What’s an Idea Worth?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’m fascinated by the bizarre things that happen at the outer fringes of the publishing universe.

Well, here’s one: on eBay, someone is attempting to auction off his or her story idea. Starting bid? $3,000,000. Alternatively, you can buy it outright for $10,000,000.

No, I did not accidentally attach any extra zeroes.

I am selling my story that I have been creating for 10+ years. (not constantly writing, but of piecing everything together in a cohesive manner) It can be compared to stories like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Indiana Jones and other titles in those categories…

I will share my story with someone in person only and not over the internet. My story is too valuable to be spread publicly and will give a lot of new ideas for movies and book series that should belong to the buyer…

This story will bring in endless fame and money to anyone who takes it. I do not have money to hire a Ghost Writer and I do not want to die with this story untold.

So what exactly is this amazing story? The seller gives no clues other than the above. Apparently, would-be buyers must make a leap of faith. Don’t worry, though–

If you win the auction; we would meet in person, you would sign a nondisclosure document so i can be protected if you back out, I would share the story. Then you would choose to keep the story or refuse it. If you refuse it you would get a 100% refund.

Well, that’s a relief. Just wire it to my Swiss bank account.

It’s always possible that this is a joke or a hoax, but after 13 years with Writer Beware, I’ve learned never to underestimate writers’ ability to be delusional about the value of their work (and that includes me, though on the opposite end of the spectrum). But while it’s just remotely possible that your completed manuscript might be worth a multi-million dollar advance (yes, I know, but it does happen on rare occasions), convincing yourself that your idea is worth a boatload of money is mere folly.

Ideas aren’t worth anything. It’s only their expression that has value. This is why ideas aren’t protected by copyright: they are the basic building blocks of creative endeavor, and as such must be available for anyone to use. Give a dozen writers a single idea, and you’ll wind up with a dozen different novels of a dozen different qualities, each of which might or might not find publication, depending on a wide variety of factors and variables.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a spare $3 million, the auction has two days to run.


  1. Hey JT Shea, send me your banking information and I'll give you your well deserved four million for suggesting Sean Connery. Your idea deserves to earn a fortune too, after all you must have had two sleepless nights thinking it up. If Connery's not available, we'll ask Timothy Dalton. Of course, we'll need to dye Sean's, I mean Shur Sean's, hair and shave his beard, but I'm sure he'll agree. Thanks, much better than Pierce Brosnan's son.

    Another unusual aspect to the idea is that the criminal is monitored by the world's chief intelligence departments while building a fortress on a private island. But it is only when the fortress is ready and he has four nuclear warheads all set up and ready to fire that the CIA and the British MI5 decide to take action. It's these subtleties that nobody else could possibly imagine that make the idea so great. I've collected my 15 mill from Warner, Rupert Murdoch is fuming, and I'm already looking at a new idea on e-bay.

    It's about this guy called Samron who put a ton of power into a ring and can control the world with it. There is this little short guy who found the ring, and nine guys on flying horses trying to find him. The idea needs some tidying up, but I'm sure I can hire a team to sort it out. Samron is obviously a reference to Samson and Delila from the Bible. I'm working on it and will keep you all posted. This is pure gold and should take me up to 30 million by Monday afternoon.

  2. I've got a dozen ideas like that. Anybody got a dime?

    Janus, Barnum was wrong. Every SECOND!

    Anonymous 9:06 pm, there's a Scots actor who'd be great for the movie. I'll tell you who for $20 million.

  3. What? You mean I could be rich by now by selling my fantastic ideas on ebay? Why didn't any of us writers think of this one before? We must all be thick. Amazing how deluded some people can be!

  4. I was the bought the idea yesterday. It was fantastic and I've already resold it for 15 million. The problem with you hicks trying (and failing) to make your casual, off the cuff, comic remarks is that you don't recognize a good opportunity when you see it. I beat Rupert Murdoch, who was in up to 9,900,000. I said no! I'll just up him by a hundred grand and kill off the competition. It's a great idea. There's this secret agent who travels the world and only stays in five star hotels. He beds lots of beautiful women and grapples with the world's most inventive criminals. He smokes and drinks a lot, but women want to kiss him and never complain about his breath. The criminal catches him snooping around and ties him up. But instead of killing him while he's easy meat, the criminal goes on an ego trip, outlining his evil plan to take over the world unless the UN pays him five hundred million dollars. During this tirade, the agent finds a piece of glass and cuts through the rope. A man called Felix from the CIA storms in with a troop of soldiers and agents. Although the killer fires hundred of shots, he only succeeds in wounding the agents and his own henchmen. The secret agent dodges all the bullets and disarms a bomb. The mad megalomaniac's lover is actually a KGB agent who helps the British agent and the CIA man to kill her boss. Then they all sail off together to drink a bottle of champagne on a yacht, which belongs to the killer, and is conveniently loaded with caviar and other delicacies. This is a totally new concept that has never been used before and I bought it for a mere ten mill! I'm thinking of inviting Pierce Brosnan's son to play the role of the agent in the series of movies that are bound to be bought up quickly by Warner Brothers, because the idea is just so original. Later stories may be set in space or even on Mars. So long, suckers. You doubted,but I'll be in the money while you all rot in your tiny apartments, eating disgusting cheap food that you bought on your credit cards from a rat-infested restaurant. He who laughs last laughs longest. The brilliance of the entrepreneur has always baffled conventional minds. And yes, it did come with free standard shipping, delivered first class by FedEX this morning. See you at the Milionaire's Club, provided you are waiters! Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch can't even buy up BSkyB. Loser!

