The Value of an Idea, Part 1

Dilbert comic, by Scott Adams. November 13, 2016.
Dilbert comic, by Scott Adams. November 13, 2016.


People value ideas more than a magpie values a shiny bit of broken chain.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had well meaning people discover that I write and immediately start in on how they have this really great idea for a book, but they can’t write. They inevitably suggest that I could write the book and they’d generously give me a cut of the money the book made after publishing. Obviously, they get most of the royalties because it was their idea and all I did was write it. It’s even better when the conversation includes how they’ve never shared this idea and they are doing me a great honor by trusting me with this amazing information.

I’m not alone, either. This topic comes up every so often on writing forums (Some of them referencing an old Craig’s List ad where the only payment offered was the actual writer being able to have their name on the cover…also). I’ve even seen similar issues addressed in regards to the music industry and even inventing (“I have an idea for an invention, you do all the work and maybe you’ll get some money later).

It’s clear that the majority of people don’t understand the inherent value of an idea. We have this strange belief that ideas are hard to come by, rare, and therefore valuable. This belief persists even in the face of the numerous online plot generators, hundreds of static writing prompt lists, and tons story prompt images available for free online. Seriously. Use the search engine of your choice (or even hit up Pinterest) and search for “plot generator,” “writing prompt,” or “story ideas,” and you’ll be drowning in ideas.

Ideas are not the “hard part.”

What do you do the next time someone tells you that they have this “great idea” and that they are willing to let you do the “easy part” of writing the book in exchange for a sliver of the profit?

There are a lot of snarky and outright rude suggestions that seem cathartic at first blush (like pointing out how trite the idea is, or who already wrote it).

I think one of my favorites was to take the suggestion at face value. There are people that make a living writing other people’s books. They’re called ghostwriters (not to be confused with Ghostwriter or Ghost Rider).

“I have this great idea. If you write it you can have a cut of the royalties!”

“You want me to be your ghostwriter? That’s great! I’ll be a beginning ghostwriter, so going rate should be about $5,000. You don’t have to pay it all up front. The standard contract is half in advance and half when I complete the book. It’ll be up to you to get it published, though.”


That would be fun…

But there was another idea I saw proposed on a forum: I can’t remember who said it, or what forum, but it wasn’t me (my ideas would tend to be snarky). If someone is asking this question, maybe what they mean is “I have an idea but I don’t know where to start.”

You could try to empower the asker to write their own idea. Point them to the multitude of author blogs (such as those under “Writer Resources” in the side bar) on writing craft, suggest to them (or lend them) the books on writing craft that you’ve used, do whatever needs to be done to get them started on their way.

Either they’ll stop asking you to write their book or, better, they’ll take it to heart and write their own book. …And no one’s feelings are hurt by Jessica’s snarky response.



As an academic librarian, I must point out that plagiarism is bad. Plagiarism is the kind of thing that will ruin your career. Forever. But writing a novel with a romance with a telepath, or bonding with talking horses, or encountering furry dragons in your story is not plagiarism. 


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