Monday, November 21, 2005

The X-Factor

J. A. Konrath wrote a piece in his blog about book promotion and publicity, and about how difficult it is to understand what makes a campaign successful. Some books are heavily promoted and sell very few copies, others aren't promoted at all, and become bestsellers.

"For all of our efforts, there's still an X Factor that determines success. Some unknown, unteachable, unreachable thing determines who makes 7 million a book, and who loses their publishing deal due to poor sell-through.

You can increase your odds that Factor X happens by working hard, trying new things, and never giving up, but there are no guarantees."

I started The Bluff as a way to promote Transit Gloria, so Joe's essay struck a resonant chord with me. I think often and long about ways to promote my work, and I've been remarkably successful in the short time I've been serious about writing.

I recreated myself as a freelance writer, journalist, novelist, and editor. I'm a columnist, and now I'm even a blogger. Two years ago I was a blacksmith. Big change. I think I'm talented, but talent alone doesn't account for what I've been able to accomplish. I recognize the X-factor in my success. I call it luck, and I've been very lucky. Preparation certainly helps, but being prepared for an opportunity that never comes is almost cliche. John Irving has made a hell of a career writing about characters who spend their lives prepared for opportunities that never come. Unlucky characters.

I commented on Joe's blog, but afterward decided to share what I said there with you, my most patient readers:


I'm on the uphill side of the publishing curve and struggling with my own motivation. While you are marketing your books to readers, and enjoying a good bit of success, I'm marketing my book to agents, and having a hard time measuring my success. Right now, a request for partials is reason enough to celebrate, but sooner or later someone is either going to have to sign me or I'm going to quit buying champagne.

I'm having far more measurable success with readers than with agents. When I finished my book, I decided to try that whole test marketing thing, something I understand publishers never actually do. I gathered together my own target audience of early readers. After they finished reading, each of them had to suffer through a two page questionnaire and half hour interview.

Now I'm getting more requests for manuscripts from friends of my early readers than I am from agents. One reader accidently left half the manuscript in a men's room at the Philadelphia airport. A fellow from Dublin recently called and asked me to send him the other half.

Maybe the X-factor for me lies in strategically placing my manuscript in restrooms all over New York. What do you think? Any idea where the top agents go to powder their noses?

Reading that again, it occurs to me that I got lucky in an airport restroom. Didn't George Michael get arrested for that?

Mark Pettus,
Monday, November 21, 2005

19 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger Kelly Parra, Anonymous Frank Baron, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger serenity, Blogger Jeff, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Dawno, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger JA Konrath, Blogger Dawno, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger anne frasier, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Dawno, Blogger serenity, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins, Blogger Dawno,

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

I am not the editor of a newspaper...

"I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good, so that God will not make me one."
-Mark Twain

I've always been a Twain fan. No matter what you need a one-liner for, he has one to fit the bill.

I took the job. I told the new paper that I would take the job. I told my current paper that I took the job. We all agreed I would start the job in December, giving my current paper the opportunity to replace me. But...

The editor I'm replacing at the new paper is already gone. So guess what I'm doing? Yep. Double your flavor, double your fun. Two. Two. Two jobs are better than one. I work all day at one paper then go over the river and through the woods... to attend a school board meeting for the other paper, or to try to figure out what this year's version of the Cabbage Patch Doll or Tickle Me Elmo is (apparently there isn't a must-have toy this year).

On top of the long hours and long drives, my new office doesn't have a window, and there's nothing like a windowless office to keep you confused about that whole am/pm thing, especially if it's dark when you get in, and dark when you leave. I'll be glad when December gets here. I do get Thanksgiving off (and I am thankful, I really am), but other than the day after Thanksgiving, I'll be sacrificing all of my accrued vacation when I leave -- no cashing-in allowed. Dedicated employees who don't use all their time off... should quit bitching, nobody forced them to change jobs right before the end of the year... but GRRRR!

