you’re a new writer, having a good idea is good, but submitting a good idea may
not be good enough.
don’t need me to tell you that breaking into magazines and newspapers is hard.
Attracting an editor’s attention – merely getting a reply to your emails – is
tough enough. And there are hundreds of other writers trying to do the same.
Oh, they’re finding it tough as well, which is good for you, but they’ve got
good ideas too, which is not so good for you – and some of them will have ideas
that are better than yours, which is even worse for you, and further increases
the likelihood that your idea isn’t good enough.
are currency in this business, and new writers sometimes underestimate their importance.
New writers sometimes focus on the writing. New writers worry about things like
“my unique style”. But it’s not really about the writing. Most people can
write. Just like most people can sing. Being able to sing is fairly boring
these days: witness the talent shows. But having something better-than-good to
sing: that’s more interesting.
in writing. Your ideas, at least in the beginning, need to be better than good,
and better than those of writers who are already established.
Because good ideas are everywhere. Established writers are filled with them.
And if you were an editor, presented with a good idea from an established
writer and a good idea from a new writer, whose would you plump for?
starting out, the ideas you submit to editors need to be great: great enough
for an editor to take a risk on you, great enough to be a better bet than the
safe and reliable regular writer and his good-but-not-great idea.
it’s not that new writers don’t have these great ideas. They do. I see them.
But sometimes I sense that they may be nervous of submitting them, perhaps
scared of their greatness, or reluctant to introduce themselves to an editor
via their best ideas, fearful of being subsequently expected to live up to that
standard for ever more, and prove themselves to not be flashes in pans.
what do they do? I’m not sure. Perhaps set them aside, or push them to the back
of their minds, and then submit a good-but-not-great but less scary idea
that’s you, I think this is the wrong thing to do.
not save your great ideas. You need them now, while they’re at their most
valuable to you. Besides, your great ideas run the risk of dating, losing their
‘moment’, or being grabbed from the swirling ether of ideas by someone else.
Knock the editor out with them, and do it now.
what else? It’s a myth you need to live up to this standard. I’m not suggesting
you lower your standards – by all means have great ideas until you die – but
once you’ve impressed an editor with a great idea, he may well take more time
to consider your good ideas, and to roll with a couple of them because, after
all, he does use good ideas, but would rather use the good ideas of someone he
knows a bit, and trusts a bit – and, after your great idea has been sold and
delivered, you will be one of those people.
you may not even need the good ideas so much. The ideas might come to you
from editors. “Knock us up 800 words on diabetes would you?” I was asked once,
if not in those exact words. It’s not even an idea, is it, let alone a good
one. But it was given to me as I was, I imagine, seen as someone who’d come up
with a great idea once, with some good ideas more than once, and followed
through with them all. The editor trusted me to deliver something interesting
enough to fill the slot he was looking to fill with something relatively
took years for that to happen to me, by the way. It hasn’t happened in ages.)
not saying stop coming up with good ideas or discarding your good ideas. But in
the beginning, push them to become great ideas. Ask more of them. Will yourself
to have more and more good ideas, because some of them will on closer
inspection prove to be great ideas, and will stand out from the others. And
they’re the ones to take to an editor in the early days, when you’re trying to
upon this as preparing to take-off. You need max-throttle and a full tank to
get into the sky. Once you’re up there in orbit, editors will see you more
easily. There’ll be a bit of cruising, and a bit of gentle turbulence, and
perhaps the odd alarming moment where the complementary peanuts get stuck in
your throat or you convince yourself you’re about to flush yourself down the
loo, but at least you’ll be airborne.
off merely good ideas? You’re sort of just taxi-ing on the side of the runway.
Labels: Editors, Ideas, Mistakes