May 5th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
What’s Your Back-up Idea?

I had just sat down to write my weekly Genreality post yesterday afternoon when I was interrupted by a phone call.  It was my agent, with what I considered to be good and bad news.

The bad news – the editor from a major US publishing house who had been reading my latest novel, EYES TO SEE, over the weekend had called to say that she was going to pass.  This, of course, was disappointing to me.  EYES had already sold to the overseas market and I had recently received word that it was going to be used to launch a brand new genre imprint for my publisher there, so I had been hoping that this would be the novel to help me break into this particular publisher here in the US.  No dice, unfortunately.

But there was more to the situation, I learned quickly, as my agent went on talking.  Apparently the editor had been quite happy with the quality of the work itself.  It was just that this particular book (and the two others that make up the trilogy) dealt with a subject that the publisher already has covered by another writer’s work and they didn’t want to double up, so to speak.  “What other series proposals could I send them?”  the editor wanted to know.

That was the good news – the door was still open if I had something to send them.

Which brings me to the point of my post.

Always be ready with a back-up idea.  It doesn’t matter if you are pitching a new novel, pitching a new series, pitching a new feature film idea -whatever.  If you’ve been successful enough to get yourself in front of the right individual with the power to bring your career to the next level, be they an editor, an agent, or a producer, then have a backup plan ready to go in case they don’t like your first idea.  Being caught flat-footed without one can leave a powerful impression – just not the type of impression you really want to make.

In my case, I usually have between two and four proposals in various stages sitting around on my hard drive.  These might be ideas that I’ve put together but haven’t been able to sell before or new concepts that haven’t even seen the light of day yet.  In either case, I know I can produce something when requested to and yesterday was no different.

Within an hour of my agent’s request, I had proposals for two news series in his hands ready to go back to the editor in question, illustrating both my desire to work with her and my ability to produce new content on demand.  I don’t know yet whether either of those proposals will prove to be fruitful, but I’ve done what I could to make the best use of the opportunity presented to me by furthering the conversation and giving the editor one more reason to work with me.

So for those of you getting ready to pitch something to someone who’s ready to listen, I just have one question for you.  What’s your backup idea?

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12 comments to “What’s Your Back-up Idea?”

  1. jim duncan
     · May 5th, 2009 at 5:28 pm · Link

    I’m fortunate enough to have several things sitting on my hard drive as well. Two novels I started at one point and then got stuck, sidetracked, or whatever and moved to something else in the meantime. But, they’re there and will likely be something I go back to down the road.

  2. Alison Kent
     · May 5th, 2009 at 6:37 pm · Link

    Super advice, Joe. Something that I haven’t heeded enough.

  3. scott neumyer
     · May 5th, 2009 at 7:11 pm · Link

    My problem is that I have TOO many ideas ready to go and I need to focus on the one I’m working on and get that done before I can start the others. That drives me nutty.

    When I first read your subject line, I really thought you meant about backing up files and I was all ready to provide a treatise on my neurotic backup system involving two external hard drives and two online backup solutions.

  4. Joe Nassise
     · May 5th, 2009 at 7:55 pm · Link

    Jim – always good to hold on to those half-finished projects. You never know when inspiration will strike and you’ll be able to get them back on track again.

  5. Joe Nassise
     · May 5th, 2009 at 7:56 pm · Link

    Thanks Alison. Given your track record, I’m sure you’re heeding things just fine

  6. Joe Nassise
     · May 5th, 2009 at 7:56 pm · Link

    Scott – I thought about doing a post about actual backups, but decided to hold off until I could do a really good one about Dropbox (which is in the works, by the way).

  7. Margaret
     · May 5th, 2009 at 8:10 pm · Link

    Thanks for this. I happen to have a backlog of first drafts that need an edit pass or two so I’m safe on the backup concept, but they fall across too many genres. It’s a good point to have something along a similar line.

  8. Lynn
     · May 5th, 2009 at 9:04 pm · Link

    I keep an inventory of backup ideas, dating back about twenty years. The Darkyn series was originally and resoundingly rejected by everyone who read it in 1998 (one editor advised me that I’d never sell it); when an opportunity came along in 2004 I repitched it and at one point had three editors squabbling over who should get to publish it. :)

  9. Linda Poitevin
     · May 6th, 2009 at 5:22 am · Link

    Excellent point! I do have one back-up idea that could be pulled together in a pinch, but I suspect it would be a good thing to at least think about it in advance… :)

  10. Vivi Anna
     · May 6th, 2009 at 3:28 pm · Link

    Great post. And something I have been pondering on lately. I always have backup ideas in varying states ready to go if needed. I think its very important for a writer to be prepared, not just for this one book they are shopping but for five years down the road.

  11. Carrie Vaughn
     · May 6th, 2009 at 3:38 pm · Link

    My version of this is “always be working on the next thing.” I’ve talked to too many new writers who are so focused on selling the one project they’re not thinking ahead to writing the next.

  12. Delta Dupree
     · May 7th, 2009 at 10:53 am · Link

    Great topic. I keep a log. Some stories are drafted, some it’s only a synopsis, others…hints, maybe 5-10 written pages. The point is, I have the ideas written down. Thank God, because the older I get, the less I remember.

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