Thursday, June 8, 2023

Dear O'Abby: My agent says my book is too quiet. What does that mean?

Dear O'Abby,

I just got feedback from my agent on my latest book and I'm really not sure how to take it.  She says she loves the characters and the premise, but feels like the book is too quiet to stand out in the current climate.  I'm really not sure what she means by this, so I'm hoping you might have some idea?  And how the heck do I make a book...  well, louder?

Kind regards,

Am I Whispering?

Dear Am I Whispering,

I've had that said about one of my books before too, and it's a really difficult one to decipher.  Especially if in your own head, the book is anything but quiet.

I think the definition of quiet has probably changed several times over the years, but the way I see it, a "quiet" book is one that can't be explained in a single, pithy sentence or title.  It's not high concept.  It probably isn't fantasy or sci-fi or a thriller.  It's probably a story about real people in the real world dealing with the kinds of things we deal with in everyday life.  

And because we're dealing in reality, the stakes may feel lower. A book that deals with the traumatic ending of a lifelong friendship due to a betrayal can be filled with drama and conflict, but because the actions of the protagonist only affect their own life and the lives of a few people around them, the stakes aren't as high as in a fantasy novel where the protagonist's actions save the world or their own small piece of it.

To a reader though, especially in YA where emotions are so heightened and everything can feel life or death, even books that could be considered quiet because they deal with something small like a friendship, or romance can resonate loudly with readers.  .  

Don't rush in and add some huge drama (car wreck, cancer, house fire, natural disaster) in the hope that will fix the problem.  It will probably just feel jarring in the context of the story you've written.  Look closely at your book with a truly critical eye.  If every difficult or challenging situation your characters face is resolved relatively quickly and easily, the story will lack tension and this could be why your agent is calling it quiet.  

My advice would be to talk to your agent about it before you do anything more.  She's your partner in this, and she used the word, so she must have an idea about what's missing.  Once you've identified the problem, it'll be far easier to fix than trying to figure it out on your own and possibly ripping your book to shreds in the process without any tangible results.

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby

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