Occasional Reminder: Don’t Send Me Story and/or Collaboration Ideas

John ScalziI’m getting an uptick of these recently, and apparently people don’t read the policy I have linked on every page of this site, so:

Hey, you have a great idea that you think I would be awesome if I wrote, either something new or as part of an existing series I write, and you want to tell me about it in detail? Or — perhaps — even collaborate with me on?

Congrats! And also, I don’t ever want to see it or hear it or read it, and if you send it to me, I will delete it the instant I’m on to you (which is usually in the header to your email) and I will probably permanently put your email into my spam block so I never see any notes from you ever again.

Why don’t I want you to send me your ideas?

One, I am literally booked for the next decade. Remember that big ass contract of mine? It still has nine books on it! I’m sort of obliged to do those. I don’t need to add anything else to my plate.

Two, if I do decide to add anything else onto my plate, it will be from my own proverbial storeroom of ideas. I have more ideas than I will ever have time to write in this life, and I keep coming up with new ones all on my own, all the time. I genuinely do not need yours.

Three, legal reasons. I could go into detail here, but I won’t. “Legal reasons” should be sufficient for any of you.

Why don’t I want to collaborate with you? See above.

Also, if I ever want collaborative partners, I will ask for them. If you don’t see me actively and unambiguously asking, please don’t volunteer. Also, to be clear, the chance that I will ask for a writing collaborator in an open cattle call rather than contacting that person directly or in some specific professional milieu is pretty damn slim.

But I have a million dollar idea! That’s awesome, and also, unless you’re bringing that million dollars with you as an opening bid on my writing services, I don’t want to hear it. Write it yourself and make that million with it! I believe in you!

Is there any way to get me to listen to your idea or offer of collaboration? Sure: If you’re part of a legitimate publishing or production entity with verifiable and successful credits to your corporate name, and you’re looking to engage my professional services, then you can contact my literary agent or film/TV manager and query them with regard to my potential interest and availability (this is covered here, because of course it is, I’ve been doing this for decades now so obviously I would have an established process). Other than that? Nope!

As an aside, I really do get exasperated when people don’t read the various policies that I have on the site, which, again, are linked to on literally every single page of the site as it’s currently constructed. I have made the titles unambiguous! The policies have been around for years! I am very clear in the policies! And yet, people don’t read (or assume that they will be different). And yes, sure, people don’t always come to the Web site (although they should), but, here’s the thing — I get most of these solicitations through email. Where is the easiest place on the whole Internet to find my email? Why, it’s here on the site (thanks to a link on every single page on the site). I feel reasonably certain that most of the folks soliciting me have been here. They should have seen the policies, and then followed them.

(That said, as I’m posting this I’m simultaneously updating the contact page to note to people not to send me ideas or offer to collaborate, because clearly we’ve come to that point.)

In any event. Don’t send me story ideas or offers to collaborate. They make me cranky. Thank you in advance for your co-operation.

— JS

49 Comments on “Occasional Reminder: Don’t Send Me Story and/or Collaboration Ideas”

  1. Since I know one or more of you will inevitably do a joking comment about having a great idea I should write: eeeeeeeh, not here for it at the moment, thanks. Sorry to ruin your fun.

    Also, no need to get exasperated on my behalf. I’m exasperated enough for the both of us. But thank you.

  2. This got me wondering: in the history of SF, has there ever been a case where a fan approached an established author with an unsolicited idea and the author accepted it and wrote a story based around it? I can’t think of one; the closest thing that comes to mind was how ST:TNG used to accept spec scripts.

    (A *specific* idea, I mean; I know there’ve been plenty of sequels written because fans said “I want to hear more about such-and-such.” IIRC that was part of why Scalzi wrote Zoe’s Tale, f’rinstance.)

  3. @Marion, Coronavirus may be the reason for the uptick. People have a lot more time on their hands these days.

  4. Also, I’m an extremely minor author in another genre altogether. I’ve attracted a little bit of attention and a couple of times a year someone will come to me with this idea of theirs that I should write a story they’ve thought of.

    I say, sure, maybe. Send me your idea and if you want me to do it, that’ll be 4 cents a word, minimum $100. I rarely hear from them again.

  5. Anything we can do for there to be MORE books?

    I assume the answer is “Keep buying my books, and not sending me spam”, which uh …. easy enough

    More words to read would be nice right about now. Please and thank you.

  6. Just a heads-up that when I followed the link from Twitter (on an Android phone), the page I got to *doesn’t* have the header with the drop-down menu to these policies. (When I clicked the link from the main page, the resulting page does.)

  7. @Kufat – Piers Anthony once did a “collaboration” with a fan BUT the fan had died while writing the story and Anthony learned about it and completed it after that death.

  8. “As an aside, I really do get exasperated when people don’t read the various policies that I have on the site, which, again, are linked to on literally every single page of the site as it’s currently constructed. I have made the titles unambiguous! The policies have been around for years! I am very clear in the policies! And yet, people don’t read (or assume that they will be different).”

