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,

Let me know what you think

Leave a comment


at 11:26 AM Blogger Kelly Parra said...

I enjoy JA Konrath's blog very much. I think what he said in the post is true. You have to find out what works best for you.

It sounds like you're determined to make your book better, and get your book sold. I highly believe determination and success go hand in hand.

I can't believe the manuscript in the restroom incident--how great!

at 11:50 AM Anonymous Frank Baron said...

Ah, sweet serendipity! Gotta love it.

Ixnay on the athroom-bay idea though Mark. The combination of a person with the trots, a lack of TP, and what use your pages could be put to is just too terrible to contemplate.

at 12:48 PM Blogger Dennie McDonald said...

I hope your book sells.

I am at that point where I can't decided if I have any talent at all. I think so some days and others I can see why my children (oldest is 11) are published before me - granted in vanity press =)

It is not a simple business to get into. You have to have nerves of steel, as well as other parts that I shall not name, to keep pushing forward.

Hey if bathrooms work ~ More power to you! (I gotta try that, hmm....)

at 1:23 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Kelly - Joe's blog is one of my favorites. I probably need to add him to my links sometime, huh?

Frank - I wonder what happened to the other half of that manuscript, now that you mention it...

Dennie - It ain't for nuthin that they call me Iron-Balls Pettus.

Thanks for reading, folks.

at 3:43 PM Blogger serenity said...

You know, assaulting readers with a prepared list of questions isn't a half-bad idea. I bet it eliminates the "I liked it ... it was good" brand of critiqueing.

at 7:29 PM Blogger Jeff said...

mark- I once had the idea of slipping a manuscript of mine to a published author under a stall door in the mall restroom for a quick read through while I waited with hopes of a potential blurb. Needless to say, the idea got flushed! Oh well, back to the drawing board. :)

at 9:59 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Jeff - I've seen some pretty crappy puns in my time, but...

Serenity - I'd be happy to share my questionaire with you. I should tell you that while it does eliminate the "I liked it ... it was good" comments, it doesn't stop the "You know what would be great? If Hamlet was adopted, and his father was really the uncle, and Ophelia was really his sister, only neither one of them know it..." comments.

at 10:49 PM Blogger Dawno said...

This marketing technique has a small drawback, I think. If you want to double your bathroom, uh, exposure (sorry) you'll need to find a female colleague or start cross dressing. Let me know if you choose the latter so I can start following you around with a camera.

at 1:35 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Dawn - Not to raise a stink (hey, if you guys can pun, so can I), but a couple of weeks ago I got caught up in a controversy over at Agent 007's, something involving underwire bras and pictures of me wearing the same... I may be in danger of being mis-cast as the Cowboy version of Eddie Izzard.

I think I'll let you place my books in the ladies room.

at 11:56 AM Blogger JA Konrath said...

Thinking outside the box is good. So is trying everything.

I got an agent thinking outside of the box, sending a four page query package rather than the standard cover letter plus 50 pages.

A free download that explains how I did it is here:

Keep at it, you'll get lucky.

at 10:15 PM Blogger Dawno said...

Dangit, now I have to go read thru all the comments on Ms Snark and find that. It'll be worth it, I'm sure.

As to shlepping your book around to the ladies rooms of the world, sure. Do I get a commission or will I just have to swipe the quarters out of the tip bowls?

at 7:55 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Joe, Thanks for visiting. I enjoyed your booklet.

Thinking outside the box better work, 'cause they won't let me back into the box.

Dawn, 007, not Snark. Miss Snark never laughs at my jokes. How about this - I'll guarantee you minimum wage - you swipe the quarters, and I'll throw in whatever it takes to bring you up to minimum...

Just a thought.

at 11:51 PM Blogger anne frasier said...

i'm beginning to see a skit we should seriously think about putting on for thrillerfest. :D

at 5:27 PM Blogger Dennie McDonald said...

Hope you had a good - restful - thanksgiving!

at 9:16 PM Blogger Dawno said...

Yes, you did say 007. I came back and re-read after spending hours on the Snarkblog. I don't mind the hours spent...but it's just one more sign of my impending total senility.

So, you'll make up the difference between the quarters and minimum wage - minimum wage where? It's $6 and something here in CA - and higher in towns that have passed the 'living wage' law...I think one place around here has it close to $10 an hour...I'll pick that minimum wage.

I also hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

at 1:50 PM Blogger serenity said...

*knock, knock* Anybody home?

Hehe. Never mind me. I'm looking to procrastinate.

at 4:22 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Anne, I have a feeling you're picturing me channeling Tim Curry. I'm game if you promise to let me video you doing the timewarp.

Dennie, Thanksgiving was restful. I got to spend some time with one of my readers, and came home with a grossly inflated ego. I needed that.

Dawn, I'm so sorry. I would have told you on your blog, but then what reason would you have had to return to mine? As for the minimum wage, I'm thinking... Nicaragua... tennis shoes... how does $5 a week grab you?

Serenity, I'll be back to active blogging soon. As of Friday, I only have one full time job, so I can dedicate more time to my all-consuming part-time job.

at 1:04 PM Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Miss you blogs, Mark. Hope all is going well for you. ;)

at 1:39 AM Blogger Dawno said...

Did you do your ms in Spanish? I mean if I'm going to live on Nicaraguan minimum wage I'd better go there and if I'm going to leave your ms in Nicaraguan ladies' rooms they need to be in Spanish, right?

Of course I'll expect a relocation package and per diem for the hotel until I get set up down there. Do you know if they tip well in the Nicaraguan bathrooms?


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