Does Your Novel Have The 'IT' Factor?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011
More books are published every year than Hollywood movies that are made. If you think about it, that's a heck of a lot of books. But, how do those books make it from the writer's computer screen to a paperback in a readers hands? That's what we're going to talk about today.

Everybody knows that getting a book published is a long lengthy process. First you write the novel, second you revise, and after you've revised a dozen times more, you write a good query(which you probably rewrite ten times as well) and then you do what I like to call, 'throwing yourself to the sharks'.

I use that analogy because sometimes get a bite, sometimes you won't, and sometimes your WIP will get chewed up and spit out.

For the ones whose novels get picked up right away or the ones who don't have a hard time finding an agent at all, they've all got something I like to call the 'it' factor.

What exactly is the 'it' factor? I'm going to tell you.

Do you know how many queries most agents receive a week? Hundreds. For some maybe thousands. But what do you think makes an agent go, hmmmm, I think I'd like to see more?

Me personally, I don't read queries. The minute I receive a query letter, I'll scroll down to the bottom of the email and read the first couple pages that accompanies that letter. I'm not concerned about how well a writer can compose a query letter. I know plenty of great writers that can't write them at all. What I really want to know is if they can write a novel, make it appealing, and make it flow. And I may be different from a lot of agents, but I know I'm not going to be able to tell that just by reading their query.

After I've read the first few pages, I'll ask myself a few questions; Does the voice grab me? What are the descriptions like? Has the writer created an authentic world? Then, I'll scroll back up and skim through the query. Shortly after that, I'll either reject or request.

Then comes the partial or full.

When I read a manuscript, I know after the first chapter whether I want it or not. And sometimes I go a little further and read to chapter three. For me, chapter three is the breaking point. If I can't read past chapter three it's a done deal, I'm probably going to reject.

So what leads to that point?

If the story doesn't build much in the first couple chaps and the pacing is slow. I like to be so involved in what I'm reading that I don't want to do anything else. And if the story is blah and I'm there yawning instead of saying Omigosh, it's just not the type of book for me.

If each chapter you finish ends with a wow, I just have to read more. The end of your chapters should leave the reader on the edge of their seats, wanting to plow through the whole novel in record time.

Does it lead up to something? Is there something big that's going to happen? And in the meantime are there good subplots throughout? I think subplots are important. They distract the reader. They keep you wondering until they're hit with the big bang at the end of the book. Who doesn't like a book that goes out with a bang, huh?

In the end, all you can do is your best, and I admire that quality in writers. Most have this will to keep going and that's so important. It's that will that'll eventually get you somewhere, so don't give up!



  1. khashway said...:

    I love the way you do this. I'm the same way as far as knowing in the first chapter if I'm going to love the book or not. I like to be drawn in right from the start.

  1. I think writers lay a lot of emphasis on the query letter, hoping to perfect it, because many are led to believe that's the make or break point in their submission. But to read this article is a wonderfully encouraging temptation for writers to continue submitting their manuscripts, because it is the book that sells, not the query letter.

    CJ xx
    Kathryn Brown

  1. p.s. I hope you don't mind, I've included this post in my Blog Promotions page on my Blog.
    CJ xx

  1. Lola7384 said...:

    Sure C.J! I don't mind at all!

  1. Anonymous said...:

    Very interesting. So many resources put such focus on the query letter, but what you've said made more sense. Just out of curiosity, do you have a page count you'll read to (as opposed to just chapter 3? Some writers have very lengthy chapters-- and my novel has an epilogue. Does that count?)

    Anyway, liked your post. I was a lucky one, getting an excellent agent right out of the gate. But after seven years, she has decided to no longer represent horror. Kind of feels like starting over (if it weren't for the seven years of much needed revisions on the novel).

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

  1. What's SO cool about this post is that I'm helping a good friend with a MS right now - WHY can't we see stuff in our OWN writing? - Anyhoo - hers slacked a bit after chapter three. it's still good, and she's trimming and working and all that. And I never realized it before, but yeah, if I'm still in it at chapter three, I'll read the whole book, but that's definitely my breaking point.

  1. Great post Lauren. I think I speak for most people... Thanks for not looking at the queries!

  1. I love hearing stuff like this. It's interesting to see the different ways agents look at queries or first pages etc. Thanks for this Lauren :)

  1. Thanks for the tips from an insider. yes, the chapter hooks are crucial. I evaluate manuscripts and I also find that the middle part of the novel often has a sag in it.

  1. I enjoyed your honesty in this blog post- and I agree completely about the query letter. I think the title of this blog is so fun- and my co-author and I use the term "La La Land" in our book. :)

    I found you through Book Blogs and signed up to follow you. When you have a chance- please stop by and follow the blog for my middle grade novel that I am hoping to get published.
    Also, my co-author, Stephanie, liked your fb page today. Please like us back at:

    Take care-
    Jess- although I may show up as Fairday, the main character from my novel. I can't figure out why that happens sometimes and I can't fix it. :)

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