Thursday, February 17, 2011

Books and Dog Shows

What I'm Reading: Lost in Shadow, by CJ Lyons.

I confess I really like watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, especially the little animated dust mops. But there's something more to it than just watching dogs.

Kind of like publishing, right? Sure. Dogs and books. Obviously connected, right?

What we see on television are the final rounds. Each breed has already been winnowed down to its best representative. So, when things start, labs are competing with labs, and bulldogs with bulldogs. Then these compete with others in their respective groups.

At this point, they're looking at groups made up of lots of different breeds. Taking some information from the Westminster Kennel Club's website, here are a few of the groups:

SPORTING: These are gun dogs that were developed to assist the hunter, and generally have high energy and stable temperaments. Pointers and Setters point and mark the game, Spaniels flush the bird, Retrievers recover the game from land or water.

WORKING: These dogs are generally intelligent and powerfully built, performing a variety of tasks, including guarding homes and livestock, serving as draft animals, and as police, military and service dogs.

TOY: Toy dogs were bred to be companions for people. They are full of life and spirit and often resemble their larger cousins (e.g., Pomeranian as a Nordic breed, the Papillon a little Spaniel, and the Toy Poodle the smallest variety of the Poodle).

HERDING: This group split off from the Working Group in 1983. Herding is a natural instinct in dogs, and their purpose is to serve ranchers and farmers by moving livestock from one place to another.

So, now the judges have to pick the best Sporting Dog from all the different best of the breeds in that group, and on down through the groups until they have their final seven dogs. And then they choose the Best in Show – the top dog, if you will.

For an agent, this might be going through queries, finding the ones that look like they meet what she's looking for—what she can love, and what she thinks will sell. From the queries, she asks for pages, and goes through the process again. From these, she'll ask for a full manuscript, and decide it that has the potential to be Best.

Now, the judges are using very rigid standards to decide which dog meets the criteria of its breed. But it still boggles my mind to figure out how they can decide whether the "best" Pomeranian is better or not as good as the "best" Dalmatian.

With books, I admit I'm stretching a bit, because there are no rigid standards against which to compare books. At the Westminster show, the final judge was sequestered, and was never allowed to get a sneak peek at the dogs, so he couldn't be swayed by how they behaved, or what they looked like, prior to the final round.

When we're writing, our books and manuscripts are judged by more abstract and subjective standards. But they are judged. First by critique partners, perhaps. Then by agents, then editors, and finally by the reading public. And just as I'm sure there are those who think this year's winner wasn't as deserving as another competitor, our books will be viewed differently by different readers. And as writers, we have to know going in that we're probably not going to be Best in Show for everyone. But, when it's all over, we hope someone will say, "That was a Good Book" regardless of which "group" it was in. For an author, there's a great reward in hearing, "I don't usually read that genre, but I read your book and loved it."


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Good point. Sometimes readers can't see beyond genre boundaries when they comment on a book's which case they should definitely say, "This isn't a genre I enjoy, but I thought the writing was solid." Sometimes you see that...sometimes not!

Viviane Brentanos said...

Nice post. Funny, I posted on my myspace blog back in 2008 on the exact same topic. Great minds think alike. Here's the link, Terry. I am gald I am not insane.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - being able to separate "I like it" from "It's good because" is a good thing.

Viviane - I'll have to go look. Thanks for the link.

Kim Bowman Author said...

I love your analogy! Great comparisons.

Terry Odell said...

Kim - thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed it.

Monica Stoner said...

Hi Terry
You're right in my world - I've bred and shown purebred dogs for years and am now also judging them. From these multiple lives (split personalities?) I've learned as a breeder and a writer I need to be passionate about what I produce and objective enough to recognize when it's not perfect. A while back I was blindsided by the realization that the dog I was showing lacked several key elements necessary to the breed - same as a book I was working on. It is much easier to fix a book than it is to "fix" a dog, though the dog gives back immediately for any efforts made in their direction.
As a judge, I'm required not only to pick the dog which appeals to me most, I also need to justify my placements in relation to the standard for that breed. And do so in a clear, concise fashion, couching my words so that the owners understand why their dog isn't perfect and are not discouraged from the sport.

Terry Odell said...

Monica - thanks so much for sharing that first-hand information from the dog side.

Maryann Miller said...

How clever to make the comparison between dog shows and the business of writing. Makes the point so well. I agree with you on how we need to separate personal taste in genre from craft when doing a critique or a review. That is also true in editing, I've discovered. By focusing on the craft, I can edit a book in a genre that I would not normally read.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann - very true. I'm a crit partner for someone who writes fantasy. It's not what I read, but I think I can be objective about the writing. (And he knows which of my comments can be dismissed when it's something 'accepted' in the genre.)