Thursday, January 29, 2009

The "It" Factor

By Beth Terrell

This past weekend, I had lunch with a friend who works in the publishing industry. She's a publicist who sometimes acts as an acquisitions editor. Our conversation turned to a member of my critique group, a man who had pitched his novel to her at last year's Killer Nashville conference.

I don't know what 'it' is," she said, "but he has it in spades. I know he's going to make it, bigtime."

I know exactly what she means, but I'm no more able to say exactly what "it" is than she was. All I know is that my friend has it. But what exactly IS it? Maybe it's a kind of charisma, or the way he's genuinely interested in other people and genuinely wishes the best for them. Maybe it's a sense that he is man of very real integrity. Maybe it's his intensity, hidden beneath a shy, boyish demeanor. You can tell he won't run over anybody to get to his goal, but that he won't give up until he does get there. Maybe it's all those things rolled into one.

Is 'it' something that can be cultivated, or is it inborn. like the color of your hair or the ability to curl your tongue? Maybe, like so many things, it grows through a complex interplay between nature and nurture.

Maybe "it" is something different for each of us. For some, like my friend, it shines like a sun to everyone he meets. For others, it's more understated, less visible. Maybe it's a dynamic, dramatic energy, like J.T. Ellison's, or a quiet, humble generosity like Mary Saums's. What about your favorite writers? Do they have "it?" Is "it" the same thing for all of them?

Maybe "it" is just being the best, most genuine you you can possibly be.

If you think of your favorite or the most popular authors, do they all have something in common? And do those somethings combine to create the indefinable "it?"

I don't know for sure, but I do know that the most successful authors I know have some traits in common. One is focus. They are extremely good at "keeping their eye on the ball"--at setting a goal and heading straight for it without being derailed by things like unmade beds and Minesweeper. They are also, more often than not, gracious and generous people who are willing, within reason, to offer help and advice to others. A friend once met Stephen King at a local science fiction convention at which King was the speaker. After his speech, Mr. King spent the evening in the hospitality suite chatting with my friend about books and other common interests. Stephen King didn't have to be so generous with his time; he gave it anyway.

In my opinion, the "it" factor is something that draws others to you and makes you memorable. Something that gives people a good feeling when they think about you.

How about you all? What do you think "it" is? And how important is it to a writer?


Chester Campbell said...

Good column, Beth. And I agree, I think he has "it" (we're in the same writers group). It's always nice to see someone with fire in their eyes and a determination to succeed.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I don't know the writer or his work, but I think uniqueness is probably "it." The way a certain writer turns a phrase or looks at something ordinary but describes like no one else can. To me that's "it."