I’ve been shopping a book I’ve written out to agents for potential publication.
That’s a rough process. Querying agents. It involves A LOT of rejection and very little feedback on why something you’ve bled and sweat for is being tossed aside. But, as they say, it only takes one agent to believe in you. Once you have that, you enter rarified company. You’re no longer the lone voice shouting in the wilderness of publishing. You’re (drumroll, please…) TWO voices! But that second voice can be a powerful advocate. And can do a lot more for your book than you can.
That process has brought me pretty far down a road that has, at times, been quite wearying. But it’s also yielded some very positive results. Without revealing too much (all in good time), I’ve gotten some recent, very specific feedback that has inspired the creation of my Eighth (!) draft. One of the most poignant notes? “What is the book about? You need to figure that out.”
But… but… I thought it was pretty clear what it was about. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s about death. And overcoming tragedy. And faith. And fathers and sons. And…
And then I realized that, yeah, my book is about all of those things, but what is it ABOUT? Books and stories can be about many things, but at the end of it one should have some idea of, well, the main idea. And after seven drafts I hadn’t really conquered that particular mountain. Crazy but true.
How can that happen? Well, I think it happens more often than we think. I think a lot of stories and movies and tv shows and comics have little point to them, or aren’t pulled together in a coherent way. They may touch on many issues and themes, but what that particular book or movie or tv show or comic or whatever is trying to say may be lost. Or not there at all.
This is why a ridiculous TV show by the name of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so hailed in its day (among other reasons). Buffy was never just about a girl who kills vampires. Joss Whedon created a show about a young girl growing up fighting monsters that often also served as a metaphor for a coming-of-age. Sometimes it was clumsily handled, but most of the time the show did a beautiful job of charting the course from adolescence to adulthood in some top notch, creative ways. An episode may have been about Buffy sleeping with her vampire boyfriend and then him turning evil, but that wasn’t what it was really ABOUT.
So, what about my book? I’m happy to report that what my book is really ABOUT wasn’t all that hard to figure out once I set my mind to it. It had always been there, I just had to discover it. Now that I have, I’m using the eighth draft to call that theme out a little more and really center the narrative on that idea, even while there are so many other ideas at play. It’s going to make the book much more satisfying, and a heckuva lot more marketable.
What about you, are you a writer? Do you think about your stories this way? What is your story ABOUT? Do you really know?