Having concluded the 2010 Best Cover Contest, I want to talk a little bit about subjectivity and fairness. A few comments expressed disappointment that certain covers had been selected and others neglected, disbelief that some covers got as many votes as they did, and even a few inferences that maybe the voting was rigged.
I want to address the last one first. There is always the possibility in any contest like this that people will vote multiple times, using various computers. Or that a publisher will have everyone in their company go vote for their books. Or that the mother or best friend of someone involved will call all their friends and relatives and threaten to disown them if they don't vote in a particular way. I have no control over that and I can't stop it from happening, so we assume good faith and a certain level of integrity here.
As far as I can tell, no one cheated, nor did they apply undue pressure on voters.
What is more likely, however, is that some people just help spread the word about the contest a little better than others, and the natural result is that they encouraged people with similar tastes to come vote. That's just the way of it. The winners won fair and square within the guidelines of the contest—to subjectively select the most appealing covers.
Subjectivity is a fascinating subject. Subjective refers to "relating to the mind of the thinking subject [the person] and not the nature of the object being considered."* It's a matter of personal taste and preference.
I have this compelling interest to know why someone chooses one thing and someone else chooses another thing. Often it's based upon completely intangible and indiscernible preferences, rarely upon the instrinsic value or structure of that thing. I find it fascinating that people voted on book covers based upon whether or not they liked trains, or had a fear of drowning, or preferred the color blue. I happen to have had a passion for mermaids since I was in fifth grade, which may have had as much to do with why I chose The Forbidden Sea as my favorite as did the enchanting illustration.
Such is the case with subjectivity—and again, I say the winners won fair and square.
Subjectivity is also one of the reasons why some manuscripts are accepted and others rejected. Yes, there are certain levels of quality in writing that can be measured objectively—grammar, format, plot line, timing, characterization, etc. But even those can be influenced by individual preferences and idiosyncrasies.
As for whether or not a story is "good"—there's as much subjectivity involved in that evaluation as there was in our book cover contest. Pay attention to the feedback you get from readers. If they all say the same thing, it's more than subjective. Fix whatever it is and try again. But don't let a few rejections cause you to give up on your dreams of writing. Keep submitting until you find a subjective match!