Friday, May 11, 2007

The X-factor

by Christine Wells

When I started writing novels (which wasn't so very long ago), I owned a tiny Toshiba Libretto the size of a Trade Paperback. I wasn't connected to the internet, didn't know there was a market for Regency historicals, which was what I was writing, hadn't heard of Romance Writers of America. Basically, I was writing in a vacuum.

Then I discovered RWA, critique groups, contests, self-help books--you get the picture. I learned the 'rules'. I discovered and studied wonderful books by Regency historical writers (who were still alive and selling!) and I applied all of this knowledge to my writing. And at some point, I felt my own voice about to slip away.

Romance writers are incredibly lucky. I can't think of any other genre that has such institutional support for its writers, nurturing them and guiding them and paving the way to publication. But there can be a downside to all this wonderful support. You can pay so much attention to 'rules' and other people's opinions and what the market's doing, that you lose the one thing that will make your novel stand out from the crowd: your voice.

As a new writer, you need to listen and take advice that you judge to be sound. But there comes a time when you really need to shut everyone else out and do your own thing. Every writer needs that small amount of arrogance that says, No one can tell this story as well as I can. Even if you never say it aloud, you have to believe it, or you'll end writing the same book as everyone else. It's your very uniqueness that will give your story universal appeal.

The X-factor, the thing that is going to sell your book, is you.

So now, imagine you're a future bestseller with your debut book in the pipeline. Your favourite author (living or dead) writes a cover blurb--that quote on the front of the book that sums up the wonderful appeal of this masterpiece you've written, in 10 words or less. What would it be?

My favourite answer wins a $25 gift voucher from!



Inara said...

Ah Christine, the pressure! The pressure!!! I've been staring at the blank screen here for about ten minutes and have absolutely no idea!!

Okay, I think if my YA gets published, I would want someone (maybe Meg Cabot or Markus Zusak) saying it's "smart and funny, a gripping story about trusting yourself and making hard choices."

(yes, that's more than 10, but I'm not eligible to win the contest anyway! :-P )

I think for my contemp, I'd want Tawny Weber saying, "not quite as young or hip as Double Dare, but still pretty good!"

Or do you think I'm shooting too high with that last one?


Caren Crane said...

I would love a quote from Jennifer Crusie that says, "Laugh out loud funny - wear a Depends!"

I would also take one from Susan Elizabeth Phillips that says, "Heartwarming, funny and smart - a book I wish I had written!"

Hey, it's my dream and I can dream big!

Jo Davis said...

Your post really spoke to me. I'm currently working on my first romantic suspense release for NAL/Signet, and keeping my focus on what I know how to do best, not losing my voice, is one of my greatest fears. And in truth, how many authors would've achieved their great success if they'd listened to too much well-meaning 'advice'? Thanks for the post!

My dream blurb would be Suzanne Brockmann saying, "A smoldering hero...a sizzling romance, a dash of danger."


Christine Wells said...

Hey, Inara, thanks for commenting! I like the YA one but I'm sure Tawny would find something better than that to say about your contemp!!

Caren, you made me snork with the Depends comment! It's something JC would say too. Love it!

Jo, Fantastic about your sale to NAL/Signet! Congratulations! I hope you get your wish from Suzanne Brockman. That would be a great blurb to sell your book with! Hey, maybe someone will ask you to write a blurb, one day. Wouldn't that be cool? Thanks for commenting. I hope you visit us often.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Small town charm, big city drama.

Suzanne Welsh said...

OOps, forgot to say...I'd die for Julie Garwood to say anything about one of my books! but this would be what I'd like her to say..."Small town charm, big city drama."

Yeah, I know I'm not eligible, but I'd love to see her say this, truly!


Jo Davis said...

Thanks, Christine! I sold a firefighter romantic suspense series to Signet, and it's been a dream sale come true. Oh yes, a quote from Brockmann would pretty much ice the cake! Or Linda Howard. One can daydream. :)

Can't wait for the day I get an email asking *me* for a quote. Then I'll know I made it!


Anna Campbell said...

Christine, great post. Actually I think you find your voice by writing and writing and writing. All the good advice in the world can't replace the experience of facing that blank page over and over. It's still daunting!

I can't win (are you sure? I'd LOVE the voucher!) but my ideal blurb would be Laura Kinsale saying, "An intensely emotional read that made me cry and cheer for characters I love." Oooh, not likely, but wouldn't it be luverly?

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, and Jo, congratulations on the sale. Whoo-hoo! Sorry, got carried away there with the thought of LK even reading my book!

Suzanne Welsh said...

OOooooooooo...if you become famous, I'll hit you up for a quote on one of my books, Jo! hehehe. She's a Dallas friend of mine, so I can.


Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Christine. One of the reasons I wrote my original Six Pack article was because I went around in circles with so much advice and information!

I would love a quote from Susan Mallery or Christine Rimmer - two of my absolute fave SSE authors. And since the book is a hockey book, maybe Rachel Gibson or Deirdre Martin.

