Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The effect of expectations on percieved quality.

Here's an interesting article from Reuters about how higher wine prices boost drinking pleasure. Essentially, adults were given the same wine over and over, but told that each one cost different amounts. The adults preferred the higher priced versions, even though there was no difference. Anyone who has taken marketing knows that this effect exists -- it's the basis of all "luxury" items.

What was interesting to me in the article, however, was that they documented a physiological response in the brain. Since the people believed they were getting something better, their brain responded as if it was. Their subjective experience was very much a slave to their expectations.

This is very interesting, perhaps alarming. It might mean that the same manuscript, packaged differently, will seem better or worse to agents and editors. One version that smells of stale smoke, another that is printed on too-cheap paper, one in the wrong format, another with crazy fonts or styling or with home-made cover art included... the agent or editor is already thinking they are dealing with someone unprofessional. Your actual writing and story would have to be pretty amazing to surpass those sorts of hurdles. Especially since they are looking at your work as part of the larger slush pile, which they expect to reject almost all of, anyway.

Just something to think about next time someone like Anne Mini is talking about reasons for having your work in standard format. It's also a good reason to exercise restraint and patience when you approach the submissions process itself. Take the time to do your homework, to proofread carefully, and to do everything else in your power to make your submission perfect. Each error makes your work seem like a cheaper wine.

Of course, we all rush to submit our very first works, don't we? That's probably why most (but not all) people don't get published until their third or fourth completed novels. I think that's just a part of the learning curve, something you have to go through that no one can talk you out of. Still, once that lesson is learned, hopefully we're all a lot more thorough the second time around.

I imagine that I have at least one reader who thinks this post is aimed at them -- it's not! This is more about general wisdom; every situation is certainly different, and sometimes people do get their first works published. Joe Haldeman did. It just doesn't happen very often, is all. Most of the other greats got lots of rejections, and not because they were any less of writers than Haldeman. Sometimes the stars align, and sometimes they don't. So it's probably good that we throw ourselves out there on our first try, perhaps a bit recklessly. Then we have a frame of reference for how to do things the next time around (presuming the stars didn't happen to align).


Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

"Of course, we all rush to submit our very first works, don't we?"

[Dwight hangs head in shame and sobs quietly.]

Christopher M. Park said...

Don't feel too bad, Dwigtht. I did the same thing, back in '01. I even sent it straight to the publisher, instead of looking for an agent.

Anonymous said...

I remember hearing from my Dad that in the "old days" saloons would buy their whiskey in barrels and refill the bottles they had in stock. The price depended on the label, and folks that could afford it would buy the more premium liquors, not realizing it was the same as the regular and cheaper "rot-gut" whiskey.

Christopher M. Park said...

Wow, I never knew that. Thanks for the good historical tip, Dave!