I’ve had a couple of encounters/conversations recently that I wanted to share, because they let me emphasize something important. In one conversation, a writer wanted me to discuss which of her ideas for future stories was the most marketable, so she could concentrate on those and not on ideas that wouldn’t sell. In another, a person tried to explain to me that publishing was dominated by big names because they got to the best, most original ideas before anyone else.
Now, this last one is flat-out wrong for a variety of reasons — the big-name authors are big because of name recognition, branding, and sheer reliability in writing on a regular schedule the kinds of books that people want to read. As to the previous conversation, I responded that she would do better not to worry about the ideas and spend her time actually writing, and improving her writing, so that her stories are solid no matter what the ideas are. You can have the best idea in the world, but if the story as a whole doesn’t convey the idea in an interesting and engaging manner, it still isn’t going to sell.
Publishers buy stories, not ideas. They buy completed manuscripts (at least they do from previously unpublished writers). Same thing with copyright: you can’t copyright ideas. You copyright completed literary, artistic works. It’s all in the execution.
Good ideas and lots of them are definitely important. Pushing the envelope, putting new twists on old tropes, and creating that character or plot twist that no one’s ever seen before, are definitely things I strive for. They’ll make your writing more publishable, definitely.
But unless you can back it up with a good strong manuscript that someone actually wants to read, those great ideas won’t do you any good. This is why putting in the time, going through all that effort of sitting at your keyboard day after day, getting feedback, and learning to revise, is so very important, because that’s what gives you the tools to be able to do justice to your brilliant ideas.
Nothing can substitute just doing the work.