Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z Challenge: X is for X-factor




X is for X-factor:  the [unknown] variable; the value that may change within the scope of a given problem or set of operations.  (Wikipedia)

As a writer, I’m in control of my story, the characters, and their world.  I love being a creator of new souls and throwing those souls into turmoil and chaos.  Must be what it feels like to be God.  But just like God, once those souls are created, fleshed out from beginning to end, I have very little control over what happens next.  Not if I want to go the traditional route anyway.  And I do.  I am. 

When a writer wants to be traditionally published, he or she usually needs an agent.  (Not always though.  I didn't.)  That entails months, if not years, of querying, where you acquire loads of rejections and feel that it’ll never happen for you.  If it does happen, you have to go through it all over again, trying to find a publisher and an editor who’ll champion your book.  Even if you do, said editor has to take it through a panel to be judged by all the other editors to see if it’s good enough for that publishing house.  And once it does, how will the story emerge after the editing process?  Will it be recognizable to the author? 

And then, after all that—the writing, the revising, the querying, the searching, the editing, the design process—which takes years, there is no guarantee that the book will succeed.  There are just too many unknown variables, x-factors that influence a book’s success.  Many great stories, those with massive financial backing by its publisher, have utterly failed.  And others, some self-published the first time around, find tremendous success, regardless of the quality of the writing, let alone the story.  Just look at 50 Shades of Grey. 

We all know that word-of-mouth is the best, most efficient and influential tool used to market books.  It’s not something you can buy or Tweet or post about.  It’s a slow build-up of satisfied customers who tell other people how much they liked your book.  It is “one of the most credible forms of advertising because people who don't stand to gain personally by promoting [it] put their reputations on the line every time they make a recommendation.”  (Wikipedia) 

You can’t buy this, and you can’t artificially generate it either.  Why it happens with one book and not another is a great unknown.  It’s all a matter of timing, of what strikes a chord at any particular moment.  You can’t touch it, smell it, feel it, or even see it.  It just happens.   It is the epitome of the X-factor.                                            

Does this great unknown scare you as much as it scares me when promoting and selling your book?

23 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, it does. So many unknowns. And I worry if I ever get a contract whether I can write the next book in the series on a deadline. Great post about the unknowns of getting published.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I wondered how much my book would be changed by my publisher's editor, but neither was altered that much.
I never pursued an agent either. From what I've been told, most authors don't need them unless they are aiming for the biggest publishers.

JeffO said...

It's interesting, two of the biggest fears I see expressed by new authors: first, is that someone is going to steal their book. It seems to me this happens more after publication than before, i.e., running across something that obviously plagiarizes your published work. The second is that your book will be edited to be unrecognizable. I have yet to have the pleasure of working with an editor, but almost everything I've seen has authors talking about how much editors *improved* their work.

As for that big X-factor - I suppose we can expect the worst, dream for the best, and do everything in our power to push for the best.

Jack said...

You are so right, Nancy. I have an incredibly good memory when it comes to movies. I remember who starred in it, who wrote it, even who produced it. So when my friends ask me about a particular movie and if I liked it? I always give them an honest opinion. They actually trust my opinion more than a reviewer! So not boasting here, but just wanted to say how right you are about the word of mouth thing!

Chris Fries said...

Great post, Nancy!

I also chose "X-Factor" for my A-to-Z post (there's that great minds thinking alike again). ;^)

LD Masterson said...

I've seen several A to Z posts today that touched on the X-factor. Most defined it just a little differently from the others. Fascinating how we all look at things.

Anonymous said...

No, I cannot tell to you.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Too true. But I guess if we're only in this because we want to be the next Jo Rowling, we might want to look at the odds.

Carrie Butler said...

Promotion excites me. Then again, I'm a marketing weirdo. ;)

As for the unknown... well, that's terrifying. :/

Jaye Robin Brown said...

My writing mentor says she would never be a writer, that we are all crazy! I think it's the X-factor that drives us there.

(P.S. sorry about your neighbors)

Al Penwasser said...

I never knew what to call it before, but you nailed it. I'm teaching a high-schooler how to write a short story. I told him that the coolest thing about doing so is that you get to make everything up. He is limited only by his imagination. Or X Factor.
I'll teach him that term on Monday.

L.G.Smith said...

It is a crazy X factor. I've read some wonderful books that never seemed to get any attention in the big world. And then there are those books we all groan about that sell millions. It really is the great unknown and there's no way to anticipate it. I'll never tell a fellow author their idea won't work, because you just never know what's going to hit big out there. No one in publishing thought The Help would sell, and they were all wrong.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I agree that word of mouth is so important. There are so many variables involved in creating the X factor, and I'm sure your book will have the necessary ones to make it a success! Julie

Kate O'Mara said...

I just keep going regardless of how I feel about it. It's scary I have experienced many of the downsides of this industry so I figure the upsides are on the way... Just keep going.
Kate
http://whenkateblogs.blogspot.com/

mshatch said...

good choice for X. I think the most frustrating part is how much luck is involved. Because in order to be successful you have to have the right story at the right time, get it in front of the right agent who then has to get it in front of the right editor at the right house who hopefully hasn't already acquired anything too similar.

Heather M. Gardner said...

I think at this point I have figured out I won't be a successful author. I just want to be a writer that finishes her work and maybe some people want to read it.
I'd be fine with that.
Heather

Lydia Kang said...

It's very true--you can't buy that X-factor, and you can't predict when it's going to strike with a particular book.

Chuck said...

How weird. I am reading an articel in Newsweek about female submission and Fifty Shades Of Grey is one of the books mentioned. Now reading it in your blog makes the third reference to it I have seen today. Spooky.

Melodie Wright said...

It never scared me; it just made me wonder what the point of writing was. And then I realized that it didn't matter; I'm called to write. I can't help it - believe me, if I could I would've stopped a LONG time ago. So I approach writing like I did when I was a journalist. I get paid to write; what happens to it after that is out of my hands and not worth worrying about.

Lynda R Young said...

It is a huge unknown factor, but I guess it's also what keeps us going and striving to put out only our best work. Well, it does for me.

Glynis said...

What is out there for writers in the modern writing world, most certainly is unknown.

Now I am launching into the world of having a published novel (self pubbed), I am waiting for the X factor reviews!

Nothing will stop me writing. Reading rejections, bad reviews and hopefully good ones, are all part of the package. Word of mouth and fantastic writing friends, are the stars of my personal X Factor Show.

Joylene said...

I'm currently working with 6 other writers on a steampunk story. I can't tell you how many times during the past month that I shook my head and wondered what the heck I was thinking. But I've got my first chapter done, and I'm excited. I pushed myself with this exercise and I survived. Sometimes we forget that we are survivors by our very nature. How else would we stick to writing a story that takes months, sometimes years? I love facing the unknown. Haha, mostly after the fact.

Lisa Regan said...

Yes!!! It scares the bejesus out of me! But a good friend and writer said to me recently that bestseller lists were crap and that his only goal as a writer was to have at least one person say to him, "That's the best book I ever read!" If I get to reach readers and I will be able to now, I will be pretty happy already. Whatever happens after that . . . there's no stopping it. All I can do is hope for the best!