From time to time someone will send me an e-mail with an idea for a story or a novel, presumably because they’re not going to use it but they think it should be used by someone, and particularly by me. I think it’s a sweet and thoughtful gesture, and as soon as I recognize what’s going on (usually in the first sentence, and before I get to the actual idea being proffered), I stop reading, close out the e-mail and delete it. These e-mails don’t get an acknowledgement from me that I have read them.
Why? People, in the wide world out there, some people are crazy, and if one of them sends me an idea and later I write something even vaguely related to the idea they’ve sent me, there’s a possibility they will, in their craziness, try to sue me over it. Don’t laugh, such things have happened, and while these suits go nowhere, it costs money to make sure they go nowhere. If they try to sue me, an e-mail even acknowledging the receipt of their idea is going to be a pain in my ass. There’s no point helping crazy people make my life miserable. Unfortunately for the rest of you, who are sane and wouldn’t attempt to sue me in a fit of foamy foaminess, it means that as an exercise in excessive prudence, I’m not going to read or respond to your idea e-mail, either.
The best thing to do, when seized by the philanthropic desire to give me an idea for a story or novel, is not to. Know that I really do appreciate the thought, however. Know also, simply as a practical matter, that I already have a whole stack of really cool ideas for stories and novels that I’m working through, and to which I am constantly adding. I have more ideas than I have the ability to write them all out between now and the day I croak. Ideas are not the limiting factor, here. Time is. But thank you.
(Note this is different from the “Hey, let’s collaborate, I’ll give you the idea, you write it and we’ll split the money” thing I and every single author who’s ever existed in the history of time gets from people. The answer to this one is always no, really, let’s not.)