Transit Gloria is still in a holding pattern. Two agents have partials, and I've decided to wait until I hear from them before I send out another batch of queries. I'm running full speed right now, and until I find a comfortable groove at the new paper I don't want to juggle more than I already am. On the Bluff is actually On the Back Burner. I'm finding it hard to get enthused about the story until I make more progress on Transit Gloria. People who say they would write even if they knew no one would ever read their work... probably don't have two jobs. I need a reason to keep writing books, and the reason I'm looking for is this: because my agent says I should.

First, I need an agent.

In case it isn't obvious -- I'm tired.

Mark Pettus,
Saturday, November 19, 2005

8 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger Jeff, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Caryn, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins, Blogger serenity, Blogger Ray Wong,

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Zen and the Art of Book Promotion

Stories of Strength is off to a good start. I enjoy being associated with writers who are willing to donate so much effort to the production and promotion of a book, and I'm proud to be a part of such a worthy effort (disaster relief). SOS truly is the little book that can, and has already climbed to number one on Lulu's list of bestselling titles.

I'm trying to do my part promoting the book. Besides mentioning it here, I contacted all of the local booksellers, and the collections manager for the local Library system. I also sent press releases to scores of newspaper and magazine editors. I collect business cards the way some people collect pennies -- trust me, the cards are much more valuable. Everyone who ever said hello to me in an elevator received a press release from me this week. My own paper ran an article with my picture, and two other papers have asked me to send photos. One of those papers has previously run some of my stories, but because of the magic of technology, I'd never met the managing editor. When she replied to my emailed press release, I got a valuable lesson on Zen and the art of book promotion.

Her first reply asked for pictures. Her second email asked me some very specific questions about my writing, and about my experience in the newspaper business. I answered her questions, and asked why she was so interested -- these questions didn't seem tied to the article about the book. She replied with another question. Would I be interested in coming to work for her?

Now, I'm no newbie at networking, and I won't pretend to be for the sake of this story. When I was eight years old, my grandpappy said, "It ain't important who you are, it's important who you know," and I've been networking ever since. Developing contacts is a major part of a journalist's life, and you never know which contact is going to become the most important one you ever made. I do know this, when you invest time and effort into a good deed, your investment always pays dividends.

The few hours I invested in promoting Stories of Strength was to help raise money for hurricane victims. I didn't expect anything in return, but the returns have been phenomenal. I drove over to the coast for an interview with the managing editor on Friday, and we clicked. She offered me the managing editor's desk at a small community newspaper her publisher owns. I'll report to her, so although I'll manage the editorial department, my title won't be Managing Editor. I told her I needed a few days to think about her offer, but that was mainly because I know enough about negotiating to never look too eager, and even those of us in the nickel and dime world of newspaper reporting like to get paid. I know she reads my blog, I just hope she won't read this until after we agree on a salary.

By the way, if anyone would like to learn a bit about book promotion while you are waiting for your own books to find publishers, Stories of Strength is a great way to learn and to do something worthwhile at the same time. Contact me, or go to the How You Can Help page at, for ways you can help promote the book... getting your library to order it would be a nice start.

p.s. I'd like to start an online critique circle. I want a small group, six to ten writers who are interested in improving their own writing, and who understand that you can improve your own work by helping others improve theirs. I prefer novel writers, partially because the troubles we all have with queries and synopses are things we can help each other with, and partially because I'm a novelist, not a short story writer. I wish I was, a few literary magazine credits couldn't hurt my career. If you are interested, either email me, or leave a comment here. Thanks.

To my friends, know that I have been reading your blogs, but this last week has been so hectic and tiring I just haven't had the energy to respond most of the time. I'll try to do better.

Mark Pettus,
Saturday, November 05, 2005

14 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger Caryn, Blogger Dawno, Blogger Caryn, Blogger Bernita, Blogger serenity, Blogger Kelly Parra, Blogger Jeff, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Anonymous Anonymous, Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins, Blogger Jill, Blogger S. W. Vaughn, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Ray Wong,

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