General Question

Mtl_zack's avatar

Can I sell an idea for a novel?

Asked by Mtl_zack (6759points) January 13th, 2009

I’m not a very good writer and I don’t have much patience for writing a novel. However, I have amazing ideas for potential great reads. Is there a way that I can make a detailed outline, and then sell it to a publishing company? Would I get any credit?

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15 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

No. Ideas are a dime a dozen; finished books are difficult.

trumi's avatar

You could pitch the idea to a publisher and, if they like it, hire a cowriter to assist you with it.

Grisson's avatar

Either way I doubt you can make money on it without expending some effort in creating the book.

Mtl_zack's avatar

What about having someone I know write it. Like I give him/her the ideas and he writes it. Then we pitch it together. It would be a team effort, the credit would be split, but obvioulsy not the money. He/she would get more.

Grisson's avatar

If you can find someone who would make such a deal, then go for it.

augustlan's avatar

James Patterson does this all the damn time, but he is already a best-selling author and can get away with it. Any book written by Patterson and <insert author here> is Patterson’s idea and the other author’s writing. (Which is why I generally don’t like those books nearly as much as I enjoyed Patterson on his own.) I don’t know if Patterson is involved in editing or helping the author along the way.

arnbev959's avatar

It’s very, very unlikely that you’ll make any money trying to sell an idea for a novel.

Your second idea sounds pretty good.
I’ve tried writing with other people before, and so far it hasn’t ever produced a finished work, but it hasn’t been totally unsuccessful either. It’s fun writing (or making any kind of creative attempt) with another person.

cwilbur's avatar

Publishers get so many books submitted to them that they have to consider the weight of paper and the structural integrity of floors when they lease office space.

They get so many good books that they turn away many high-quality publishable books. When you hear about Watership Down or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone being turned down umpty-seven times, that is likely to have more to do with the publisher thinking “this is a good book, but we’re already scheduled for the next 2 years and I don’t think we can market this so we can make a profit on it.”

And people write these books completely speculatively, hoping that the editor will like the book enough to publish it.

In such an ecosystem, why do you think the publisher would pay you money for an idea and then turn around and hire a ghostwriter when they can pay an author for a finished book?

(If you were famous and had a name like William Shatner or Tom Clancy that would help to sell books, sure. But you aren’t and you don’t.)

But hey, if you can find a competent author who doesn’t have any ideas, and can work out the details, go for it.

Jack79's avatar

So basically what you need is a person to write it. So, instead of looking for publishers, look for writers. You might not even get paid (or perhaps get something like 10% of what he gets if he’s feeling generous), but you might get credited. And if the novel is a huge success, then who knows? You just might be in business :)

DrBill's avatar

If you can pitch the idea in 5 minutes, There was a war in space a long time ago just give it to someone to develop.

If your idea needs at least 30 minutes There was a Jedi named Luke Skywalker who…. consider a ghost writer

You can get credit for your idea, if you work it out with the writer beforehand.

Ria777's avatar

to evaluate the quality of the idea, you would have to tell the other writer, which would defeat the whole purpose, from your point of view.

mrjadkins's avatar

Remember the show “Project Greenlight” years ago on Bravo? I submitted a plot-idea to them when they were just searching for the first season concept. It was a fiction novel idea I had at the time. It didn’t make the show but someone from a division of Mirimax contacted me about optioning it for a future idea. I only had a one-page summary of the plot. No details. No character development. Just a timeline summary of the entire idea.

I didn’t sell them the idea because I thought I would write the novel. The person asked me if I had a publication agent or any interest in the idea and I did not. They told me I should consider it and consider their offer. I never did. I was quite sure I would write the novel.

Long story short: nothing was ever put together. I didn’t ever write it. I still have the idea and think of it occasionally. I thought about piecing it all together and putting it on Lulu or some novel publication site but still have not.

I think I missed my moment. But I still have the idea and it is still a fresh one that hasn’t been produced into a crappy film or book.

If you have the idea, start writing it out. Author it. Do the work to get it published. It isn’t easy. Don’t put your career or retirement on the idea. Just do it and send it off and hope for the best.

I plan to put mine together….if I can just get a few weeks off…..

Ria777's avatar

@mrjardkins,for the second time in less than a week (though I said it to a different person before) you don’t have to say fiction novel. you just say novel. you would say nonfiction novel, though, in the event that you had written one.

Jeruba's avatar

I am trying to imagine somebody’s approaching a music publisher and saying “Listen—I have an idea for a symphony. Here’s my theme” [whistles]. “Would you like to pay me for this, and then you go find a composer to write it?”

Many books do have coauthors. How they work out their shares of labor and compensation is between them. However, I think most writers would rather put their efforts into developing their own ideas than someone else’s. Slogging through a book is a long, hard, painful task, and a storyline or character profile is barely even a beginning. You really have to have a passion for it, or you won’t make it through. Other people’s ideas are unlikely to drive you as if they were your own.

One way to test your idea is to go to a writer’s conference—you can pay a low rate just for a day—and attend a “pitch to a pro” session. Try out your idea for 5 minutes one on one with an agent and see if there’s any interest. That would be a lot cheaper than hiring a ghostwriter.

In reality there are so many completed books, even good, well-written books, that can’t find a home with a publisher, that I would not hold out much hope for a book that doesn’t exist. When the agent says “Sounds great—send me the whole manuscript,” the right answer is not “It isn’t written yet.”

mrjadkins's avatar

@Ria777 – Thanks for the clarification!

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