Long weekends like the one we just had are the perfect time to take a break from queries and client manuscripts and catch up on some regular ol’ published books, so I churned through a few recent bestsellers that have been waiting on my nightstand. Naming no names, I found myself underwhelmed by a couple of them.
Now, this is a common side-effect of working in publishing – you hear so much buzz that by the time you actually read a book, your chances of coming into it without expectations are practically nil. And it’s also a side-effect of agenting – our brains are trained to look for flaws and pick apart ways to improve, and it can be really difficult to turn that engine off for pleasure reading.
But I was most intrigued to compare these books – let’s call them Red Book and Blue Book to protect the innocent – to books I read and did love. Red Book came out from the same publisher in the same season as a title in the same category – we’ll call it Green Book – that I devoured and have been recommending non-stop! To me, Red Book was tired and unoriginal, Green Book was twisty and unforgettable; yet Red Book has been tremendously outperforming Green Book in both buzz and sales! And coming from the same publisher, with similar marketing campaigns going into publication. Grrrrrrr, I say to myself, but it’s not fair! Green Book is so much better than Red Book!
I had similar feelings about Blue Book, the editor of which had passed on a manuscript I submitted, Yellow Book. I liked Blue Book fine…but Yellow Book is so much better! Yellow Book would appeal to the same readers now buying Blue Book in droves, and is strong in places that Blue Book is flawed. Ugh, wtf, editor!
So you see, agents are not immune to rejection and confusion. As Miriam recently discussed, the “I’m just not loving it” excuse is as valid as it is frustrating. Miriam described the feeling when you don’t like a bestseller: “I always wonder what’s wrong with me as a reader and then, because I’m judgy and have the power of my convictions, what’s wrong with all the other readers.” I too am judgy, with an unshakeable faith in my own taste, so a case like Red Book and Green Book where there are so many similarities makes me think on the X Factor in publishing. You never know what unseeable details of timing and taste are working for or against the story elements and marketing muscle to make one book a bestseller and banish another to obscurity.
So what’s the takeaway? Embrace the lack of control! Just kidding. I love control. And what you CAN control is being as loud as possible for the books you DO love, especially if you see them missing from Best Book of the Whatever lists! Talk about books you love on Twitter and Facebook, leave a copy in an airport, suggest them to friends in book groups and coworkers with free time.
Don’t waste your energy worrying about books you don’t like –keep yelling (or whispering, if you’re in a library) about the ones you can’t forget.