that personal taste thing goes for writers and readers.

While I've read quite a few of those sub and sub-subs, and considering the fact that I cut my (romance reading) teeth on Regency Romance (Georgette Heyer, to be specific), I wouldn't even begin to try to write it or all of those subs and sub-subs.  Or even half of them.  Anyone who might try to write so many would probably be wasting his/her time, not to mention going slowly insane with all the research and details.  We each have our strengths and our weaknesses.  It's wisest, especially when first starting out, to choose the two that feel the most comfortable.

Apples and oranges and broccoli and cauliflower

Back to accepting the subjective truth.  Fact is, most things in life are subjective.  In other words, most things in life are affected and chosen by personal taste.  We choose the books we read by which genres and subgenres we like, by the authors who write them, and other individual likes and dislikes.  A particular cover might catch our fancy.  Or the blurb on the back.  Or something a friend mentioned about a book.  Or even the fact that it's on sale or free. ;)

Not only do are the books we read chosen by our individual and personal taste, but so are the TV shows we watch, the movies we go to, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the things we do in our spare time, and...the food we eat.

I like black.  Two of my daughters like purple.  One likes pink.  Someone out there likes orange.  Or green. Or yellow.

Except for math and most of science, everything is personal taste.  Everything is SUBJECTIVE.  For me, even math and science are subjective, because since sixth grade, I've hated math and science. ☺  And to think that when I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be a research scientist when I grew up.  I even had my own microscope.


There are genres of fiction that I would probably never choose to read, much less write.  That doesn't mean they aren't good.  It means they aren't among my personal tastes.

Not everyone who reads or even everyone who reads fiction or this genre or that genre will choose to write.  But if you do choose to write, begin with the old adage of write what you know and especially what you like.  If you're not writing what you enjoy, you're losing out on two things:  (1)The prime motivation for writing aka the reason we all dipped our toe in this crazy business and (2) the joy of doing it.

When it comes to personal taste, a writer chooses what kind of story to write.  In other words, a writer is as subjective as the people who will or won't read that writer's books.

There's more to this subjective thing, such as contest judges, agents, editors, readers and more, so next week we'll focus on those and how they do and don't affect our motivation and what we choose to write.  Stop back next Monday for More Subjective Truth. :)
Most beginning writers (and I was the same) are like chefs trying to cook great dishes that they've never tasted themselves. How can you make a great (or even an adequate) bouillabaisse if you've never had any? If you don't really understand why people read mysteries (or romances or literary novels or thrillers or whatever), then there's no way in the world you're going to write one that anyone wants to publish. (This is the meaning of the well-known expression "Write what you know.") - Daniel Quinn

1 comment:

Joanie said...

Roxann, I've nominated you for the Liebster Award. The Liebster is a pay-it-forward kind of award, meaning that now that you've received the award, you can pass it on to others. The rules are as follows:

1)Thank the person that gave you the award in a post on your own site
2)Nominate up to five blogs with less than 200 followers
3)Let the nominees know they’ve won by leaving a comment on one of their posts

Add the Liebster image to your blog (you can cut and paste it from so all your readers know that you are generally awesome

*Note: There is no general committee that bestows this award. It’s just a recognition from one blogger to another for how awesome they are. Kinda like a really big Internet hug! Congrats!

Joan Rhine