When you do a speaking event, there are questions you know you’re going to be asked. Three of the most popular asked by aspiring writers (and people who think they might like to give it a go) include:
- Where do you get your ideas?
- I want to query agents and publishers, but how do I protect myself so they don’t steal my ideas?
- What do I do if I get a publisher, but they want me to make changes? After all, they’re my ideas.
3. What do I do if I get a publisher, but they want me to make changes? After all, they’re my ideas.
Here’s what you do: Make changes.
I suspect that aspiring writers think the process of getting “notes” from an agent or editor goes something like this:
Not so. Not in the publishing world. If you want that kind of helpful feedback, you have to work in film or television. In my experience, the notes you get from an agent and/or editor are not an attempt to make you write a different book, but simply to make the book you’ve written better. These people are expert readers, and they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you. So listen to them. You don’t have to make changes in response to all of their suggestions, but you should probably do so for most of them. Get your ego out of the game.
2. I want to query agents and publishers, but how do I protect myself so they don’t steal my ideas?
I’ve got some very bad news for you: Your ideas suck, and nobody wants to steal them. Not just your ideas - mine too. Everybody’s ideas suck. Agents and editors are not looking for ideas; they’re looking for execution. And nobody can steal your execution, your distinctive voice.
Here’s a little film about Pepe. Poor Pepe didn’t have any big ideas of his own, so he decided to steal some. But they don’t work on his head.
So stop worrying and send out your damn queries.
1. Where do you get your ideas?
I honestly haven't got a clue. I always resort to the standard glib answer that writers give ("I get my ideas in the Ideas isle at K-Mart.") but I really don't know how to articulate where my ideas come from. Yeah, it's easy enough to talk about reading good fiction voraciously and reading newspapers and asking "what if..." questions all the time. But all of this seems inadequate to explain the strange process by which ideas form.
So my question to you is, Where do you get your ideas?