As to what they'd say ... anything positive ... mentioning my delicious heroes, feisty heroines and a romance to savour.

Authorness said...

Hi, Christine!

You must be pretty darn happy with scoring Mary Balogh's quote for Scandal's Daughter!

After Meg Cabot writes Inara's blurb, I hope she won't mind writing one for my YA. Something like, "This one's a keeper!" or "Utterly absorbing." (Yeah, it's 7am here - I'm dreaming!)

Great post!

Robyn Grady said...

What a great post, Christine! No wonder you're going to be a best seller author!
Not enough to win me the voucher, eh? lol
My brain hasn't powered up yet, so I'll come back to the question, which is indeed a lovely one to ponder.
But I agree totally about the X-factor. All the research and trying to please the market can blot out your voice. Then one day (hopefully) it kinda all comes together. Part of the frustrating, wonderful journey to publication, I guess.
Can't wait to read your book, Christine. I'm reading another absolutely fabulous one at the moment. Can you guess?


Buffie said...

Well, even though I am not a writer, I guess I can dream, right?! I think if I was a writer and was fortunate to have a blurb on my book it would be from Karen Marie Moning and would say "a hero so hot the pages are scorched." And then I think it would be great marketing idea to actually have the page edges blackened.

Annie West said...


It's too early in the day for my brain to come up with snappy and wonderful! Who I'd like to write the blurb? It would have to be someone who adores romance and the line I write for (Harlequin Presents) and it would have to be a writer I admire. There are several contenders who fit the bill. As for the actual words - so long as they loved the book I'd be happy!

All the best,

Tawny said...

I was so blessed to get quotes from two authors I admire SO much - one is my all-time favorite author, so this dream come true gig really does happen. I had no idea what I'd have wanted them to say, but when Julie Leto and Vicki Lewis Thompson agreed to give me quotes, they could have said "what is up with this chick and this book?" and I'd have still been thrilled- I mean, THEY read my book!!!

btw, Inara - hahahahahahahahaha

Methinks I'd have a much better quote for you than that ;-)

Tawny said...

Congrats Jo on the sale!!!

I am trying to figure out if Inara saying she wants me for her quote means *I've* made it. But I can't stop giggling long enough to figure it out.

Christine Wells said...

Oh, my goodness, all these are great! I think it's good for us to dream big! That's what writers are supposed to do, isn't it? As a child, I was always making up stories about the wonderful things that were going to happen to me. Looks like I haven't grown out of that!

Suz, great blurb. I hope you get your wish! Anna C, what you say about writing being the best way to find your voice is so true. I think we all naturally look for shortcuts, but as far as I know, no one has discovered that secret!

Anna S, when I sent out my ms to potential blurbers, like you, I prayed they'd say 'anything positive'!! I was terrified they'd hate it. I almost cried when Mary Balogh came back saying how much she enjoyed Scandal's Daughter.

Christine Wells said...

Buffie, what a cool idea! Or should I say a 'hot' one?? With creativity like that you *should* be a writer!

Vanessa, Annie and Robyn, thanks so much for commenting. Vanessa, I think your dream might come true very soon!

Robyn, hmm, it wouldn't be the blue monster would it? The fabulous CTC! Isn't Anna Campbell an exquisite writer?

Annie, I've heard praise for your books from every quarter, so you'd have no trouble getting great blurbs.

Tawny, congrats on those quotes! Like you, I was blown away by the generosity of established authors. After all, it takes a lot of time to read a full manuscript and then you put your reputation on the line quoting for someone. Jenny Crusie has a great post about that on Argh Ink.

Oliveria said...

I am not a writer. My favorite writer of all time is Goregette Heyer. I would love if she wrote in my book.

This is a good book. Keep writing. You write well for an American.

congrats on your first book.

Dawn said...

If I ever sell COA (historical adventure with romantic elements), I would like Diana Gabaldon to write: "The best book I've ever read. Destined to be a classic."

ROFLMAO! Oh Lord! I would drop dead of shock, literally DROP. DEAD. So would anyone else who's read COA, I imagine...

If Revenge ever's a tough one. Maybe a quote from Christine Wells...:)?

Christine Wells said...

Oliveria, I love Heyer too! I'm sure she'd turn up her nose in high-bred disdain at the notion of a colonial writing a Regency historical and refuse to give me a quote! (I confess, I'm Australian, not American). Thanks for your good wishes!

LOL, Dawn! I love that quote! As for Revenge, I'd give you a quote any time but maybe you should go for someone a leetle more famous:)

Tina Clark said...

Hi Christine

What a post to wake up to this Saturday morning, but one I needed to hear, having just received feedback from my novel, and this is my dilemma at present so right on target Chris!

When I get my single-title/main stream novel published by one of those nice publishing houses, I would LOVE my quote to be from : Wilbur Smith.
'Unquestionably the finest African novel from generation X. Compelling read.'

Okay so I believe in positive thinking... dreaming big and achieving larger than life results....

Thanks for starting my day of so nicely.

