Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Big Idea, Part 2

So, as I alluded to in a post earlier this week, I'm close to cracking book #3. Which is both exhilarating and terrifying. The thought of tackling 300+ pages is always a daunting one for me, and there is nothing I loathe more than opening up that very first Word document and staring at the vast blankness in front of me.

BUT. I do think I have my BIG IDEA, which is why I appreciate the below Meg Cabot video. For me, everything about my writing and about my books stems from this BIG IDEA. So I sit and wait around for this big idea to hit me (well, not really: I'm aggressively trying to tune into everything around me - conversations, songs, trends, etc - to tap into this big idea), and once I do, I'm off to the races.

Along the way of putting out various feelers for this BIG IDEA, I've discovered - as has Meg Cabot, evidently - that not all ideas are created equal. What editors and publishing houses often look for (at least in commercial fiction) is what they deem a high-concept idea. This is one that can be summed up in one sentence and is really marketable. In ToML's case, for example, it's something like, "Discontented housewife wakes up one morning seven years in her past and has a chance to answer her 'what ifs.'" BAM. High concept. Adaptable for a movie. Everyone gets it.

And these high concept ideas are often (though again, not always, but still, often) what create BIG books. I've had plenty of great smaller ideas come to me over these past few months, but the simple truth is that I know these are quieter books; they are not has concept-driven as ToML, and while, certainly, you shouldn't write for trends or anything like that, you CAN try to make your book as marketable as possible. Is this selling out? Maybe a little. But listen to Meg Cabot - a huge, best selling author -say that she has plenty of books that no one has bought because the idea just wasn't appealing enough, and you'll realize that this is all part of the game. The BIG IDEA has to be there and people have to fall in love with it. The rest of it is, of course, critical too: the writing, relatable characters, etc. I'm not discounting that for a second, but that universal, sellable idea needs to be in place.

So...I'm just sort of rambling here and hope I've made some sort of point! :) I guess my point is that I've had plenty of ideas come to me, but I think I've finally found one that will please all parties - my editor, the marketing team, my agent,readers, and, of course, me, since I'm the one who has to construct this world entirely from scratch.

I hope this doesn't come off like me saying, "Look for that commercially appealing concept and discard everything else," because that sounds sort of shallow. But the truth is, something that Meg Cabot's video makes clear, is that you have to keep the commercial viability in mind when you're coming up with your book idea, because if you don't, you're sunk before you've even begun.

Agree? Disagree?


Jennifer said...

I agree that you definitely need to take the commercial viability of your work into consideration. Obviously, for someone to pour their heart and soul into a work of writing, it first has to be an idea the author is passionate about - but if the author wants to be a commercial success, the work must appeal to more than just the author (and of course the author will love the idea, whether it is commerical or not, based on the hard work poured into it!). Great post!

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I totally agree, BUT, I also think that commercially viable BIG ideas often hide within smaller ideas, so we have to pay attention to everything. I started writing a different book a long time ago, and realized it wasn't even about what I thought it was about. The Big Idea materialized. So although you have your method of creativity and writing that works for you, I implore all writers who want to be commercially successful to listen to their heads and hearts. Put it down on paper (figuratively these days) because a Big Idea may emerge with time. I have often found that bouncing ideas off someone trusted is good too. You think the book is about a cat, and that other person sees that it's about the possibility the lies within having nine lives.

Make any sense?

Brenda Janowitz said...

OMG, I so do not have a big idea (or BIG IDEA, as the case may be) for my third novel that I'm working on. And after seeing Meg's video (she is just too cute for words) and reading your post, I agree-- most bestsellers do focus on a BIG IDEA. Must go kill myself now....

On a related note, I'm LOVING your book. So, at least I have *that* to live for.

Trish Ryan said...

I agree. And am excited to see what you come up with get to work :)

Barb said...

Whether it is the "Big Idea" or something smaller from you, I am certain I will read it. I just finished ToML and loved it! A lot of it was the concept (yes, the Big Idea), but it really had as much to do with your ability to write such real and honest characters.

While it likely wouldn't fall into the Big Idea category, I would love it if you decide to revisit Jillian in the future. As much as I loved the book, and I really did, I am a little wistful about not having more of the details about the future Jillian shaped for herself and those around her.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Brenda - no extreme measures over The Big Idea!! WHat would we do without you?

Barb - thank you!!