After So What

“But is it publishable?” For writers of half-ademic books, it’s a common refrain. The manuscript’s “half” status can feel like the source of trouble, causing writers to question manuscript viability.

It’s true that it’s challenging to publish a book that doesn’t neatly fit into an identifiable genre. However, genre adherence is not usually the answer to the viability question.

Rather, when doubts arise about a manuscript’s publishing potential, the cause is more often the writer’s sense of an ambiguous diffuseness in their story. 

To provoke a sharper focus, editors and readers typically ask, so what? As in, so what if people feel bad and sad about climate change? So what if kids in special education classrooms don’t receive comprehensive sex education? So what if our genes matter more—but also much less—than we typically assumeSo what? is an economically efficient editorial tool. It’s also an effective imperative to articulate an argument’s strongest expression. When you answer your manuscript’s so what?, you identify your manuscript’s reason-for-being.

And what if you feel you’ve already answered to so what? For these writers, it may be that it’s the questions that need to be made clear.

The order of operations for writing a book doesn’t always proceed logically. Consequently, writers (and especially writers who write out of an academic tradition), offer subtle and complicated answers to questions that they have never actually articulated, that perhaps no one has articulated. This frequently results in an obliquenesswhat I above refer to as a diffusenessthat fuels, from a hidden source, writers’ doubts.

In these cases, the necessary fit is not between manuscript and genre, but between the manuscript’s answers and the unasked questions driving exploration. Articulating these questions creates the space required for the answers, as well as for the manuscript that contains them.