Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for X Factor

I’ve been to several writing panels with various agents and editors and indubitably this question always gets asked:

What kind of manuscripts are you looking for?

And, indubitably, at least one answer goes something like this:

I’ll know it when I see it.

As frustrating as that answer is, it makes sense. There are so many talented people out there writing amazing stories, there has to be something that stands you out from the rest. Maybe it’s an unbelievable premise, maybe exceptional prose. Or maybe they’re looking for a story with that amorphous je ne sais quoi also known as


Here are various interpretations and definitions I found courtesy of the omniscient Google

a special quality, especially one that is essential for success and is difficult to describe

an unknown quantity which only becomes known after following a prescribed process

a certain indefinable quality which may promote one candidate over another in the eyes of his or her critics or examiners

Indefinable, unknown, difficult to describe? Great. How am I supposed to achieve that? I feel like my students when I ask them to solve for X.




And then I found this answer…

Those with the “X factor” have a way of pushing our buttons psychologically. They make us feel good or inspired. Pissed off or aggravated. Challenged or validated. Regardless of how they affect us, they engage us emotionally and the “X factor” that lives within them, speaks to something inside of us, often times, something that we are not even in touch with. (Music Biz Academy.com)

YES. THAT.

The great thing about writing, reading, all of it—it’s subjective. My belief is that the X factor is a little different for everyone. Books that hold that X factor for me may not do that for everyone else. Stories that linger for weeks, months, years for some people may have registered a meh on my X-traordinary meter. I’ve observed the same thing in publishing. What might not work for one agent might WOW another. Even if I don’t know exactly what they want, maybe my story will have that X factor for someone. And in a time where so many people are writing so many Xceptional stories, X factor is the hope that keeps me going.

So, what's YOUR definition of X factor? Who are your X factor authors?

22 comments:

  1. I had a post prepared with "Find X - here it is", ranting about how much I hate math and that I've never had to use algebra or geometry in my life, just as I suspected in high school. lol

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    1. You are the first person to tell me about hating math! haha - just kidding. I hear it all the time.

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  2. eXcellent post! It's the X Factor that keeps me going, too. Not everyone will love what I write, but someone might!

    I did an X Factor interview with my agent, Tricia Lawrence, today, asking to solve for X! Great minds think alike ;)

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    1. Your X-Factor post was Xcellent! Loved it!

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  3. That is an awesome answer for What is X Factor. I want to write that down and post it on my board.

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    1. Me too! I think I may just have to do that. :)

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  4. I'd definitely say my X-Factor authors are:

    Roald Dahl - for having the most creative imagination that made my childhood.

    J.K. Rowling - for forever changing how everyone views YA.

    Suzanne Collins - for drawing you into a world that made you actually contemplate learning to shoot with a bow and arrow.

    Veronica Roth - for completing the manuscript to agent to published journey, in 0-10 seconds flat, and allowing the rest of us to live vicariously through her. Not to mention, sharing a book that I devoured in an equally impressive time frame.

    Great X post, Alison!

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    1. Awesome compilation of X-factor authors! I'm right there with you!

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  5. I love your definition of the X-factor and I think you're right on: It's different for everyone. For me, novels that have the X-factor are novels that push an emotional button and hold it down for the duration of the story. (THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, JELLICOE ROAD, INSURGENT, THE DISENCHANTMENTS, GRACELING, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, THE SCORPIO RACES, CHIME, and BOY TOY all come to mind). Genre, pacing, and characterization all come second to that elusive emotional punch.

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    1. "Push the emotional button and hold it down."

      YES. THAT.

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  6. I think that one detailed definition of the X-factor pretty much nails it on the head. I think there comes a time when all of the "your book must have this" or "your book should never have this" sentiment becomes a little useless. There is no correct formula, and you most certainly can't solve for x (heehee) when it comes to writing a great book. So much has been done already that it's the things mentioned in your definition that kick the story up a notch. That's what makes it worth reading. I have to agree with Katy's comment about the emotional button. Such a good way of putting it.

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    1. I tried going the route of "your book must have this." Total dead-end street.

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  7. Great post!

    I also did "X-Factor" today for my A-to-Z blog, and covered much of the same ground (great writing minds think alike, huh?)

    I love how wonderfully you presented this, the fabulous quotes, and as an Engineer nerd, I guffawed at the "find X" comic!

    (...even though it's obvious that the real answer is 5 cm...) ;^)

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    1. Great minds must think alike! I'm going to check yours out now!

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  8. hmmm that something kinda unxplainable ---but for me as far as books go--i just have to feel a certain way or i xit pretty quick---xcellent x post!

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    1. Thanks! I usually try to give a book at least the first 100 pages, and it's very rare that I don't finish something, but there've been cases.

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  9. My X Factor author is for sure Blake Nelson. When I try and tell people what his books are about, they kinda just stare at me like "Okay...and?" And I can't really put my finger on it. He just has IT. I think it's the voice, the way that his writing makes me feel like I can relate to it, I don't even know. Awesome post!

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    1. I love finding authors like that. I'll have to check this one out. :)

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  10. Janet Evanovich for sure...she just cracks me up and I love her style...visiting via the A to Z Challenge...blessings

    http://shananagins2468.blogspot.com

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    1. I have yet to read one of her novels. But I've heard SO many good things. May have to fix that. :)

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  11. Great post, Alison! :D The x factor is like beauty in the eye of the beholder ;-) That is why we have such a variety of books out there in the big big world...there is something for everyone...Like Katy mentioned for me the emotion button is so important :D The books which have so many people raving about them mostly capture those BIG feelings :D

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    1. Yes, I LOVED Katy's comment. And books that linger with me for a long time are the ones that pushed down on and held my emotional button. Where She Went is the first one that ALWAYS comes to mind.

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