One of the disconcerting things about writing for publication is that you're trying to clear your little parcel of land in a field where Taste is king — and, as we all know, there's no accounting for Taste.
I did a reading last night with Adam Levin, whose forthcoming novel The Instructions is a big baggy triumph. Adam and I spent a plane ride going over the books and writers we each like. I threw up a flare: the Updike of Bech, and Rabbit Is Rich. Adam said he prefers Barry Hannah. I mentioned Bellow; Adam's never been able to get through Herzog. He shrugged at my offering of Lorrie Moore. We agreed, finally, on David Foster Wallace. Or did we? I mentioned the story "Octet." "Octet" left him cold; he liked "Mr. Squishy," which is so dense I never could swim through it.
This is not a case of one educated reader versus one un-. This is not a case of one amateur writer versus one professional. This was two novelists, people who respect and like each other's work, unable to find — regarding the one passion they share — a simple answer to what's good.
I know that this is what makes horse races, but it's frightening. You can work really hard and well on something, and someone you respect might hate it; worse, they're not empirically wrong for doing so. This is scary, especially for people who haven't been published. The flip side, however, is not just obvious but nice: just as the hater might not be wrong, he also may not be right. The starkest rejection letter might be followed by a million-dollar advance. Don't let rejection start to look the same as failure.
I guess a corollary is not to write for anyone but yourself. Write what you think is good, is the whole of the law.