“The Big Idea” Open Call to Publicists, Editors and Authors

Now that the holidays are behind us and everyone is properly at their work desks, it’s time for me to make an open call to writers, editors and publicists to participate in “The Big Idea” feature here at Whatever (and later, when it’s ready, on its own Web site). Below, a quick FAQ to get everyone up to speed. Feel free to share this with whomever you like and to link to it freely.

1. What is The Big Idea?

It’s a feature presented here on Whatever, up to twice-weekly, in which authors discuss their latest books, to the delight and edification of Whatever’s up to 45,000 daily readers.

2. Why would I (or the writer I represent) want to be part of it?

Because Whatever readers love books (hey, they’re visiting the blog of a professional writer), there’s lots of them, and because The Big Idea feature is linked to all over the Internet, drawing in readers from elsewhere — all of whom like hearing from the author what it is that makes their book so damn interesting. As Leverage television show writer John Rogers recently wrote:

[T]his series of blog posts… has allowed me to discover more fine new fiction in a year than all the online reviews I’ve plowed through in the five previous.

3. What authors have participated in The Big Idea?

The index for 2009 participants, which includes award winners and New York Times bestsellers, is here.

4. What does a Big Idea feature require?

A short (400 to 1,000 word) essay from the author on an important aspect of the book. A guide to writing a Big Idea feature is here.

5. Which authors are eligible to be considered for The Big Idea?

The feature is open to all authors regardless of genre, fiction and non-fiction alike. Past participants have tended to come from the genres of science fiction and fantasy, but that’s because I’m a writer in that genre. But there have also been authors of non-fiction, romance, YA and mainstream fiction as well.

Likewise, presses and publishers of all sizes are welcome to query, so long as their works are distributed to major bookstores on a returnable basis and are available on the following three American online book stores: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s.

6. How do I get (or how does my author get) considered for The Big Idea?

Here’s what you do:

a) No earlier than two months from the book’s official publication date and no later than one month from that date, send me an e-mail at john@scalzi.com, with an e-mail header formatted like so: “BIG IDEA QUERY: [Author] [Book Title] [Release Date]”. In the body of the e-mail please briefly describe the book.

(This rule is not applicable to January – February 2010 — I still have open slots to fill in that timeframe. But going forward this rule will apply.)

b) I’ll try to get back to you within the week regarding availability; if you don’t hear back within 10 working days, you can ping again.

c) At some point prior to release, send the book to me (or have your publicist/publisher do so), following my publicity guidelines (mailing address is at that link). ARCs are fine; finished copies are groovy, too.

d) If I have a slot for you (or your author), I’ll give you the date scheduled for the piece; please send (or have your author send) the piece a week before the run date to john@scalzi.com, with an e-mail header formatted like so: “BIG IDEA ENTRY: [Author][Book Title][Scheduled Run Date].”

The following statement is important: You (or your publicist, editor, publisher) need to ask to participate in The Big Idea. Just sending a book or a press release asking me if I’d like to interview you (or your author) isn’t going to work; I get a lot of each. I find The Big Idea works best with authors (and others) who know what it’s about and are affirmatively interested in participating. Also, as a working writer myself I don’t have a huge amount of time to chase down people to participate. So if you want to participate, please ask! Thanks.

7. Do any authors have priority for open Big Idea slots?

In a general sense I will give priority to a) authors who have not written a Big Idea piece before; b) authors whose books are coming out in the week a slot is open; c) authors who actually follow directions noted above. Beyond that, it’s pretty open, and my intent is to get a good mix of authors and books.

Any other questions? Drop ’em in the comment thread. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing your queries!

39 Comments on ““The Big Idea” Open Call to Publicists, Editors and Authors”

  1. Let me say: as someone who wrote a Big Idea essay for the release date of my debut novel, I’ve come across a number of people online who said they bought the book because of that post. It seemed (from my limited perspective) to be the most effective author-originated promotion I did.

  2. To all you editors and authors out there, this is a great opportunity for you.

    I tend to read books solely based upon the recommendations of my close friends, but I took a chance on a book I read about on this blog. Since then I’ve bought a large number of books I first found here, and I’ve been extremely happy with the results. I plan to buy more good reads I find on this site in the future.

    It works. :)

  3. So some days you get no books, some days you get one or two, and some days you get three or more. If this is representative, you probably get an average of one to three books a day or maybe ten to fifteen a week. I used to able to read a novel a day when I was a no-account, layabout kid, but combined with your busy schedule of writing for pay, writing for Whatever, and taping things to cats, you must not have a ton of time for recreational reading.

    How, then, do you decide what to read? How many books do you actually read cover to cover?

  4. I’ve read a couple of books based on reading Big Idea features…in fact, I’m currently engrossed in “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest. I selected this solely on the appearance of her Big Idea piece. Another read was “Ash” by Malinda Lo which I would not have sought out with the Big Idea.