Bye 4 now

Trish Milburn said...

Caren, LOL! You crack me up.

Let's see, for my latest YA, I'd LOVE for Stephenie Meyer to say something like "A gripping story of star-crossed young love between the hunter and the hunted."

Christine, I think all the help is great for an author just starting out and needing to do the sponging of all knowledge thing, but at some point we all have to know when to start trusting ourselves and what our writer's instinct is telling us.

Christine Wells said...

Tina, I guess that's why I asked the question. Doesn't it help your confidence to think about good stuff happening? I think too often we dwell on the negative and that's not good for the writing.

Trish, your book sounds so intriguing! I'd definitely buy that if I saw it on the shelves.
I agree completely with what you say. I would never advocate writing in a vacuum. You NEED all of that advice and instruction to learn the craft. As you've said, it's a matter of listening, absorbing, then knowing when it's time to strike out on your own again. Thanks so much for commenting!

Denise Rossetti said...

Oh Christine, what a great post! And soooo true! And Anna, you're so wise (as always). IMO, the only way to develop your voice is to write and write and WRITE.

Go through your book shelf and throw every single "how-to" book away. Yes, I actually mean that. It's so easy to get strung up on the "rules", when what editors want is someone good enough to break them with flair.

Are you SURE I'm not eligible for the prize? Positively, absolutely sure? Oh well then, OK. *humph* I'd love Emma Holly to say, "If I could say I'd written this book my life would be complete."



Sharon said...

Hi Christine
Terrific advice about the X-factor! Thank you.

Mmmm, and a quote for my future "masterpiece"... I might go straight to the Queen of Romance for my fantasy blurb and have Nora Roberts saying "A once in a lifetime romance-reading experience"

Such a nice little fantasy - shame I have to wake up! LOL!

Congratulations on Scandal's Daughter! I love your excerpt and am looking forward to a great read.


Skylar Masey said...

"Vibrant with questions the boundaries of love's life."

This is about the novel I would love to place at SHOMI. It's hip and fun, but with a core message about the power love can have on people's lives. And how that emotion can continue on after death.

And I'd love to see these words from my favorite girlhood writer, Johanna Lindsey or icon, Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Though I don't think futuristics are their cup of tea. :0)

Kathryn S said...

Well, I would love a quote from Neil Gaiman or Charlaine Harris, but since I'm not a new author, I'll say this:
I would love to be the author that a newbie wanted a quote from! lol.

Keira Soleore said...

My brilliant comments from an hour ago didn't post and I lost them in a laptop snafu. Ah, well.

Buffie: You always crack me up.

Rather than just one quote, I'd go for one on the cover, one on spine, one on the back, and a few more on the inside. :) I'd be happy to get any one of them to write something appropriately praiseworthy: Candice Hern, Diane Gaston, Eloisa James, Kathy Caskie, Sophia Nash, Cathy Maxwell, Mary Balogh, Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, or Teresa Medeiros.

If I had to choose one, how about Lisa Kleypas saying, "Memorable characters who will stay with me always."

If KathrynS were to blurb for me :), I hope she'd say, "Well-crafted story...Romance to fall in love with again and again."

Christine Wells said...

Hey Denise! Lovely to see you here. And why wouldn't you be eligible? Great quote! I think EH might not agree, though!

And Sharon, did you know that your name backwards spells Nora? Sort of??? So it's a sign, really. And if we're dreaming, why not go for the genre's top seller?

Skylar, that's beautiful, very nice. And I'd read anything SEP recommended. Good choice!

Hey, KathrynS, you WERE an author a newbie wanted a quote from and you gave a gorgeous quote. Thank you so much! It's in the book and on my website, too.

Keira, I love your quote. I think we all want to write a 'keeper' that readers revel in every time they take it off the shelf.

Phew! I had a fantastic time today, thank you all for participating. There were so many great comments. I might get some help from my bandita buddies to pick the winner. Stay tuned, I'll announce on Sunday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jo Davis said...

Thank you for the congrats, Anna and Tawny!

Suz, you know I'd give you a quote for your fabulous work, my friend! You don't even have to ask. But first, anything I'd say has to be worth more than a wooden nickel. :)


Kathryn S said...

Thanks Keira! And Christine, I had no idea you *wanted* a quote from me! I just thought...well, I guess I just thought you needed quotes. Huh. Now I'm all choked up. lol. Thanks!

Tracey said...

I'm a little late - but better late than never. Christine what a great post and so timely too. I have just done the same thing - switched everyone off and am now trying to find my stride again.

As to a quote - I'd love JR Ward to say "Very dark, totally gripping and an extremly hot read" about my dark urban fantasty.

Christine Wells said...

Sorry I'm late! Things got a bit hectic here and I missed the chance to post the winner of my contest in the main blog.

In the end, there were so many great entries that I narrowed it down and picked out of a hat. So...drumroll please... KEIRA! You won the $25 amazon voucher. Please contact me offline (you can click on my email from the contact page on my website)to claim your prize.

Thank you to everyone who played. That was great fun!