Stolen "Ideas"

Neil Gaiman talks a lot about ideas in the linked post.

I chuckled a little when I read it.

Back in late 1990, early 1991, I write a story about a dragon that played chess. The “voice” I heard in my head for that dragon was Sean Connery.

In 1996, “Dragonheart” came out with, you guessed it, Connery doing the voice of the dragon.

Do I squawk that my “idea was stolen”.

No. The first reason being that the likelihood that anyone connected with Hollywood in any way read that short story in the appropriate time frame is slim to none. (I don’t know when development on the film started, but I’d bet it was before ’94 and I didn’t have it on the Internet then).

The second reason is the entire concept of an “idea” being stolen is mostly whiny hogwash. You can plagiarize, but stealing an idea is harder than you think.

I say this as someone who has seen sites put up that follow formats of sites I’ve written. I say this as someone who has seen her own turn of phrase used to convey concepts in alternative lifestyle communities. I could scream “stealing” or “copying”, but that would be dumb. No-one in the world can steal how I write an article without actual plagiarism.

The reality is that writers are unique. It’s not that we’re telling stories, it’s how we tell them. There’s no such thing as a truly original plot. The very best stories are not popular because their plots or their characters are particularly original. It’s that they’re told in an engaging way. It’s that what the author has to say and how she says it strikes a chord.

That Damn Asperger's Meme

There’s a meme running around about how “neurotypical v. asperger’s syndrome” you might be.

It drives me up a motherfucking wall. I know it looks like I’m holding back and all, but please understand that my sweet smile and gentle speech covers a boiling, seething rage at this one.


Autism spectrum illnesses are complex, involved, multi-layered and not completely understood. I know a lot of people want to lay a certain level of social cluelessness at the feet of a neurological issue, but it’s a lot more complex than that. A self-diagnosis won’t work.

Autism, while on the rise1, is rare. It is a spectrum disorder that is amazingly complex and difficult to diagnose except in the most extreme and obvious of cases, but even then, don’t be too sure. There are other issues that you have to rule out, first.

Asperger’s is also a very specific diagnosis within the range of autism spectrum disorders. It is not a synonym for, “Your kid might be a high-functioning autistic.”2 If you have a preschool teacher tell you that your kid has Asperger’s, for instance, find an expert in these disorders. I promise you that unless that person did more than take a semester’s worth of abnormal childhood development courses, or has worked for many, many years with a large range of children with these issues, he doesn’t know. A quick way to stop punch that sort of nonsense is to demand that they list the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s according to the DSM-IV. If they cannot do that, they’re not qualified to give an opinion. Get an expert.

If you suspect you might have Asperger’s, and you think a diagnosis and training in coping would be useful to you, find more than one expert. Explain your problems. Get multiple opinions. Yes, this is difficult and will be insanely expensive. Unless you’re experiencing serious quality of life issues, it might not be profitable to bother. I can’t choose for someone else’s life. Only you can decide that one.

But by whatever you hold holy, don’t judge it from a damn internet meme!

1It is also on the rise because the diagnostic criteria have changed in the last fifteen years or so!
2For instance, if there is a speech delay issue, and you’re told your kid has Asperger’s, you can chuck that opinion in the trash. One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s and one that makes it tragically difficult to diagnose early, is that the kid is hyperverbal.

Another Rejection

According to Yet Another Rejection Letter, the premise of my novel is “intriguing” but not right for an agent I was rather hoping would want to represent me. Did my homework on her and she’s got some good authors and herself has a good rep and does represent this particular genre. The letter also said that she (the agent’s assistant who wrote the letter) encouraged me to continue submitting my query to other agents. Very kind and encouraging.

Yep, another personal rather than form rejection slip. At least, I think it was…

I suppose if my next one is a critique, I should celebrate and then get to work revising the novel. I do see a trend in the personal comments already, so that’s a good sign.

I know they say when you start getting personal letters rather than forms it’s a good sign, but you know, that advice was written back before word processors. I have to wonder if that’s quite the same now, as you can write a perfectly original-looking “Fill in the Blank” template.

Being a Reject

Because rejections slips are on my mind, I googled “rejection slips”. Yeah, I know, goofy.

They’re agony for a lot of writers, especially ones who write mostly for the love of their stories and characters and are not looking at writing with an eye to business.

First off, I want this really clear: I consider that sort of writing a totally valid form of art. I eyeroll people who are “writing a book” because they usually say it to try to impress. I can tell the difference between that and, “I’ve got this story I’m writing that I love.” There is a big difference.

But, back to rejection slips.

Why, why, why, is this a huge deal to the person who wants to go pro?

If you wanna go pro, you’re basically saying, “I’m an entrepreneur and my product is my words.”

If you’re going to be in sales, which as a writer who wants to be paid, by God you are, you need to learn some facts about selling:

  • Sales is a numbers game. Yes, yes, yes, you have to be an artist to write good fiction. But when the book is done as best as it can be without the editor’s input, you have to take off your artist hat, and put on your salesman’s hat.
  • A direct mailout that advertises a niche service that gets four “yeses” to ninety-six “nos” is a good, solid performer. The numbers are a bit better for fiction, but keep in mind most first books, even the classics and the best sellers, get a lot of “no”s before we get to a “yes”.
  • Even if you are a writing a mainstream novel, you are writing to a niche market. 25% of respondents to a 2005 Gallup poll did not read any books in the previous year. Another 50% read less than five. (Makes me feel like a bloody freak. I’ve read more than five books in the past month not counting audiobooks). Then keep in mind that a large percentage of those books are the big name best sellers (Harry Potter series, Oprah’s book club…) The market is adequate, but hardly enormous.
  • A good salesman doesn’t take a “no” personally. Writing is a business as much as is selling brushes. Oh sure, people in the front lines of the publishing industry (editors, agents, etc.) get into it because they love books1, but they have to get paid enough to eat somehow!
  • If you really do want to be a professional writer, accept the business part of it and learn to sell. There are thousands of books out there about it. Selling isn’t about Leisure Suit Larry nor is it about some guy who wears an Armani suit with a perfect haircut and is slicker than snot on a doorknob. Learning to sell well is about being interested in people. If you’re writing fiction, chances are good you’ve got this down pat. So expand on it.

I’ve read a lot of sites about rejection and dealing with it in the past few months, and I’ve found the ones not aimed at the artiste a lot more useful than the ones aimed specifically at the writer.  Don’t paper your damn bath with your rejection slips.  If you must keep them for tracking purposes, be business-like about it and file the things.  Someone selling telephone systems doesn’t keep a memento of every “no” he gets like a serial killer keeping a tooth from each of his victims.   Don’t you do it!  Be a pro.
1They don’t get into it for the money! Median annual earnings for salaried editors were $43,890 in May 2004. Okay money, but no-one’s going to encourage their child to marry an editor for the financial security