    Reading this reminded me of the constant refrain of every teacher ever: “Read the syllabus. It’s in the syllabus.” Some semesters I seriously think about just making that my auto-reply message.

  9. Have you ever been attacked with spurious accusations of intellectual property theft? I can only imagine your witheringly dismissive rejoinder to such claims.

  10. This is such a strange phenomenon, yet a persistent one. There must be a deep, basic psychological reason driving this. I wonder what it is….

    The touch of fame, like sympathetic magic, combined with sloth or perhaps the idea that published authors know the secret handshake they lack?

    That’s power, conspiracy and something for nothing: it don’t get more basic than that.

    I’ve been hearing about this for forty years, from older artists talking about incidents from their youth.


  11. It’s great that this site has well-articulated policies for contacting John Scalzi if someone wants to work with him. However, this site has two by-lined authors, two headshots at the top of the site. It would be nice if there was also information about how to contact Athena Scalzi in the event that someone wants to work with her.

  12. The shear cluelessness of people never surprises me, but before anyone think that this is a Scalzi pet peave, I have met many authors who have this policy.

    Harlan Ellison was down right vulgar about it. (Well, also about a lot of things but especially that.)Alan Dean Foster, Larry Nivin,William Gibson,,,,, you get the picture. It’s not just legal issues, it’s also a little insulting.

    Sorry you have been banging into more of this type of dumbassery lately than usual to provoke a post.

  13. I don’t even come to the site very often (occasionally to comment) but I’m aware of most of your policies. I don’t think it’s that the people that send you these aren’t aware; I think it’s more that they think they’ll be the exception.

  14. Regarding the B-5 story, I have a daydream where a bunch of us fans are drinking with JMS, and he figuratively gives everyone at the table a dollar, legally called a “consideration” in return for any ideas we might pop out with. Literally, this means, in my dream, him buying the pitcher of beer for the table.

    I’m not a lawyer, I just a dreamer.

    Regarding Harlan Ellison, after an innocent fellow writer was criticized heavily by an in-law for doing so, comes a Youtube of Harlan reciting, “I will not read your f-ing script” as a parody of Green Eggs and Ham.

    I would never ask, script-wise. Similarly, I once was asking a physician something about me medical-wise at a party, when I noticed someone listening, and I hurried to say, “He knows I ALREADY saw my own doctor about this.” Somethings you don’t ask. Partly because, as the doctor immediately explained to the listener, “someone you see socially would not know your case history.”

    Yes, I realize this Harlan video is old news for many fans, but there are new fans being born every year who may not have seen it yet. So I mention it.

  15. This reminds me of the first Bill and Ted movie: They think they need Eddie van Halen to collaborate with them (Wild Stallions) in order to make it big, but before Eddie van Halen will work with them they have to make it big. Catch 22? No: If someone has a great idea, they can write it themselves. They don’t need John Scalzi’s name on it, or (thriller author’s name redacted) (probably easier), or Robert Heinlein’s ghost.

    Get off your ass and write that shit, people.

  16. Oh My Word you have reminded me of Avram Davidson’s delicious parody of E Ferman’s “Policy on Unsolicited Manuscripts”…including, roughly from distant memory, “This editor will not accept MSS that have been rolled into scroll form and bound with red silk cord, as they require 4 hands to keep unrolled while being read. A chimpanzee was once employed to review such offerings, but was found to lack critical judgment and was persuaded to accept a post in the Federal Civil Service instead….”

  17. Not just authors of books, but TV writers, movies, etc.
    I think just about everyone has a similar policy. Even if just starting out, it’s necessary because of the legal issues. If you don’t make it clear that you aren’t even going to look at submissions, some time down the road someone is going to sue because they think you used their idea without compensation. Even if it turns out to be something where the to be published work was in the hands of the publisher before the “idea” was even sent.

  18. These “Business of Writing” posts are some of my favorite, because many of them fall into the “Shit that would never occur to me” category and it increases my wonder at a universe that has such people in it.

    Hey Ma! Guess what! Me and Scalzi are gonna do a collaboration about my Revolutionary War alternate history where Hitler goes back in time and kills King George and all the Prussians are Nazis idea! I read his blog so we’re besties! He can’t say no! I sent him an email so its like a done deal!

    And also, I genuinely find the business of writing fascinating.

  19. This makes me think a lot about what makes something creative. I think it’s possible also part of a culture that glorifies the idea and minimizes the work and skill that goes into fully realizing the idea (ie the montage).

    I have scientific expertise in a specialized field as well as technical skills in both code and hardware development. One of the weirdest things to me was when people (the second cousin once removed, guy from the post ultimate frisbee game drinks, person at the gym) started pitching project ideas at me to ‘collaborate’ on. In most cases, their version of collaboration is they have an idea (developed from a superficial understanding of something tangentially related to they think I do) and I ‘get’ to make it physical. I now know to just smile, nod, and refuse to give contact information.

