I was once asked, "How long did it take you to write your first book?" That's a loaded question. Is it measured in the actual amount of time writing, meaning the hours spent pounding on the keys? Or is it measured by the date you started until the date you ended?
Frankly, I don't have a clue how many hours it took. But when it came to writing The Hidden Sun, it was a good five years from when I started to when it hit the shelves for the first time. Granted, I have a full time job, plus a wife and four kids and I'm active in my church. In addition, there were times I had set aside for writing, and the inspiration just wasn't there.
And then came the question of "what is your story about?" What's been interesting is that I've asked that question to people who have read it--and I've gotten all sorts of different answers. It doesn't fit into a particular genre. It takes place in medieval times in a fictional land. But there isn't magic and the only monsters are the human antagonists. For that reason, it isn't fantasy. Is it a romance? Well, there are romantic parts of the book, but that isn't the focus. Is it a coming of age story? Well, yes and no. To explain this would ruin some of the surprises in the book. Is it young adult? Here, the answer is "yes--sort of". Meaning, there isn't any bad language nor sex scenes and while there is some violence, it isn't graphic. BUT (and that's a big but) the book isn't targeted for only young adults. It's written for adults as well, just without the typical elements that would make it be considered an "adult" book.
So. . .what is it? Well, I would describe it this way: It has action. It has adventure. It has romance. It has political intrigue. It has heroes. It has villains. It has many twists and turns. It has interweaving subplots that come together in the end. But overall, it's a book I wrote to convey a message.
Having said that, when different agents and publishers were reviewing the work, I'd get suggestions like "add some sex and violence, and we'll be interested." Or, "get rid of this or that and we'll be interested." In those cases, they wanted me to change things to make it fit into a more particular mold.
That is where I had to ask myself, where do I draw the line? Keep in mind, I had a lot of good suggestions on ways to improve the book that I did incorporate. Which suggestions did I choose to ignore and which did I keep? It boiled down to this simple question, "Does it change what I'm trying to say by writing this book?"
In everything I write, I have two things in mind when I start. First: What is the basic story? and Second: What is the theme or message behind this story?
For me, a story without a theme or message doesn’t hold the same impact as one that does. If I may be so bold as to offer suggestions to other authors, it would be this: If the changes you are asked to make to your work alters what you as a writer are trying to express, then they aren't good changes. Draw a line in the proverbial sand and don't cross it. In the end, your book is your work. You are writing for a reason. Don't lose sight of that.