Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Million Dollar Idea

I've written over a hundred short stories, and twenty-eight novels.

Like most writers, I tend to think my work is pretty good. It sells well, and I get a lot of compliments from peers and fans. I think I can tell a good story, and I liberally use humor, violence, action, conflict, and sex.

That said, out of over two million words written, I've only had a few of what I call "million dollar ideas."

I remember reading somewhere, or hearing in in some writing class, that every book's premise should be able to be distilled down to one sentence. A punchy, memorable sentence that makes readers instantly think: I gotta read that.

Some famous examples include:

Little girl is possessed by demon.

Shark attacks New Yorkers.

Scientists clone dinosaurs.

Boy discovers he is a wizard.

Vampires in modern day Maine.

Virgin falls in love with billionaire sadist.

You get the point. A million dollar idea is a succinct hook that hints at the premise and engages the imagination.

My thriller WHISKEY SOUR is not a million dollar idea.

Female cop hunts serial killer who is hunting her. 

It's practically a cliche. We've all seen it, many times. In the case of my book, it is both scary and funny--something not many serial killer books are (I came out before Dexter). And I'd like to think there are a lot of fun scenes and twists to make it worth reading. But it just doesn't make people get excited like "scientists clone dinosaurs."

If I had to be brutally honest and sift through my oeuvre, I think I've only had three ideas that are larger than life. I haven't made a million bucks on any of them, yet. But when I thought them up, I got very excited by them, and I think they are the easiest to pitch:

Government gives serial killers special ops training.

That's my hook for AFRAID. Instead of training soldiers to be killers, why not train killers to be soldiers? And then, release them accidentally on a small, isolated Wisconsin town. Scares and mayhem ensue.

AFRAID has sold well (and is selling much better now that I have the rights back) and I've sold a few movie options but nothing has ever come of it.

I liked this idea of mine even more:

Cop is trapped in a house with a killer, and surrounded by snipers.

I'm crazy about this idea, and the book is spawned, FUZZY NAVEL. Written in real time, Jack Daniels is fighting with her nemesis who has taken her and everyone she loves hostage, and she can't get away because her house is surrounded by gunmen. Scares and mayhem ensue.

I've always thought the best parts of thriller novels is when the main character is in danger. I wrote FUZZY NAVEL where the main character can't get away from danger, no matter what she does. Being stuck in the house with a serial killer would be bad. Being surrounded by snipers would be bad. Both of them at the same time is, in my mind, a million dollar idea.

But the best idea I ever had is the one I never sold:

US government has Satan in underground laboratory.

I pitched this as "Jurassic Park meets The Exorcist." A bunch of scientists are studying the devil--ten feet tall, red, horns, hooves--who was discovered in a coma while they were digging the Panama Canal in 1903. Since then, he's been secretly studied by the best minds in the world in a fortified prison in New Mexico. The book begins with Satan waking up.

My agent tried to sell this to NY publishing on three separate occasions. And I wrote it to be as commercial as possible. It has a bunch of cool monsters, quirky supporting characters, romance, humor, scares, and what's at stake is nothing less than the destruction of the world. I imagined huge Hollywood deals and toy action figures and a parking lot named after the book at Universal Studios.

But no one offered me a contract. The best idea I think I've ever had, and no one wanted it.

So I wound up self-publishing ORIGIN, and have sold over 100,000 copies of it. Currently it has 286 four and five star reviews.

It isn't my bestselling book, but it is the one that gets the most requests for a sequel. People seem to dig it. So much so that a sequel, SECOND COMING, is in the works.

ORIGIN is free on Amazon Kindle from today until March 4. Please download a copy and tell others to as well. And feel free to share your million dollar ideas in the comments section of this blog.