“You’re a writer?” the man said. “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book.”
Gompers tried to stay calm. He had become a writer for the same reason anybody did: he was incapable of coming up with ideas of his own, and he longed for a lifetime of being given them at cocktail parties. But he had been down this road before. Somebody would offer him an amazing, can’t-fail idea for a guaranteed best-seller that was certain to be made into a hit movie, and then they would demand millions of dollars in payment.
This was fair enough, but Gompers simply didn’t have the money. How could he, a mere writer, earn any money before he had an idea given to him by a total stranger? And without any money, how could he pay the millions of dollars the idea was inevitably worth? It was, in the phrase coined by Joseph Heller’s chiropractor’s cousin, a total “Catch-22.”
So Gompers tried to play it cool. “A great idea?” he said, casually. “And what would you want in return?”
“You write the book, and then I take half the profits,” the man answered.
Gompers nearly dropped his drink. The other man was going to do the heavy lifting of coming up with a one- or two-sentence logline, and all Gompers had to do was expand it into a novel-length story featuring believable characters and elegant prose — and, in exchange, the man wanted only half the profits?
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Incidentally, complete strangers have offered to share their amazing ideas with me only a handful of times. But it does happen.