It’s Not the Idea

A few years back, I heard some authors complaining about what was apparently a fairly common problem: the fan with an idea. It’s a fabulous, original idea for a novel, you see, and the fan is more than willing to let the author write it for a mere fifty percent of the profits. The authors all laughed knowingly.

Now that I’m on the far side of a few novels, I can see why they laughed. The idea is important, yes, but it’s at most five percent of the work. Far more important is the execution of that idea, namely, the long drawn-out process of actually writing the book, structuring the tale, fine-tuning the language, and finding that snappy opening that draws in the reader. Plus, we’re mostly just retelling the same basic struggles that have been around since the Greeks.

One guy told us about how he had actually followed the fan up to his hotel room, since he was at least a friend of a friend, so that the fan could share this amazing idea in private, far away from any nefarious eavesdroppers. And the super amazing idea? Well, you see… this guy goes back in time and kills his father before he was even conceived. Again, a knowing laugh went around the circle.

From there, the authors segued off to talk about the fastest novel they’d ever written, including their internal edits. Times ranged from three to eleven months, but one author told us about a guy he knew who was popping out a new book every 3-4 weeks, month after month, year after year. He did it all under multiple pen names and in different genres. None of the novels were exactly Shakespeare, but they were all reasonable and sold moderately well.

Somewhat jealous, the other authors shook their heads at this prodigious productivity, making their singular fever-fast novels pale by comparison. “Damn,” one of them complained, “what do you even say to a guy like that?”

From the audience, I quipped, “Well, you see, I’ve got this idea, and for only half the profits…”