  5. To Stacia: "many of us know". Oh, how I wish I could be you, in on the big secret. Oh,please, please tell me and let me be your friend!!!!! I wanna be in your gang! I really wanna be in on the world's worst kept secret! And did you know that Kristen shot JR? Keep it under your hat for now, though. Only four living people know.

  6. The funniest thing is some of the works the idea-spinner compared the idea to aren't really stories with particularly new ideas, just very good treatments of ideas that had been done elsewhere. Star Wars was pretty much "Let's set a couple classic samurai movies in space, add a touch of Flash Gordon, and make a fun B-movie." There have been forgettable wizard school stories before Harry Potter. Indiana Jones was an attempt to revive 1930s era pulp fiction.

    Other people had many of the same ideas as those stories. It's just they didn't handle them as well.

  7. Wow. I have to admit I'm a bit curious about the story, but not curious enough to even spend a few dollars, let alone that kind of cash! The nerve of some people. LOL

  8. For this person's sake, I hope his name is Charlie Sheen or Sarah (yerk) Palin. I hear folks like these get multi-million dollar advances all the time and they don't even have to write the book.

    Maybe this is why the advance money is so paltry for the rest of us? Hey, Bro, if you can get $3M for the very idea, go for it.

    (that last sentence is said in jest)

    Captcha: mathra. I know this idea that's worth $3M! It's a Japanese SF movie in which a 40' tall Math professor destroys Tokyo!

  9. Now I can officially say I've seen everything. (PS LMAO Richard! Hilarious!)

    *slaps forehead Shoulda had a V8!

  10. I know the perfect agent for this assignment– Miss Snark. She can sell this book, it would be a first for her, since she has never made a legitimate sale to an advance and royalty paying publisher.

    Really? You're seriously going with this one?

    Dude. Not only did she retire the blog like three years ago now, but she most certainly has made many legitimate sales under her actual name (Miss Snark is/was a pseudonym).

    Many of us know who she actually is.

  11. Not a chance! I won't buy anything if I don't get a taste before I buy. I've seen enough Nigerian scams to know that refunds can easily not happen…

  12. This is almost certainly an epic fantasy story, probably based on the seller's favorite D&D character.

  13. I had a great story idea once. I would get married and live happily ever after. After four times I decided that idea wouldn't work. I'm pretty sure this person with the fame and fortune idea is delusional and probably crazy or a robber. If someone is nuts enough to show up with actual money, they deserve to be robbed.

  14. Why didn't I think of that? I mean why take the hard road of learning my craft and approaching agents and publishers when all I had to do was sell it on ebay.

    This is the best laugh I have had in months. It started with shocked amusement to full on belly laughs.

  15. Well gee – if that's the going price, I've got a couple dozen to auction off. I could be rich in no time at that rate. To heck with legit publishing. hahaha – now I have a side-ache

  16. Who would buy this? Someone with no imagination??? Someone who is too lazy to think of an idea?

    LOL. This made my day.

  17. Now the people who write a screenplay about this and sell it to the Coen Brothers–they just might make a fortune.

  18. Oooh, ooooh, for 3,000,000 what a BARGAIN, because I have no ideas of my own. Do you think they'll agree to meet in the UK?
    Oooh, I hope so.

  19. Must tweet. I have no words.

    Spot the irony above. (Sorry, Raquel, I couldn't resist.)

    My favorite part is the statement that he doesn't have money to hire a ghost writer. Sublime.

    verification word: avellypo
    a politically incorrect imitation Asian accent describing the financial state of our hero

  20. Darn…I was going to post my script on eBay for a cheap sum of only $10,000! If someone buys that, then maybe I might have a chance!

  21. I know the perfect agent for this assignment– Miss Snark. She can sell this book, it would be a first for her, since she has never made a legitimate sale to an advance and royalty paying publisher.

  22. Please note that no one has decided to place a bid on this item.

    I suspect that the people at Ebay are giggling themselves silly over this one — and probably hoping that no one bids on this auction. I can see all kinds of lawsuits arising from this if someone really is that stupid.

    I know that P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute." Why do so many people try to prove him right every day?

  23. Wow, both of the links in this post and the article are daunting – all three seem too incredible to be true.

    A historical vampire novel, and a wolf brother eh? hm..? interesting.

  24. That reminds me of a post I saw on one of those freelancing sites for an editor.

    The author didn't want an editor who didn't have a connection to a big NY house with a guarantee of a sale after said editor performed copy edits.

    It was painful to read, actually.

  25. I know a guy who would do this – seriously do this, we don't talk anymore because I wasn't genius enough or I didn't laud him enough or something.

  26. I have been approached SO many times by people who want me to buy a story, or who are willing to share half the proceeds if I will just do the writing.

    I never know what to say. I am not rude, but…really? Try that split on any other kind of business person. "I think that a colony on Mars would be awesome and I am willing to give a 50% share of all eventual proceeds to anyone who can make it happen."

    I am always careful to walk away, if that's what it takes, to keep anyone from telling me the idea, though, just in case I ever write something similar by accident.

  27. I suspect this person really does think their idea is worth a lot of money. I also suspect they're going to be disappointed.

  28. And to think of all the time I have wasted trying to actually WRITE? I could have just sold my idea and saved myself a whole lot of time, while making a heck of a lot more money…

  29. hauccup – my verify word, which is what I did when I read this.

    The only idea I can think of that would be worth $3m would be… the idea of taking an undisclosed idea to eBay and selling it for $3m.

    This is so far out there it IS almost brilliant.

  30. Oh good grief! It's unbelievable what people come up with. I'm not sure what the scam is; really trying to sell it, or to get a bite and then sue for breaking some nondisclosure clause because it was too funny not to share.

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