Writer's Survival Guide 18: Evaluating Ideas for Books
Writers work in cycles. We're either writing a book, revising one, or coming up with the idea for our next book. Sometimes we're doing all three at once!
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But eventually, our work-in-progress actually does come to an end. We feel a little sad at saying goodbye to beloved characters. We might be secretly thrilled to be rid of them (revising can be a bear). We can't help but feel the jolt of excitement when we realize it's time to come up with our next project.
Where do we find the idea for our next book? I discussed my method in a previous post, "The Idea Journal," which is linked if you're interested. I usually am thinking of my next book while I'm working on my current book. But in the rare case I'm not sure what my next book will be, I get out my Idea Journal, and I start evaluating.
First, I want to emphasize that I believe writers should write what's from the heart. My agent has reminded me of this more than once, which is one of the reasons I'm so blessed to have her. Some ideas will hook you and not leave you alone. Those are keepers. But even the "keeper" ideas need to be evaluated if you're writing with the intent to get published.
Why evaluate an idea?
1. To verify you're not writing something that is already oversaturated on the market.
2. To hone the idea to be as unique as possible.
3. To give yourself confidence that your idea is good.
That's great and all, but how do I evaluate an idea?
Well, it's up to you. I can't speak for all writers, but I will share my own criteria.
How to evaluate an idea:
Ask yourself the following questions.
1. What genre is this idea best suited for?
I write romance novels for the Christian market. If my idea involves paranormal creatures erupting from the earth on Halloween night, I need to decide if I am willing to switch markets and genres to pursue this project.
*Tip: Get familiar with books similar to yours. Mark the genre they're in. Keep tabs on the types of plots currently being published.
2. Is the basic set-up fresh? Or overdone?
This is why I think it's so important to read a lot of books in your genre. You'll be able to pick up on overused occupations, names, and all kinds of other details. I've eliminated names and occupations based on this before. Really, it's not that big a deal to change a Katie to a Cassidy before you write the book. After? You're attached to the name, and it's harder.
*Tip: If you've recently read one or more books with similar set-ups as your idea, you should consider going a different route.
3. Is the idea strong enough to sustain a full length novel?
This is where brainstorming possible major plot points comes in handy. Think of the initial bud of the idea and mentally explore where the story could go. You're not settling on a plot at this point--you're just checking out the possibilities. If you can come up with a beginning, middle, and end, and you're still excited, you probably have a solid idea.
*Tip: It doesn't matter if you're a plotter or pantster, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration by honing your initial idea into a solid story base from the start.
If your idea has made it through this inquisition, go forward with your book!
Do you evaluate your ideas before you begin writing? Or do you assume your idea passes the test?
Have a lovely Monday!