Last year, as I was preparing for some of my first book signings, I did a bit of research on the Internets to look for some Really Useful Information that might guide me — you know, stuff like how long to speak, where inside the book you should sign, how long to take questions, whether you should wear pants, and so on. Some place — and now, I’m sorry to say, I can’t remember where — I came across a funny article about the unusual things people say at book signings. And near the top of the list was this corker: “I have lots of ideas for books — I’ll tell them to you, you write them, and we’ll split the profits.”
I’ve gotta admit, I’d heard something like this before, though it wasn’t directed at me, and it didn’t involve books per se. When I was shilling comic books back in the 1980s, I worked with a good friend who’d had some minor success writing and drawing underground comics. And every once in a while, I would spot him cornered in a remote section of the comic shop, with some eager comic fan enthusing in a highly-animated manner about his latest idea for a comic book character or scenario, always finishing by declaring it was a sure-fire hit, and explaining that it was now up to my friend to draw the darn thing so the two of them could split the millions of dollars the project was sure to rake in for its lucky publisher.
Now, that did sound a lot like the “Split The Profits” scenario I’d been warned about, but see, this was comics we’re talking about. We comics fans (yes, I’m one of them) tend to operate under our own unspoken set of rules and protocols. So approaching some other local writer/artist about a collaboration, while ballsy, didn’t strike me . . . well, as particularly ususual.
But that was comics; when it came to book signings, I was certain that the Split-The-Profiteer was, like the Yeti or Lochness Monster, either rumored to exist or spotted only once every decade in a fuzzy photograph. And I surely didn’t think that I would ever encounter one — I mean, come on, it’s just me, right?
I’m here to report the elusive Yeti exists — and I’ve seen it multiple times now. At nearly every event, I’ve been approached at some point by an enthusiastic aspiring writer who’s stood at the table and, even as I’m signing books for others, has described the subject of their proposed book with great gusto (I’m a non-fiction writer, so I don’t generally get people pitching their science fiction novels to me ). The best I can usually do is to smile and say, “Sounds like you know your subject really well — you’re the one who should write that!” And I mean it. I find their enthusiasm flattering. It’s flattering that they think I’m the one who could do their subject justice.
But listen, Split-the-Profiteers — and I say this with affection, because I know from experience your enthusiasm for your chosen subject: this is your project. It deserves your attention and work. Do your research. Organize your notes. Then write your book — because you can write your book a whole lot better than anyone else can.