You Don't Have to Write for Everyone!
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
When I started this blog, I thought I’d stick to dishing out writing and editing tips, editing hacks, and what to do and what not to do. But then, when I looked online, I realized that you can google almost anything and you’re inundated with a plethora of websites and blogs offering tips, “shortcuts”, and suggestions. Sometimes, information from multiple sources is aligned, and sometimes, they’re absolutely contradictory. In any case, while some basic tips may be helpful, some of these tips are quite general and based on the writer’s lived experiences. They don’t work always. I’ve learnt that doling out generic tips and hacks can sometimes not only be futile, but also counter-productive to the person at the receiving end. You would think that this applies mainly to generic tips like “how to write a query letter” or “common mistakes to avoid while writing a query letter”, right? Unfortunately, even when authors approach individuals whose feedback is likely to matter, like editors, or alpha/beta readers, they sometimes tend to receive conflicting feedback on their work from different individuals. An author I recently spoke to told me that he’d sent his manuscript to a few beta readers for feedback. One beta reader told him that his opening lines were too slow, and he should begin with a hook that triggers the reader's curiosity. Another beta reader told him that the same opening scene was too dramatic, and that he should begin slowly and ease the reader into the ensuing drama.
This should already put things in perspective for you. People’s taste in writing is incredibly subjective. There’s no way that you can write something that everyone would want to read or enjoy reading. Some might want more action, while some might want more description. It’s just like people’s taste in food. Some people like chocolates and some don’t. Some people like seafood and some don’t. And that’s just that. In this day and age of social media, we’re in constant pursuit of appeasing everyone. We want to be ‘liked’, ‘followed’, and validated to make us feel like we’re worth it, and that we’re good enough. I’m not critical of this at all. I’ve realized that while it’s easy to be condescending towards people who’re chasing subscribers or ‘likes’ and ‘follows’, the sad truth is, sometimes, these ridiculous numbers on social media do matter. Some literary agents or publishers are actually interested in knowing if an author already has an established audience who’d buy their book, before clinching a deal with them. Once you’ve decided to venture into this field, one must remember that writing today is not the same as it was decades ago. It’s incredible to think how J.K. Rowling churned out a cult-like fan-following for Harry Potter without any social media. But today? The rules of the game have changed. Social media has slowly trickled into almost every profession, and writing certainly hasn’t been spared. Not only do authors have to write books, but they’re also under pressure to manage a website, write blog posts, be active on social media, and tweet or write posts about literally any and every global event – basically, do whatever it takes to be seen, to be noticed. And some writers do this while juggling a full-time job, family, and other commitments! To add to that, one has to deal with internet trolls and unkind comments when they bare themselves on social media. In a society where opportunities hinge on how ‘appreciated’ or ‘liked’ you are, it’s difficult to not let it get to you when you receive feedback based on subjectivity, coupled with innumerable rejections.
When authors query literary agents, more often than not, they tend to hear more ‘nos’ than ‘yeses’. I understand how absolutely frustrating this can be. An author spends months or even years sculpting words into a story. And writing, unlike most desk jobs, is not something that you can do on autopilot. You have to be in that frame of mind to write. There are days when you can write pages in an hour, and days when you spend hours staring at a blank screen, typing one sentence and deleting it several times. After you’re done with your manuscript, before you can even heave a sigh of relief, you realize that the real work begins only now – querying literary agents.
I recently spoke to an author who’s been querying literary agents for over a year after finishing her manuscript and getting it professionally edited. She received a few requests for a full manuscript, followed by several rejections. She told me that most literary agents didn’t give any real feedback. The few times she did receive feedback, she was told that “I didn’t fall in love with your story” or “I didn’t feel connected to your characters”. It breaks my heart to know that the writing profession is fraught with so much subjectivity. Editors, literary agents, and publishers are caught in the labyrinth of what they enjoy reading, without realizing that they may not be not the intended audience.
The bottom line is – if you’re an author/writer and you’re sharing your work with multiple people or on platforms, it’s important to remember that your work will not and cannot be liked by everyone. It’s just like baking a chocolate cake for a dinner party, which not everyone eats, because not everyone likes chocolate cake, and not because the cake isn’t good enough. This is not to say that all feedback is useless. Of course, a lot of feedback can be helpful, and I can’t stress how important it is for authors/writers to get different perspectives. But at the end of the day, it’s your decision what you’d like to take in and what you’d like to let go of. It’s important that you don’t let it get to you if someone didn’t like what you wrote, whether it’s a friend or an agent/publisher. And those thousand rejections you received from literary agents? It’s ok if they don’t “fall in love with your story” or your characters. Your story is not meant to be loved by everyone. There will always be people who don’t like what you write, and that’s ok. It’s about finding the right person who will be able to “connect with your characters/story”. I know it’s hard to be in this head-space when your inbox is teeming with rejections. It’s a long and slow process of accepting that people have their own preferences, and literary agents and publishers are no different! But trust me, you’ll get there.
So, don’t write to please everyone. Be open to receiving feedback, but follow your instincts and take in only what you think is useful. And if someone doesn’t “fall in love with your story”, your story was never meant for them.