Tuesday, April 7, 2009

One Dozen Ideas, With a Vase, Please

Rachelle Gardner says that book ideas are a dime a dozen and that where most book proposals fall apart is in execution. If I were a literary agent, as she is, and I had thousands of queries in my inbox each month, I would probably agree. I’m not. I’m a writer and my perspective is different. Book ideas may be a dime a dozen, but good book ideas are priceless. The way I see it, if I write a book with a good premise, but poor execution, I can fix it. It may be hard work, but I can fix it. If I write a book with a poor premise and great execution, there’s no one who can fix it.

From an agent’s/publisher’s perspective, there’s an over abundance of ideas. From a writer’s perspective, good ideas are few and far between. One aspiring writer commented the other day that the hardest thing for her is knowing what to write. She continued along the lines of “tell me what you want me to write and I’ll write it.” I’m sure she would gladly give someone a dime for a dozen ideas, but writers keep their good ideas close to the vest. We’ve got to. A good idea is the framework for a good book.

Rachelle mentioned two ideas, “A book about how to have a satisfying marriage,” and “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?” She yawned at the first and called the second fresh. I wouldn’t call either of them fresh. There are plenty of books on the topic, but the second is certainly more intriguing than the first. Why? Because the second tells us what we can expect. With the first, for all we know, the author might think growing watermelons in the bathtub is the way to a satisfying marriage. With the second, we see that the author is claiming that God intends for marriage to produce a better relationship with him. We expect the author will provide evidence to support that claim and show couples how they can put that to use.

When we sit down to write, there’s something about the idea that compels us to write. That’s what we need to talk about when we talk about our idea. The last manuscript I finished started with an episode of Murder She Wrote. A woman had a son, only it turns out that he isn’t her son, but the son of a friend who had died. I began to wonder. What if a woman raised the child of a friend as her own, knowing she had no right to keep her? What if the woman reached a point where she realizes that the girl’s family can take better care of her? She doesn’t want to give her up, but wants the best for the girl. How is the girl’s family going to react when a homeless con-artist shows up on their doorstep claiming the girl is part of their family? To me, that’s a compelling idea. If I had seen a book written with that story idea, I would have purchased the book, without knowing the name of the author and without cracking the spine. If we can take that special part of what makes a book idea so compelling that we would spend days writing the book and transplant that vision into the minds of others, good things will happen.