Ready for Press?

(Image: Courtesy of BamaWester on Flickr)

So you say you’re all done with your manuscript. You’ve read it, proofed it, rewritten it, gotten critiques, rewritten it again, and now it’s finally finished. But how can you be sure that it’s ready to be sent out to publishers? What do the publishers want and what are the readers looking for?

Donald Maass of Writer Unboxed, one of my favorite blogs, posted an entry on what makes for a popular manuscript. The entry took apart the findings of a New York Times article, “Will You be E-mailing this Column?”, which, in turn, took apart the findings of a University of Pennsylvania study. The purpose of the study was to figure out what made popular NYT articles so contagious. For six months, UPenn studied frequently e-mailed articles, breaking them down into categories and tagging articles for having qualities like being surprising or providing practical value.

So what makes writing travel?

1. Emotional Writing: According to the studies, sharing emotional writing has three important effects. 1) “people can clarify that ambiguity and gain deeper understanding of how they feel” 2) “to help them cope or reduce feelings of dissonance” and 3) “can strengthen social bonds and deepen social connections”

2. Be Positive: Happy endings, anyone? Donald Maass seems to have predicted this one. But I disagree. I love a sad ending. I think struggles are beautiful. The study is in a tug of war about this one. They say that although it seems like people enjoy distributing happiness, more research needs to be done on the subject.

3. Awe Inspiring: When your writing successfully expresses something grand, your readers will feel like they a part of something much larger than themselves. The study defines awe as a feeling of “self-transcendence” and explains that when we are faced with something vast, either literally or figuratively (grand canyon or God, respectively), we have the nature urge to share that experience.

4. Useful Information: Does your fiction stock useful information? Look out how well Malcolm Gladwell turned out. But, it doesn’t necessarily have to be facts and figures. Very often, with good literature, authors weave in important life advice. “Because useful information has social exchange value, sharing it may encourage reciprocity or be driven by people’s desire to look good or self-enhance.”

5. Surprise!: This is why nobody likes a spoiler. Twists and shockers are fun. Just as suspense in a story will keep us going, surprises, too, will light a fire of interest. As the study points out, things that are surprising are generally interesting and everybody wants to be that guy/girl at the office who knows something out of the ordinary.

There are many ways to push your writing forward, to spread the word, to create social contagion. These are five tips, probably five out of a million, on how to do so. Now, before I end this post, I do want to say that you shouldn’t change your writing just for the people. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re sending out, don’t bother. As Cyril Connolly said (whoever that is), “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self“.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maribeth
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 04:48:42

    I had my ms done, rewritten, critiqued many many times, I thought it was done but the rejections coming in made me look at it again. I am revising once again. I believe my characters were lacking depth.
    I can already see how far they are coming. Sometimes we get too connected to our characters that we mistakingly assume the reader sees them as clearly as the writer.
    I like the tips mentioned above, I feel confident that I can check most of them off.

    Thanks for stopping by:)



  2. Dominique
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 15:28:28

    Be weary of your confidence, though. I have to remember to give myself that advice all the time because I’m constantly falling into the traps of confidence. I get cocky and think everything is all done, while I should be scrutinizing every word and going through my writing with… “a thin brush”.

    Does that make sense? Or is it a fine comb?


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