The So-What Factor

I was reading through blogs this morning and came across the post What Do Agents Do? In this post The Mixed-Up Files chats with  Jennifer Rofé, agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. I was struck by Jen’s eloquent description of the So-What Factor. Because I thought it was so wonderful and all writers need to know this infomation I pressed it to share with you.

You often say that you look for the “So-What? Factor” in manuscripts. Can you explain?

For me, the “So-What? Factor” is that element of why a story matters, why I care about a character and his journey, what’s at stake, and what makes a story stand apart from others. The example I often use when describing the “So-What? Factor” is my personal experience with the well-received middle grade The Year the Swallows Came Early (HarperCollins 2009) by my client Kathryn Fitzmaurice. The first draft I read of this book told the story of eleven-year-old Groovy who had a large sum of money stolen from her. But when it came to this crucial plot point, I was left asking, “So what?” Beyond the disappointment of the circumstances, why did I care? There had to be a greater purpose for that money and now Groovy’s dreams are dashed; she must figure out how to recover and still make her dream possible. What that money was meant for, how Groovy copes with betrayal, and how she salvages her dream became part of the “So-What? Factor.”

I write down all my ideas. However, I know that not all my ideas are worthy of being expanded into a novel. After researching the market and I’ve decided that my idea can blossom into something I then delve into the So-What Factor. I need to know why readers (agents are readers too) would care about my characters and my story.

I start by writing my elevator pitch. This is where I sum up the premise of my book in one engaging sentence.

Then I list the themes in my book. A book doesn’t need more than one theme but mine always have several. I’ve found that the themes help me spin/market the story in a query. Some agents/publishers say they are looking for a novel that deals with death and if one of my themes is death then I know to include that in my pitch.

After I’ve written down this information I try to write the book blurb. This is what would be printed on the back of the published novel. I know some people instead choose to write their query letter but I can’t write my query until the novel is finished. With the general ideas of the novel in mind, and the So-What Factor I write the blurb. This serves as a base point to writing my novel. It helps me stay focused. I am currently writing my first middle grade novel – my ghost story. The characters kept talking to me so I had to write it.

I went through this process and now feel ready to go even though I do not have a detailed outline. I know that the So-What Factor will keep readers engaged.

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  1. I like it: Inspiration, Research, (or, the reverse of those) then elevator pitch, and Blurb.

    Great way to get focused!!

  2. I only heard of the “So What Factor” recently and am definately going to apply it to my writing. If I were to apply it to my poems, however, very few would ever make it to a published post! lol 😉

    Have a great week! xx

  3. Hayley, I do the exact same thing! I write a blurb first–almost a query letter, but waaaay less polished. It’s just to help me define the goals of the story and the “so what”–and then to keep me focused so I don’t drift.

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