    I once had an undergrad student try to join my lab by telling me he was an ‘idea’s guy’. He didn’t really know what I did, but he was going to be a surgeon and so he’d come to group meetings listen from the bio-perspective and give his opinion and then be put in as first author on published manuscripts. I told him ‘no’. Normally I say yes to students when I can because I welcome their energy, perspective, and eagerness, and, yes, ideas (which get better as they gain experience) but this guys expectations were so divorced from what the reality of what working in my lab would be like that I couldn’t manage it.

    (For the record, I do have a couple of different physician-collaborators who are incredibly valuable to our joint research projects – we are all creative people with a deep depth of skill in our areas of expertise)

    This makes me sound awful and closed minded and I’m not saying that lay people never have good ideas just… the ones I get excited enough about to dedicate time to typically arise with people who have deep skill and expertise complementary to mine.

  20. Too many people sitting around dreaming when they ought to be working. Quarantine is tough. Might be a great time to take up a hobby. 😏

  21. I have precisely zero great ideas and I have to share all of them with you, in great detail.

  22. I’m guessing that this is different from “I’d love to know what happened to [character] twenty years later”, “Can we get something from [peripheral character]’s point of view?”, or “”Wow, there should be a prequel to [property] explaining how [situation] came to be”? Seems to me those are par for the course for any popular creative type. Or do those type of things give you the same reaction?

  23. Logophage:

    Nah, those are fine. It’s the one that are all “So, John and Jane should have a story where they open up a Wienerschnitzel franchise, and then Hickory and Dickory cook the hot dogs, but then General Rybicki comes in for a chili dog and while he’s there enlists them on a secret mission, and then suddenly the Rreay attack, and there’s this awesome battles, except that instead of guns, everyone uses nun-chucks!” that you have to look out for. It’s like, dude, go write your own fan fiction.

  24. Why do they do this? I wonder if our host’s often genial and sanguine public persona lulls people into ignoring the f-bombing mallet side.

  25. Are you quite certain it’s the wouldbe collaborators making you cranky? Maybe you just need a … burrito?

  26. Were any of these emails from deposed Nigerian princes who needed an advance from you of the one million dollar idea?

    I mean, AI is getting spooky smart.

  27. Similarly, I once was asking a physician something about me medical-wise at a party, when I noticed someone listening, and I hurried to say, “He knows I ALREADY saw my own doctor about this.” Somethings you don’t ask. Partly because, as the doctor immediately explained to the listener, “someone you see socially would not know your case history.”

    There’s an old joke about a doctor and a lawyer chatting at a party (there’s probably a rabbi there somewhere, too), and the doctor is complaining about people asking him medical questions when he’s socializing. So the lawyer tells the doctor his strategy: help the people, but then present them with a bill for the time worked. “Stops people right in their tracks,” the lawyer says. The doctor thinks that’s a great idea, thanks the lawyer, and they go their different ways.

    A week later, the doctor gets a bill from the lawyer for time worked.

  28. I once broke that rule about not making suggestions to authors. Since that is, of course, a gigantic no-no, I phrased it as praise for the author’s “obvious” hook for some future plotline in the series.

    Jasper Fforde’s Miss Havisham wears both her shoes. I sent an e-mail saying I was looking forward to when Thursday Next and BookWorld goes meta and we end up with the one-shoe Miss Havisham. In the insanely brilliant Ffrode style, of course, but I didn’t say that.

    The series later went meta, but Miss Havisham to this date is still wearing both her shoes.

    To this date I have no idea if I was out of line. To this date, I have no idea if Fforde knew exactly what he was doing all along, or something major and literary slipped by him. It’s all good.

  29. As a mathematician and programmer who has at times worked for Wall Street firms, I sometimes get people who expect me to go 50-50 on some stock trading scheme I’m supposed to share with them. My “stock” response now is to tell them I do have such methods, but they only work with a billion dollar upfront investment. Which includes my very tiny 1% upfront fee.

    Sweet, right? Why do they always decline?

  30. Never tried to send you an email, but I did notice that the links you mentioned don’t appear in my web browser while I’m reading your average post. I don’t see them on the right hand side until I’m reading the comments.

    That’s not a reason for people to email you, but maybe a reason they don’t see them right away.

  31. (quietly slips story idea involving nunchucks into trashcan)


    Room is awful dusty…

  32. (Wistfully looks at trashcan)

    What if the nunchucks were MADE of weinerschnitzel?


  33. I sincerely wish I could articulate as well when I’m pissed off as was done here. Usually, my eyes just bulge, my forehead gets warm, and I end up mumbling something like “Fuck the fucking fuckers” and walking away.

  34. Offers of ideas and offers to collaborate, with extra flattery on top, are not made in the spirit of generosity. They’re just another way of saying, “You could spend your time the way you want, but instead, this is what I think you should be doing.” Thus, they deserve a heartfelt “I’ll get back to you when hell freezes over.”

%d bloggers like this: