Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Parade Passes by Again

"Hello Mr. Perry, my name is (redacted). I'm a person with an idea and I don't trust just anybody with this idea. It's an idea for a new book. In the Aliens Series and maybe even crossing it over to AVP series. I have only a few pages actually written out. I haven't had much time to finish it because of my work and the kids as well. I'm also trying to become a school teacher or the coach. Please respond back. I love your work and I think if you and me get together on this Idea it will kill to be in it.

Respectfully and Thankfully yours,

Dear Red --

I appreciate your enthusiasm, but there are some kinda harsh realities I have to point out regarding this kind of shared-universe project. There are rules about how they get done.

First, and most importantly, nobody is buying Aliens or AvP novels right now, the market is closed. It might open up again, but as far as I know, it isn't open now, so even if you had a finished book, you couldn't sell it.

Second, and I know this sounds off-putting, but the idea is not really that important in this kind of book, it's the execution that matters. (New writers think the idea is primary, I used to think so, too, but I found out that ideas are cheap; every writer I know has a drawer full of them, and no matter how brilliant and original they might seem, somebody has almost certainly duplicated or actually done them. Not much under the sun.)

More than a few times, I've had folks come up to me at a party and make a similar offer: "I have this great idea for a novel; tell you what, I'll give it to you, you write it, and we'll split the money."

That's not a good deal for me, nor for most professional writers. The real work is in the writing, not the idea. I can come up with half a dozen pretty good ideas for a book in five or ten minutes. Writing them takes a lot more effort.

Third, I've got a list of my own projects lined up, and if I did feel like getting into a collaboration -- which, at the moment, I don't -- there are several writers whose skills I know and trust that I could work with.

If you want to write, then that's what you have to do, write. If you have other stuff that takes precedence, I understand, but if writing isn't near the top of the list, you won't get it done.

Material of your own is better, and you need to get something finished you can show around. The way you get hired to work in a shared universe is to develop a track record, so the folks doing the hiring know you have the chops to pull it off. It's a buyer's market, they can pick and choose from a bunch of professionals who'd love to play in those arenas. Without something professional to show them, you really have no chance to get asked in.

Sorry to put it so bluntly, but that's how it is.


jks9199 said...

Y'know... I kind of understand where these yahoos come from. I've got some ideas I'd love to see in a book, but I don't seem to have the talent to write. Were I to give them to you or any other writer -- my "pay" would be seeing my idea in print. But -- I've paid attention. It ain't too often you guys want my ideas! (It's neat every once in a while when I see one of them end up anyway... synergism or whatever you want to call it.)

But I don't go to a plumber and say "fix my house, and we'll split the price." (I might offer to be the laborer... to save a few bucks.) You're a PROFESSIONAL WRITER. You make your living putting words on paper. Some advice is one thing... But expecting you to happily jump into my idea? Not very realistic... and very presumptuous!

Very diplomatic response... Next time -- tell the guy to talk to Harlan Ellison!

Some guy said...

The generation of ideas probably seem natural and easy to writers - probably an important skill that allows them to BE writers. But as someone who thinks he could actually write, if his idea of a sophisticated plot idea weren't "boy meets girl - on bus!", I look at it as a fairly impressive ability.

(Oh, and stay tuned for my exciting sequel: "Boy meets girl - at bus STATION!")

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I have more sympathy for people like this nowadays, and I think it's great that you're still so patient with them, Steve - even after what must be the 300th time this has happened. I especially love the part about "I don't trust just anybody with this idea." It's always that little confidence build, isn't it? "This is such a great idea, I have to play it close to the vest."

People don't realize that they're proposing things in the same vein as approaching a physicist and saying "I have a great idea for a machine that goes 1.5 times the speed of light. You develop it and we'll split the proceeds!"

Drawing off jks9199's comment for a sec, it is indeed presumptuous to assume that someone who writes for a living will draft, develop and invest time in bringing someone's "Idea" into a completed novel. And even if they did, a 50-50 split is nowhere NEAR a fair deal. More like 99 - 1. Guess who gets one.

Because all the grunt work is being done by the author.

Someone asked me about the articles and stories I publish on my blog once - Aren't I afraid people will rip them off, use them for themselves?

Well,for one thing, that's happened already - lots of times. But since I own the material on Thick as Thieves, they can't get far with it, not for profit, anyway.

But the labor bit is the most important, in my opinion. A story about a vampire who falls in love with a mortal, and develops a love triangle with a werewolf? Awesome idea! Now, all you have to do is develop the characters throughout four novels, put 3 new plot twists and juggle about 10 different relationships in each volume, sell the concept to an editor, have them sell it to a publisher, sign a contract for a three-picture deal and rake in the cash!

Shit, I could post every outline to all the things I have in my writing hard drive online right now, and it STILL wouldn't be enough to steal.

And those who have enough talent to steal them & change them enough to cover their tracks don't need to.

They have their own ideas they're working on.

Jonty said...

My wife is constantly reading books on the subject of "how to write." As far as I can tell, none of them even mention the basic idea that in order to become a good writer you have to (drum roll) spend a lot of time writing.

Steve Perry said...

Writing is one of those hands-on things that begins and ends with ass-in-chair. The only way to learn it is the same way you learn how to swim -- you can study out the wazoo, go to conferences, have the latest hard-and software, but if you don't sit and do it, you aren't a writer.

You're a writer if you write, period. How successful you are, how much money you make, those are entirely different things.

Writers write. Wanna-be writers talk about writing.

heina said...

There's a phrase used in guitar practice that I picked up and have been using a lot that refers to the necessary daily time spent practicing scales and developing finger speed and dexterity.

"Eating your vegetables"

A little off topic, but appropriate here.

Justin said...

I'm hungry. I have a good idea for a sandwich. I'll tell you what I want, you make it, and we'll cut it down the middle. Sound fair?

J.D. Ray said...

With apologies to Bogie Freedom, I'm a science fiction writer -- when I'm not doing other things. :^)

As a guy who likes to write, and thinks he has some reasonable talent at it*, I would find it an amazing coup to be able to collaborate on a story with someone who is an experienced writer. Hell, I'd pay for the experience if I thought something like that would work out. But I realize the folly of anything like that. So I continue to pick at writing. One day I'll finish something (revised four times) an maybe get it published, at which point I will have graduated to "author" from "writer." Until then, I read a lot, particularly blogs of sci-fi authors I enjoy. Sometimes, when I pay attention, I learn things... ;^)

* By which I mean I can string sentences together in a reasonable fashion. Lots of people can do this if they put their mind to it.

J.D. Ray said...

"One day I'll finish something (revised four times) and maybe get it published..."

The fates do not smile on me today.