Something I see all the time while surfing writing websites and blogs when I should be working (like right now), is a writer vehemently defending the weaknesses of his work. We are all guilty of that; goodness knows I am. But, as the old saying goes, argue for your weaknesses and, sure enough, they're yours.
What do I mean by "defending weaknesses?" It goes like this:
Writer: Hey, did you guys read my WIP?
Reader1: Yeah. What's up with this Jonas guy? I don't get why he killed that bear.
Writer: He had to. It shows the change in his character.
Reader1: Really? 'Cause it just seemed random and senseless. And you misspelled "grizzly."
Writer: You just didn't get it. Can you read it again?
Reader2: I agree; the bear business made no sense at all. And Jonas didn't change so much as he just did weird stuff all of a sudden.
Reader3: Yeah, why's he suddenly all pissed off and stuff?
Writer: Did you read the book I sent, or someone else's? It's all about his dad, right?
Readers1-3: Huh? His dad's like...the bear? Is this symbolism?
Writer goes on to explain for half an hour what's going on in the book, and when the readers finally understand what he intended, he congratulates himself on having written a fine novel. Time to work on that query letter!
Here's the thing: When a trusted, intelligent, well-read person (or a group of such people) reads something you wrote and can't figure it out, the problem is very likely not with their reading.* The problem is with your writing. This is true for query letters, too. If you have to explain what you mean, then what you have written doesn't mean what you think it does. You will have to rewrite it. Period.
We all resist rewriting. We all resist the idea that what we have already written isn't perfect, isn't the best we can do. But sometimes it's not perfect, or it isn't even close to saying what we think it says. Yes, sometimes readers are lazy or do miss the point, but if you are consistently being told that something makes no sense or isn't well written, you ought to probably prick up your ears at that warning and take a good look at your novel.
Hearing that you've made mistakes or not been clear in your writing is hard. Fixing mistakes, plot holes, poor characterizations, muddled themes, unclear conflicts or weakly defined protagonists is hard work. It's painful. It's time consuming and can be disheartening. But. We have to do it. There are two very important benefits to going back to something and fixing its flaws. First, the book will be better for it. That's the most important thing, right? But the longer-term benefit is that we become better writers when we struggle and suffer and fix our mistakes. Usually, we learn enough to not make that particular mistake ever again, which saves time and effort the next time we sit down to write.
The only thing you gain by defending your weaknesses is the guarantee that you'll have those same weaknesses in the next thing you write. So if you find yourself giving a lengthy defense or explanation of your novel to someone who's read it, stop for a moment and ask yourself if maybe the problem is the novel itself. Be brave and honest about this. If the book needs work, go to work and make it better.
*Unless you're part of the French Symbolist school, in which case your readers aren't supposed to understand it. You lot can stop reading this post right now.