This is an extract from a letter that came in a few days ago, and one or two letters like this tend to come every week:
...I am not a writer - I neither have the passion for it nor any amount of experience - but I have an idea for a story that I think, if done properly, could be absolute gold (both artistically and financially)! I will work with someone someday and it will be done, for it is too good not to complete. However, I am asking you because I admire your work immensely, because I think if you ever by chance hear me out you'll like it...
Here's part of Mr. Gaiman's reply:
There is a hunted expression you can see on the faces of writers. All you ever have to do, if you want to see it, is to walk over to a writer of fiction and say, "You know, I have an idea for a story. I'll tell it to you and you can write it and we'll split the money fifty-fifty." You will watch their smiles glaze over and watch them back away. Because no matter how good the idea, the execution is everything. And the real work is done at the keyboard or huddled over the notebook, putting one word down after another.
I don't receive nearly as many of those "please write my story" e-mails as Mr. Gaiman, but I do get two or three every month. Here's a snippet from a blog entry I posted two years ago and called "No, I won't write your book":
No published author worth her salt is going to give you a piece of her action. The authors I know are proud of the work they do, and they don't want or need "helpers" giving them story ideas. Although nonwriters often assume that writers worry about running out of story ideas, in fact the imagination is like a muscle; it becomes stronger with regular exercise. So a working author is not running out of ideas....
Writing a salable novel takes a whole lot more than an idea. Ideas are the easy part, and I don't know any romance author who wants help in that area. We want to write our own stories, not yours.
On Saturday, the same day Neil Gaiman posted that how-about-a-collaboration letter, I received an e-mail from Janie M. from Wisconsin, who wondered if I'd be interested in writing her life story. I didn't read past the first couple of paragraphs (the message was long and my attention span is, regrettably, not), but I quickly discerned that Janie was not a reader of my books, my website, or this blog. Clearly, this particular message was intended for mass consumption--so I wondered how many of my writing friends would end up getting it.
An hour or two later, the first message came through one of the writers' e-mail loops I read: Has anyone received the e-mail from Janie M. about writing her life story? Shortly after that, a similar message came through on another loop. I replied to both, said I had received Janie's e-mail, and invited my fellow authors to copy my response to it: I'm afraid the only stories I'm interested in writing are the ones that come out of my own head. Imagine how Janie will scratch her head, I wrote to my friends, when she gets the exact same e-mail from a dozen of the authors she approached.
All right, that's a little snarky, but Jamie imposed on us. Here on the internet we have a name for people who send unwanted, unsolicited business propositions to long lists of complete strangers; Janie spammed us, pure and simple.
I often get "let's collaborate" e-mails from readers of my books, my website, or this blog. But while I do get a little tired of explaining that I don't write other people's stories, those e-mails are hardly unsolicited; in the back pages of my books, as well as on my website and here on the blog, I always invite readers to contact me. But there's a world of difference between those messages and the one that Janie sent.
She's probably quite sincere in her belief that her life story will resonate with readers. And I doubt that she realizes how her e-mail irritated the authors she addressed. I don't know how many of the writers will ignore her message and how many will send a polite reply. But this, I do know: None of us wants to write your story, Janie. We're all too busy writing our own stories.