Do you know what your book is about? Do you have goals and firm ideas of what you want to accomplish with the story? Do you have a strong vision for your story?
One of the biggest things I’ve been learning about writing is how important it is to know what story you’re trying to tell, and keeping that story foremost in all your storyish thoughts. Because once your story is out of your brain and onto virtual paper, other people are going to start having Opinions about it: critique partners, agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, readers, people who’ve never read it but saw the cover and know someone who knows someone who has read it and has Opinions . . .
With the first groups, you’ll be able to choose who reads your story. Crit partners, agents, editors — whether those people read your story is all under your control. Sometimes all of these people will share your vision for the story and feel as passionately about it as you. Other times, they’ll have a different vision, similar or different or opposite yours, and you still get to decide what to do. With these people, you can try to make them see your vision, see if theirs will ever line up with yours, and work together to come up with something you’re both happy about.
And sometimes it won’t work out. I know writers who’ve turned down agents and editors because their visions for the story didn’t align, and probably never would. I also know writers who accepted offers in spite of differing visions; sometimes this was a good move, and other times they regret it.
I’m of the mind it’s important to work with people who share and respect your vision, because once your story is on the shelves, you don’t get to choose who reads it.
Kristin Cashore recently had a great blog post in which she said, “People will confuse their expectations with your intentions and with the quality of your work. This will happen. So you need to keep hold of what your own expectations/goals were.”
This really struck me. Sometimes I’ll read a book, expecting it to be one thing, and get something completely different instead. Often I’m happy with what the story; occasionally I’m unsatisfied and disappointed. Either reaction is a valid one. I come to every story I read lugging my own baggage of my mood and life experiences and other books I’ve read.
The same goes for readers and reviewers of my books, of my friends’ books, of books I love and think everyone should love too…It’s important to remember that the time of knowing every single person who reads the story has passed. Different people will want different things from every story. They will expect different things from every story, and while it might be nice if readers could set aside expectations every time they start a new book, that’s unreasonable. And it’s not going to happen.
From where I’m sitting now, it seems the best an author can do is to know what they want from the story, and be satisfied with and proud of what they’ve created.
Every time you complete a draft, look back at your hopes and dreams for the story. Did you stay true to your vision? Are you pleased with what you’ve done? Because when you turn in your final-for-real-you-never-get-to-change-it-again draft, well, that’s it. It’s final for real. You never get to change it again.
Once it’s out there, there’s no going back. People will have opinions on it. Sometimes they won’t share your vision. Sometimes they will want to read a different story than the story you wanted to tell.
But don’t be disheartened, because sometimes you will get a reader who perfectly sees what you did and wanted to do, and the book was everything they hoped it would be.
Either way, know your story. Know your goals and hopes and vision. What matters is that you write the story you want to write.