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The “It” Factor

What is the “It” factor that makes people sit up and take notice? What makes them buy a book, review it, talk about it, give it as a gift? More so, what causes them to tweet and re-tweet, to write their own articles and link to someone else’s discussion of the book, to share it on Facebook or Google Plus?
| Sep 12, 2011 | No comments |

The sequel to Grossman's bestseller The Magicians

What’s what in fantasy, I thought. Readers at Spec Faith might want to know what books are about to come out or those which have recently been released. What are the new trends, the new authors, the new genres?

By doing a Google search of blogs for “fantasy books” I quickly found what I was looking for. One article gave an overview of books releasing this fall. Another discussed the difference between juvenile and YA fantasy. A third looked at paranormal fantasy for men.

As I contemplated what topic might be of most interest, I glanced up at the top of the Google page, right under the search bar. I’d limited my search to blogs mentioning fantasy books sometime during the past month, and yet I was staring at an astounding number: “about 1,130,000 results.” One million, one hundred thirty thousand blog articles about fantasy books just within this past month.

This number seemed like a more important topic than anything else I could write about. My first reaction was one of jubilance. After all, here was proof that the culture at large is still fascinated with fantasy, whether urban, epic, or dieselpunk (a term new to me).

My next reaction was one of dismay. How in a world so crowded with chatter does a reader find the book he’s looking for? How does a writer get buzz started about his novel when there is already so much talk about so many other works? And how does a blogger separate his article from all those other blogs burbling about fantasy?

What I’m asking, in essence, is this: What is the “It” factor that makes people sit up and take notice? What makes them buy a book, review it, talk about it, give it as a gift? More so, what causes them to tweet and re-tweet, to write their own articles and link to someone else’s discussion of the book, to share it on Facebook or Google Plus?

Let me throw out a couple ideas.

1) The Celebrity Factor. As PR guru Rebeca Seitz (Glass Road Public Relations and Reclaim Management) said in her 2010 class at Mount Hermon, we live in a celebrity culture. People want their own fifteen minutes of fame, but they also are fascinated by, and perhaps want to imitate, the lives of the rich and famous. Ironically, some people have become rich because they are famous and others have become famous because they are rich. The point for this discussion, however, is that a book written by a “celebrity author” creates some buzz for no other reason than that a celebrity author is releasing another book.

When you have two “celebrity authors,” such as Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti (House) or Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (Forbidden), co-writing, the chances for buzz seem greater.

2) The “Something Different” Factor. J. K. Rowling was not a celebrity when she published the first Harry Potter book. As many pundits will tell you, her writing isn’t anything to write home about either ( 😉 ). So what made readers go crazy over a middle grade fantasy? Rowling married something familiar (school, and in particular for her initial audience of English readers, British boarding school) with something out of the ordinary (wizardry). Suddenly, readers had a place that felt at once familiar and completely new. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins might also fall into this category.

3) The Controversial Factor. Perhaps nothing creates discussion more than controversy. Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), Paul Young (The Shack), Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials), and yes, J. K. Rowling again, illustrate how some authors incited controversy through their stories. The issues in question drew attention to the books. The more vocal the opposition, it seems, the more readers chose to see for themselves on which side of the controversy they fell. And the more people who read the books, the wider the conversation spread.

4) The Romance (Sex) Factor. Sex sells. Advertisers have known and capitalized on this for a long, long time. While stories have also included both romance and sex since the beginning, perhaps none exploited sex by withholding it as did the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer).

5) The Nobility Factor. This is my favorite category. I’d put the great epics here. In stories like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings or any of the Narnia books, readers are ennobled, in part because within the pages of these classics they meet characters who persevere, sacrifice, overcome. In these books readers find hope and inspiration and victory. Yes, struggle is there, too, but the greater the struggle, the nobler the one engaged in it.

So what do you think? Are there other “It” factors? Would it be reasonable to say that the more “It”s a book has, the more it separates itself from all the others? Which of these would be on your “It” list? 😀

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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I would add a “friendship” factor–a lot of readers chose books based on what their friends recommend. I trust my friends’ taste.

Kessie Carroll
Kessie Carroll

Dragons! I know that dragons are horribly overdone, but I’m fond of them and I’m always on the lookout for a decent fantasy with dragons. Unicorns and griffins are cool, too. (Amazingly, almost no one writes about griffins, aside from Mercedes Lackey.)
Hence the reason I adored the Temeraire books. That one with the dragon airforce fighting Napoleon. 🙂
I think I prefer categories 2 and 5, the Something Different and the Nobility. It’s hard to find the Nobility factor in modern novels, though. It’s quite common in older fiction, though. I think publishers must filter for it now or something.

E. Stephen Burnett

I’d suggest the “friendship” factor is closely related to the celebrity factor. Either are based on personality. When a trusted friend recommends a book, you’re more likely to check into it because you trust your friend’s judgment. And the exact same is true when a celebrity recommends a book — even if the trusted judgment and “friendship” is more artificial.

For Christians, the main — and often only — question whether to read any kind of book is Is it useful? (But useful for what? I would ask.) Celebrity recommendation is a close second.

Andy Poole
Andy Poole

Sense of place is a factor for me. Does the story take me places I want to go? Are they places I wish I was not separated from by imagination or pages and text? And there is one setting in particular that I see little of on bookshelves, so I try to write for it myself.

Cover art is also pretty powerful. I picked up this beautiful looking book at the library. There was this princess in a mail hauberk and tabard, with leopard allies. The synopsis promised that she had to make allies with leopards and werewolves. The book then possessed my undivided attention. A sequel on the shelf promised airships. I bit the worm, and with my jaws thoroughly hooked to the line, the writer reeled me in. I opened the book at home. I read 50-ish pages. After a good cry (complete with invectives hurled against the author’s name for wasting my precious time), I sent it back to the library because I couldn’t take any more! It was so corny as to make me run to the drugstore for antidepressants.  (Ok, Ok, so I had more self-control than all that, but still, it appealed to me because of the world setting but the storytelling and characters couldn’t keep it afloat.)

Andy Poole
Andy Poole

Friends are an influence for me, but most of the time I make my own decision whether or not to read something on the grounds of my personal taste.


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Sally Apokedak

I’m with Kessie–something different and nobility draw me in.