Today is Your Lucky Day! I’m Going to Let You Write My Book for Me….

We’ve all had family and friends ask us, “When are you going to get a real job?” Some writers even hear it after they’ve made their first sale. But some of us also hear this one: “I have a great story to tell and I’m going to let you write it for me.”

Sound familiar? Either we’re not taken seriously at all or we’re taken for granted. Those who realize we are professionals and have real careers as writers will often assume we’re just sitting around waiting to write their story. We don’t have ideas of our own–or if we do, we can just set our own works-in-progress aside to write whatever they bring to us.

About a year ago–I’m not sure exactly how long (this is just a guess, as I’ve been trying to forget)–I got an email from a longtime friend. Her brother had decided to write a novel. Never mind the fact that this guy would be reaching to write a grocery list, he was going to write a novel. Let me rephrase that: he had an idea and I was going to write his novel. If it sold (and let me say here that this project had worse odds of success than being struck by lightning), we would split the profits. 


I told her, as politely as I could, that I was not interested. I had projects of my own in the works and did not have time to write his too. That didn’t work. I discovered that he had contacted a family friend, asking for my phone number. He’d had his nephew contact the same friend, also asking for my number. When she didn’t give it to either of them, he turned up at my MySpace page (one of the reasons I ditched MySpace). Then he showed up at Facebook. Finally, I got enough.

I sent him a message. He could leave his manuscript and $100 in cash with Collin at the restaurant and I would read it, critique it and tell him what he needed. I never heard from him again. Thankfully.

He’s not the only one who’s brought ideas to me, but the other two were well-meaning friends who wanted me to put worthwhile true stories into words for people who couldn’t write them themselves. It’s not easy to say no in such cases–but I’m a novelist, not a nonfiction writer. This may surprise some people, but most writers are one or the other. Rarely can we do both. I’m strictly a fiction writer. I’m no good at coloring inside the lines–bios and memoirs are not my thing. And I already have a full plate. Make that an overflowing plate. I have one ebook edition of  a backlist book about to be released and three more to be scanned and reformatted (not an easy job, believe me) and three more waiting to be done, plus four original works in progress. Add to that the fact that my eyesight is so bad that I have to compose on my phone or by dictation because when I look at my computer screen, all the words seem to run together. No fun!

I’d have to be cloned in order to have time for anything else….

19 responses

  1. I haven’t come up against that yet. I like to help out where I can; figuring out where to draw the line is the hard part.

  2. I also have not come across this sort of thing, but I’m just a newbie writer. Writing for someone else or writing a story that someone else suggests sounds like something I wouldn’t be interested in. Sometimes I ask for advice on getting me started, but I don’t want to write “their” story. Not for me.

  3. I’m with Devon. Writing something that someone else suggests (unless you’ve asked for the help) sounds like they’re just wanting to rake in your profits. I’ve never been asked, but I’m sure it happens. With all that I have to do, I don’t have time to write someone else’s story. I don’t think you could pay me enough…ideas are best when they come from your head…not someone else’s.

  4. Darn, you’re right! Usually if you click on the photo, it will enlarge. This one doesn’t! Red is Preteen Girls Who Can’t Write to Save Their Lives; orange is Trolls; purple is Illiterate People and Green is Serious Writers.

  5. It’s not as easy to do as these people think. One has to really love the story they’re telling in order to make it work. It’s not like journalism, where writers work on stories they’re assigned.

  6. What this guy wanted was an experienced writer–with connections–to get a book published with his name on it. I knew him and his wife (don’t get me started on HER) well enough to know that even if he had the best idea ever conceived, I wanted no part of it.

  7. It sounds like it would have been a nightmare to even get started down that line, and you were wise to cut the idea off. It would have been nothing more than headaches without end.

  8. Norma,

    I liked the way you handled this. I actually had a couple of people trying to get me to write for them as well. I don’t want to do all the writing and then put their name on it. That is why I don’t like ghostwriting, either. Writing is hard enough on its own, so I would like to get the credit! Sometimes an occasionally good story might actually come along, so I wouldn’t say never if it were to get out to the world a really great story, but in general I wouldn’t do it either. You do have a lot on your plate! I feel for you. I also don’t mind helping others, and I did some editing for a friend once just to help out (and that was no easy task) but the story was amazing! I enjoy reviewing for people, esp my friends. But really, a great story has to be one that you enjoy and have the passion to write. Glad you got out of that nightmare scenario!

  9. The price of success, Norma. That’s like a doctor at a party and someone begins describing their symptoms for a free diagnosis. I know it happens as my books aren’t nearly as successful and people want me to put their “happenings” in a story or a novel.

  10. I’ve had to say no to two ideas that were really worthwhile because 1. I’m not a nonfiction writer and am pretty sure I would suck at it, and 2. These days my attention span is so short, only a project I really, really love will hold my interest for more than five minutes.

  11. It’s true, Mari. Nobody ever asks if you want to do it. They either can’t believe you wouldn’t want to do it, or they don’t think you have enough ideas of your own. I always wonder how bad my books are that people think they have to provide me with books to write.

  12. Norma,
    I loved this blog piece, hon. 🙂 I wish that you hadn’t gone through that of that person asking you to write his story for him. Thankfully, no one has yet asked me to write for them, anything other than parts for poems, or critiques, where additional or different wording o their poems were suggested if they wanted to use those for/in their poems. Glad cus I am not good at writing anything other than poetry.

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