Although books are my main interest in life, I’m an arts enthusiast across the board. On television, I follow The Voice, a mentored singing competition, which reminds me constantly of the struggle to write and sell novels.
The Voice episode I most recently viewed drove home the importance of audience taste in determining an artist’s success. In this episode, eight spectacular singers gave their all to earn the top five placements in the competition. Each has a great voice, has blossomed in response to coaching, owns a unique vision and style, performs flawlessly every time, and deserves to win. How on earth to choose?
All things being equal leaves only personal taste to judge by. In this case, the singers’ unrelenting excellence actually bored me, for lack of something to latch on to. But then two of them riveted me in place, expressing themselves in a way that grabbed my emotions and aesthetic appreciation. Though just as good as the others, they spoke to me. The effect was so profound, it felt like an important lesson.
It reminded me of an experience years ago when I reviewed hundreds of submissions to a juried art show. Looking at them got numbing after a while . . . so much fantastically executed art, which nearly vibrated with the artist’s passion—yet 99 percent of it left me yawning. Then, suddenly, I sat up and pointed like a bird dog.
Why? Because something appealed to my personal taste.
Which is the basis upon which the judges on The Voice, followed by the voting public, winnow down the best of the best to a single winner—even though thousands of others might disagree. Just like in juried shows and any other competition within the arts.
So it goes in publishing. Whether you’re aiming your book at an agent, an editor, or directly at readers, you need to connect with the people who share your taste and want to read what you want to write. If your taste matches the mainstream, you’re golden. If not, it’s harder to find your readers and harder still to make a buck. Regardless, all is in vain if you don’t put your best, most genuine work into the hands of the people who will respond positively to it.
The saying goes that publishing success comes from getting the right book on the right person’s desk on the right day. This translates into satisfying the taste of the people who count. But it must go both ways: Write for yourself and the people you want to embrace your story. Discounting one or the other will leave your book flapping in the breeze.