The Importance of Having Taste
I think a lot about taste. Big surprise, I know. I somehow have made my entire life about having taste. Not having good taste, just having a perspective, a distinct set of things I like. It’s my job, after all. It's important that when I send out a project, or when I take something on, that it underscores my point of view, my interests, my goals as an agent.
So, I spend a lot of time thinking about my taste. What do I like? Why do I like it? People ask me about it all the time. What are you looking for? What do you want?
The truth? Fuck if I know.
I like a bunch of stuff that other people seem to hate. I hate some stuff that everyone seems to like. And, usually that’s okay. Sure, I really enjoyed the new Dr. Strange movie and everyone else seemed to be enraged by it. I adored the new Matrix movie beyond all reason and no one else seemed to dig it. I hated White Lotus with a searing incoherent passion. I think Nope is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and the critical response seemed to be “neat!”
But it gets weird for me when it’s a book. Because I have somehow made my life about having taste in books. I have decided that I’m going to base my professional reputation around liking books that other people will like. And, while I think I have a decent track record, it’s sometimes unsettling to look around and see people raving about books I just don’t really vibe with. Books become massive bestsellers that I passed on without a second glance. Display racks at stores stacked with things I’ve never heard of, things I’ve bounced off of, series I’ve walked away from.
Which, if I didn’t have this job would be so ordinary to be beneath notice. It might make me a snob, or a hipster, or some insufferable pretentious jerk. Except I find myself at parties full of Brooklyn literati desperately trying to explain why I love Lee Child or how Way of Kings is actually worth the time or how people don’t understand what George R.R. Martin is trying to accomplish.
My taste doesn’t make sense in a way that I can coherently explain. It’s not just that I love literary pretension (I do), or exploitative trash (I do), or heartfelt swoony romances (I do), or big commercial franchises (I do). It’s just that I like what I like and I can’t always explain it. And I think that’s the hardest lesson to learn in all this – to trust myself, and trust my instincts.
The worst experiences I’ve had in publishing, historically, are when I cynically tried to go for things that were obvious wins. Things I thought were sure-fire appeals to the broadest audience, to the core readership. Conversely, so many of the successes I’m proudest of are the ones that were wild swings out of left field. And so many in-between. Books I’m fiercely defensive of, proud of, love with every last bit of my heart even though they never found a readership, or have a small, dedicated following, not enough to ever chart on a list or make it on a ballot, but people who care, just like I do, about a story, a character, a world.
Because that’s it, at the end of the day, isn’t it? It’s about connection. It’s about finding what I care about in a story and hanging on for dear life. And hoping, trusting, believing in the fact that others will care too. That I’m not the only one who likes this thing and craves this thing. That I’m not alone in the world.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter to me if everyone likes it. Sure, I want a lot of people to like it, because that gets authors fed and housed. That means they get to keep working, keep making the art that matters to me and to others. I want books to be wildly successful. But the thing that I care about, the thing that gets me up in the morning is knowing that somebody else needs to hear this story. That I can one day be yelling about how much I love a thing and someone will yell back.
It’s lonely reading stories no one else has read yet. It’s hard to have to sit and be quiet when what you want to do is message the group chat in all caps, yell with a stranger at a bar, hold the book just so on the subway so the person across from you can see the title.
In a lot of ways it doesn't ultimately matter what my taste is, but rather why it's important to me. Taste is a dream, a hope for a connection, a belief in a community. That we’ll find each other through this story and celebrate, joyfully, tearfully, commiserate, or yawp barbarically, whatever the words demand.