“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 or marketing fit.
It’s true: It’s challenging to publish a book without a high concept or that doesn’t neatly fit into an obvious genre. But concept or genre adherence are not usually the right answers to questions about viability or fit.
Rather, when a writer’s doubts arise about a manuscript’s potential success, the cause is more often an ambiguous diffuseness in the argument or story.
To provoke a sharper focus, editors might 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 assume?
So what? is an efficient editorial tool. It’s also a useful imperative to articulate an argument’s strongest expression. When you answer your manuscript’s so what?, you identify your manuscript’s reason-for-being. You make its fit at least obvious.
And yet. Sometimes, it’s not the answers that need to be made clear but the questions.
The order of operations for writing a book doesn’t always proceed logically. For instance, writers–especially those writing out of an academic tradition–might create manuscripts that offer subtle and complicated answers, but the answers apply to questions that haven’t actually been articulated.
This frequently results in an obliqueness—what I above refer to as a diffuseness—that generate questions about viability and fit.
Consequently, the issue of viability and fit is not necessarily about manuscript and genre–it’s about the answers that have been found and the unasked questions that are driving exploration.
For many writers, simply articulating their questions creates the space required for the answers to fit, and for the manuscript that contains them to fit, as well.