  5. Do books published by a major publisher in the UK but only available as imports in the US (via the 3 sites you mention), count? I suspect not, but I thought I’d ask as I have no shame (at least by British standards).

  6. I really like the Big Idea series. I’ve added at least a dozen novels to my Amazon wishlist based on that, which is basically where I keep my list of things I want to buy. (And then head to Half-price…)

  7. Query: Is there any wiggle-room in the “publication date” criterion? And do you consider multi-volume works? I have a novel and two novellas that I consider one work, and my Big Idea has very much to do with the interrelations among the three books (for want of a better example, think of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet). The first book came out in 1999 and the third one about a year ago. What’s worse, they’re (gasp!) self-published.

    The books have gotten a fair among of coverage here and there over the years, but only as atoms (or the first two books as a diatomic molecule). I would like to explain the Big Idea behind the three of them together.

    (The books are available printed & bound, but any interested readers can download them for free from my website.)

  8. Quite curious as well to know the answer to Jaime’s question about release dates (as mine is out this week in the UK but in September in the US).
    (yup, I have no shame either, by French or British standards)

  9. @Harry Connolly That’s why I bought your book. Needed something to hit $25 on amazon and remembered seeing the Big Idea post and thinking it looked like something I’d like so added it in. I’m very glad I did.

    Actually I think at least half of my unplanned book purchases last year came from Big Idea posts because I’d be browsing and remember seeing it here so I’d read a chapter while sipping my coffee and normally ending up buying it.

  10. Aliette de Bodard/Jaine Fenn:

    The majority of my readers are in North America, and part of the intent for the Big Idea is to motivate people to get the books right then, so in a general sense it makes sense to focus on North American releases, and to time Big Ideas to coincide with their North American release schedules.

  11. Is it open to self-published writers or just the traditionally published? Of the three online distributors, I’ve only got Amazon for right now.

    You’re probably cringing at the thought of possibly opening that door.

  12. Josh Jasper:

    Go right ahead. I posted it so people could find out about it.


    The requirements for what is an acceptable publisher are in the entry itself. If you don’t meet those, then the answer is no.

  13. John,

    I’m curious, do you actually read, in whole or in part, each of the books that you feature here on “The Big Idea”?
    Have you ever opted not to feature a book here that qualified under the above guidelines?
    I guess what I’m really wondering is whether you’ve ever chosen not to assist in advertising a book (or author) you just didn’t like.

  14. Hi John–I’m relatively new to your blog and your writing, but this is such a great opportunity for new writers; thank you. I have a YA novel coming out sometime around April and I would love to participate in this, but I wanted to clarify one thing about the guidelines…at the risk of asking a REALLY stupid question, when you say “No earlier than two months from the book’s official publication date,” I assume you mean no more than two months *before* the official publication date, right? So the deadline is between two months prior to official publication and one month after the official publication?

    Sorry if that’s a dumb question–I just want to be clear. Thanks!

  15. Wait wait wait… 45000 daily readers and only like 30 respond on various posts where you’re not giving away free stuff? Come on, people, speak up already! Join the conversation! Scalzi doesn’t bite *that* much (and grades only hate mail).

  16. I have written a Zombie Thriller, which has not found a U.S. Market. It will be released in Germany (translated into German) by Atlantis Verlag later this spring. This is a paid (barely) gig, and I like to talk about the premise and inspiration… Anyway, would you be interested in a Big Idea article from somebody who is about to be published in another language, or must I wait until I find a U.S. publisher?

  17. As an author, I just have to say, CRAP! I knew about this and totally overlooked getting involved. I shall blame the season, being overworked, and of course my publishers (isn’t it their job to make sure I do my own work?).

  18. Just FYI – today at lunch several of my co-worked made good-natured complaints about how “The Big Idea” was causing them to buy too many books.

    Congrats to all involved!

  19. The “big idea” has been banned for discussion in our office, too many issues to deal with. But for people who do get involved good luck, who can turn down 45,000 daily readers?

  20. A friend of mine sent me to this link, saying he’d like to see me participate in The Big Idea. But I don’t think I’d qualify. My publisher is Carina Press, a digital-only subsidiary of Harlequin that publishes a variety of genres (crime, supernatural, SF/F, steampunk, etc). Harlequin distributes printed books, but my book is being released in digital format only. It is available on Amazon, B&N and Powell’s (website). Please advise. Thanks!

  21. John,

    In 2010, I asked about submitting to the Big Idea. Back then my book had only been published in German. I asked again in October and got no response. I followed up in December with may article, on spec as it were. Have I done something wrong?

  22. I emailed Christian Cantrell in hopes that he will submit something. He’s probably my favorite new author since…err…umm… that Scalzi fellow.

  23. I have my fingers crossed that soon my novel will find a publisher and I’ll be able to write a Bg Idea piece of my own. Thanks for introducing this to the world, John!

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