I’d heard from established authors that this happened, but didn’t quite believe it. Dunno why. I know people can be schmucks. Yet in the past few weeks, I’ve been shocked, shocked I tell you, to encounter people who hear about my book and then ask me, point blank, if I’ll write a book for them. Or if I’ll read their partially-written magnum opus. I thought I would get this from friends of the family, or relatives — people who at least know me a little and feel they can presume on the relationship. But no! I’ve been getting it from total strangers.

The conversation generally goes like this:

Nora: Do dee do dee do…

Random Stranger: Hi!

Nora: Hello. Nice to meet you.

RS: Likewise! I hear you’re a writer.

Nora: (Looks around, wondering WTF, is it written on her forehead?) Yes…

RS: That’s amazing. Y’know, I’ve always wanted to be a writer too. I’ve got a great idea, you know — Tell me what you think of this: (launches into spiel)

Nora: (Looks around again, for rescue, in between polite nods and “uh-huh”s.)

RS: So what do you think?

Nora: (Makes some comment to show she was listening.)

RS: That’s great! Y’know, I’d be willing to share that idea with you, if you want to write it. Just be sure to credit me on the cover!

Nora: Well, I’m pretty busy at the moment… and it’s not really my style…

RS: No problem, no problem, just keep it in mind! And if you get some free time, let’s talk more!

Occasionally I try to point out to these Random Strangers that there’s a name for what they’re proposing: ghost writing. And when done by established authors with preexisting contracts, it’s actually a pretty nice deal; the ghost writer gets paid a substantial portion of the advance (or so I’ve heard), the established author gets a book, and everybody’s happy. When done by an unknown author with no contract, and no money, it’s a waste of my time.

They always look surprised when I say this.

A variation on it is that the Random Stranger will have written the first chapter or so of a book, and wants me to read it. At this point I’m more helpful, because a person who’s actually trying to write (as opposed to just trying to find a ghost writer) gets lots more respect from me. I won’t read the chapter — only friends get that from me — but I will attempt to steer that writer toward critiquing resources, like Critters or the OWW, or in-person free workshops like the one at Wiscon and other conventions. If they seem really serious, I’ll tell them about my experience with Viable Paradise, which I highly recommend, or I’ll encourage them to apply to one of the Clarion workshops — the six-week “boot camps” of the SF field.

But back to my rant. Seriously, what is it with people thinking that writers spend all their time mooching ideas from random strangers? Or even wanting to mooch? I bet that if I turned around and asked those people to write my upcoming book — for which there is a contract and money on the table — they’d look at me like I had a third eye.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of people have no real idea what writers do. They think we sit around all day at coffee shops with beanies on our heads, drinking black coffee laced with gin, and ranting about True Art ™. Or something. I don’t know. And apparently in between rants, we hit up random strangers for marketable book ideas.

I’m trying to master my anger at these people so that I can respond politely when they offer me the rare and precious favor of writing their unwritten novels, because of this — it’s not just that they’re self-absorbed and obnoxious, it’s that they’re genuinely ignorant, and I can’t really blame them for the latter. But good grief it’s tough to hold it in. Kinda makes me feel like this guy sometimes. Not that I have a Messiah Complex.

1 Response to “noiwillNOTwriteyourbookscram”

  1. July 17, 2009 at 6:09 am

    It’s just that people think that the idea is the hard part, and the rest is just typing. They don’t understand that ideas are easy (and free), and execution is the part that’s rewarded. SF/F in particular is bad at this, because books are much more often celebrated for their ideas than their execution.

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