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."