The X Factor is back… whether you love it or loathe it, it does provide an interesting (and yes, often false and contrived too) insight into the way people view their talents and passions, and the lengths to which they will go to follow their dreams. Writers may not have to get up in front of publishers and readers to sing their hearts out, but there will come a point for most writers where they need to sell themselves to either a publishing professional or to their audience directly.
Here are a few tips they might like to take from the X Factor.
1) Mum is not always right
You only have to watch five minutes of the X factor to realise how seriously deluded some people are about the quality of their voice. They will often say that members of their family and friends have all said that they are fantastic, but the sound of a guinea pig being choked coming from their direction suggests otherwise.
Getting some honest and non-biased feedback on your work is an essential stage for any writer. Whilst no one’s likely to find their ears bleeding as they read your work, you do need to make a good impression so it’s worth asking someone you trust before you send your book out into the world. I remember seeing Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) talk – he said that when he asks for references he threatens to throw them in the bin unless they say at least one negative thing. I think that might be a good thing for writers to do, to ensure they get something constructive back.
2) Don’t resort to begging
When the judges don’t like performances on the X factor, there is not a lot which will change their mind. If the contestants are expecting a heavy dose of sobbing to get them through, they are seriously mistaken. The judges see enough crying from happy people! They also seem to be immune to any amount of pleading, and it is often painful to watch people arguing that they should be in the next round. Much better to be one of those who take the comments of the judges calmly and walk away with their dignity intact.
The same could apply to writers – if an agent or publisher rejects you for what seems to be a spurious reason, then whilst it’s a good idea to make sure that they have all the facts, it’s really not wise to start arguing with them. That’s not going to help anyone and they certainly won’t be interested in reading future manuscripts you send their way.
3) Don’t underestimate the importance of personality
One contestant, Shirlena Johnson did a performance of ‘Mercy’ by Duffy on Saturday’s show. Despite it being pretty mental, she got to the second round thanks to bags of personality. “You’re completely crazy. I love you,” said Simon Cowell, very uncharacteristically.
Using the web as a communication tool is a great way to let your personality come through and help you build up an audience. If you are a memorable and noteworthy writer, then people are more likely to be interested in buying your books. It can only take you so far…but it can be a big help!
4) Be prepared
It’s important to have done your homework and be able to offer more then just raw talent. Occassionally on the X factor, a contestant will have planned to sing one song, but one of the judges will ask to hear something different. They need to have a few tricks up their sleeves to make sure that they can deliver the goods. For writers, it’s a very good idea to have done some research into the publishing industry. Whether you are approaching a publishing house or self-publishing, it’s a good idea to know more about the niche you are writing in – who are the popular authors, are you up to date with the latest titles etc. – and have an idea about how you could market the book so you can be an even more valuable asset to the publisher.
5) Aim high, but be realistic
Well, a sense of realism isn’t something that we see a lot of on the X Factor, but you can tell that the contestants that do get through to the final rounds are seriously ambitious and willing to put a heck of a lot of work into making their dream come true. It’s good to aim for the big time. On the other hand, it’s important to keep things in perspective – there are a lot of people competing with you, and it might be that you don’t get the same lucky break as someone else. Don’t let it knock you down… just make sure you keep enjoying what you do.
Thanks to the Smarta blog for their article on how small businesses can learn from the X Factor for the inspiration for this article!