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An Unsolicited Great Idea for Your Next Book

17 November 2017

From The New Yorker:

“You’re a writer?” the man said. “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book.”

Gompers tried to stay calm. He had become a writer for the same reason anybody did: he was incapable of coming up with ideas of his own, and he longed for a lifetime of being given them at cocktail parties. But he had been down this road before. Somebody would offer him an amazing, can’t-fail idea for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to be made into a hit movie, and then they would demand millions of dollars in payment.

This was fair enough, but Gompers simply didn’t have the money. How could he, a mere writer, earn any money before he had an idea given to him by a total stranger? And without any money, how could he pay the millions of dollars the idea was inevitably worth? It was, in the phrase coined by Joseph Heller’s chiropractor’s cousin, a total “Catch-22.”

So Gompers tried to play it cool. “A great idea?” he said, casually. “And what would you want in return?”

“You write the book, and then I take half the profits,” the man answered.

Gompers nearly dropped his drink. The other man was going to do the heavy lifting of coming up with a one- or two-sentence logline, and all Gompers had to do was expand it into a novel-length story featuring believable characters and elegant prose—and, in exchange, the man wanted only half the profits?

There had to be a catch. Maybe the idea _wasn’t _for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to become a hit movie. Maybe it only had a seventy-five-per-cent chance of becoming a best-seller, and then the film version would earn a few Oscars in technical categories but never really take off. Still, if he turned it down and the man later ended up at a cocktail party with John Grisham or Thomas Pynchon, Gompers would never forgive himself.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Anne for the tip.

Books in General, Copyright/Intellectual Property

17 Comments to “An Unsolicited Great Idea for Your Next Book”

  1. The OP is an amusing piece, plus it included a term new to me, “logline”.

  2. No, I’ll give you a great idea, you write it, and then I’ll take half of your income.

    – Isaac Asimov


  3. Haha, this is so true. It boggles the mind that there are so many people who think this sort of behavior is appropriate that pretty much all writers (published or unpublished) can relate to this. People are ridiculous.

  4. This is why my agent tells people she’s a kindergarten teacher, because they never want to send their kids to her for an opinion. The irony in this OP is delicious.

  5. At times when I tell the plot of the current book I’m writing people add to it or want to tell me about a better idea. That’s when I have to thank them and stop them for giving me their best idea. Ever. I end up saying “Your idea is your idea and you must put it to good use to profit from it.”
    It could be the best idea, and later on if I subconsciously use it, then what? The originator may or may not know about what he/she gave me. But I do. Originality is very important to me, and that’s why I do not want to hear other peoples mind blowing idea.

    • You were born too late.

      From about 1880 to about 1940 all the great, creative, imaginative, never before told stories were written. Even HG Wells wrote stories that were creative, imaginative, and have never been matched since. Kids like Asimov and Heinlein grew up reading those stories and riffing off them. The writers that followed them, riffed off of those riffs, until everything collapsed in the 90s.

      What we have to work with now is a vast language of Imagination to build stories from. There is nothing new. People don’t want to read new. They want their beloved stories retold again and again, with different players telling the old familiar tales.

      We saw that in the New Wave SF when writers tried for “new and unique” only to produce incoherent babble, in some language that we still do not understand.

      Take the language of Imagination, and run. Don’t stop, run.

      • About two thousand years ago someone famous said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It was true then and it was true in the 1880’s. Voice, is all we authors can bring to the table that is unique.

  6. When people start to tell me their ideas, I say that my lawyer has strongly advised me against listening because of potential liability.

    That usually works.

  7. Smart Debut Author

    This happens to me so often, I’ve stopped being polite about it.

    I usually interrupt with something like:

    “You’re a doctor (or lawyer or whatever), right? Forget your book idea; I have an even better suggestion that we can go 50/50 on. Here it is: you keep doing your day job and pay me 50% for that advice.”

    • I’ve had two doctors do this to me. What is it about being a doctor makes them think they’re qualified to be a writer?

      • I blame Michael Crichton.

        • I had a teacher who was into Robin Cook. I think Tess Gerritsen is a doctor, too.

          I like it when people have talents that go in more than one direction. If physicists can write novels, why not doctors? Snark aside, the doctor might be good to cultivate as someone who can vet the feasibility of a plot or plot twist. Make them work for you 🙂

  8. I’ve had this a few times, but it’s always been “Oh, you’re a writer? I’ve had a very interesting life; you should write my life story.”

    I always send them the link to the Writer’s Union of Canada’s (TWUC) ghost-writing page, which recommends payment of a minimum fee of $40,000 to any ghost-writer.

    That always takes care of it. That one page on their website is the best thing TWUC has ever done for me as a writer!

  9. Ricard Brautigan:

    It was all to be done in thirds. I was to get 1/3 for doing the typing, and she was to get 1/3 for doing the editing, and he was to get 1/3 for writing the novel. We were going to divide the royalties three ways. We all shook hands on the deal, each knowing what we were supposed to do, the path before us, the gate at the end.

    From 1/3 1/3 1/3

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