Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TED Talk Tuesday: Malcolm Gladwell Talks About CHOICE, HAPPINESS, and SPAGHETTI SAUCE

Today's TED talk, by author Malcolm Gladwell, is lengthy but worth the watch. I find his reasoning to be spot-on for helping me create a healthy querying mindset. He's not talking about writing, either. He's talking about how his friend Howard Moscowitz systematically and scientifically studied what makes people passionate about food.

It's really hard to see our writing with professional detachment, but we all know our feelings about coffee, Pepsi, and spaghetti sauce.

It all comes down to taste.

Your manuscript cannot be the perfect Pepsi. There is no perfect Pepsi. There are only perfect Pepsis.

Intrigued? Watch and see why your book can't, and shouldn't, be loved by all your crit partners, all agents, the whole general public.

Take it away, Malcolm Gladwell!

Can't view Malcolm's talk: Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce? Watch it here.

My takeaways?

1. People don't know what they want, but it is our job as writers to give it to them anyway. :)

2. "There is no perfect mustard or imperfect mustard. There are only different kinds of mustards that suit different kinds of people." Once you have perfected your manuscript, there will be crit partners/agents/readers, who don't like it. It doesn't mean that your manuscript isn't awesome.

It may mean that your manuscript is old world tomato sauce, and that the people you have been showing it to prefer spaghetti sauce with tons of visible solids. :) Your job as a writer is to use all your clues to find the crit partners/agents/readers who prefer the taste of spaghetti sauce with visible solids and see what they think of your manuscript.

We don't have the time to create different versions of our manuscripts. So we need to be specific when we search for our audience.

I have to add a personal caveat here--and that's that I do find value in receiving a crit from someone who doesn't read in my genre. As long as I know their tastes going in, it is extremely useful to me to hear their feedback.

3. It's all about taste. I know this on some level and have been told this in different ways along my career. But comparing books to food REALLY brings this idea home to me. We need to study and embrace human variability--embrace the diversity--in order to find the fans which will love the taste of our book. I don't want to write a book which appeals in a mediocre way to all. I want to create a book which is loved by some.

So, what do you think? Does this idea make it easier to think, when facing a rejection from an agent, that that agent prefers the taste of Pepsi and your manuscript is a Coke?

(Of course we need to make sure our Coke is the best tasting Coke it can be.)

What are your takeaways from this TED talk? What do you do when you are faced with a crit from someone who clearly doesn't like your book? How do you find your true audience? How do you handle the querying process? How do you deal with the rejections?

I will be the first to admit that I love weak, milky coffee (preferably with a nutty flavor). 

I'm so hungry for some spaghetti smothered in garlic mushroom Prego sauce. I think I'll go make some. :)


  1. Yeah. The people who have a problem are those who write to nobody's taste (unles they're doing that on purpose to satisfy themselves). And then there are people who appeal to almost everyone--they're writing WATER is what they're doing. I want to write water. Maybe next year... :)

  2. Anita--I support you in your water writing. :) I think that Stephen King said that he wrote for one reader--his wife. :)

  3. Hi Heather! What an interesting TED talk. I love the way you're applying this concept to books. Makes perfect sense. His talk sure brought back so many memories of when those new products were introduced, and that Gray Poupon commercial! I still say that line to joke around. Well, I guess Starbucks got the message loud and clear, didn't they?

    Wish I could write water, too, but not very likely. I didn't know that about Stephen KIng. Pretty cool that he wrote for his wife. Take care.

  4. Hey Lynn! Thanks so much for stopping by--I think I owe you and email or two--I would love to catch up. I had no idea that there was a time before many varieties of tomato sauce--I found those aspects of this talk interesting too. We joke around with the Grey Poupon line as well--that's good stuff!

  5. Water is so essential! I will watch this and comment soon. Must go clean the yoga studio now!

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