Sunday, May 7, 2017

Picking the Good Ideas for a Novel - How Do You Know?

I just got back from the RT Booklovers Convention in Atlanta. Here's Sonali Dev and Grace Draven, after accepting their awards for best Contemporary Romance and Best Fantasy Romance, respectively. Two of my favorite people, among so many wonderful people at that convention. I had a wonderful time!

“Where do you get your ideas?”

This is a question authors get all the time. And we have a pretty stock answer for it, which is absolutely true, that getting ideas isn’t the hard part. Most authors have tons of ideas stockpiled. While writing one book, we get ideas for something totally different. Sometimes lots of other ideas. The hard part, we say, is in the execution, in actually preserving to write the entire book and do it well.

That’s all true.

But there is another level to it.

What author has not read a book and thought, “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!” We often look at books our friends and heroes write and wish we’d had that idea. For myself, I have five or six series that I sincerely wish I’d written. A lot of that is in the execution, but they’re also ideas that never occurred to me.

The other piece is that, when we go to those long lists of ideas – on spreadsheets for me, naturally! – it’s not always easy to choose the GOOD ideas.

Ideas are everywhere. GOOD ideas? Maybe not so much.

That’s our topic this week: how do we know which are the GOOD ideas.

Recently I gave my new agent Sarah a long list of possible projects. I think about a dozen, in various stages – most just twinkles in my eyes – of ideas for books and series I could work on. She went through and ranked them in terms of which she thought were the best for me to work on.

That’s part of her job. In this case, “GOOD idea” meant what she thought would be most likely to sell right now. She also filtered in terms of genre, bookshelf placement, future directions of publishing and reading, and her own intuition.

What she ranked #1 was not my personal favorite.

In fact, my personal favorite idea didn’t make her top five.

Does that mean it’s not a GOOD idea? Not necessarily, but it does mean something. When I finding myself wishing that I wish I’d thought of Hunger Games (and what author hasn’t??), I also know that I never would have. It’s not my thing. But, among the stuff that IS my thing, I’m aware that my favorite ideas aren’t always ready for the world. Don’t worry – I keep them! But I put them pretty far back on the shelf in the larder to ferment a little longer.

Every author, no matter where in their career, has to choose among their many ideas. When I was a newbie, aspiring author, this often came down to gut. Sometimes it still does. Nothing wrong with choosing that way. But as we progress in our careers, other factors come into play. I have a couple of series concepts that I might not yet have the chops to pull off. Also, working as a career writer, recognizing what will sell becomes much more important. Things like groceries and electricity need to be paid for.

So, through this lens, a GOOD idea has many parameters. How we recognize those is a combination of intuition, experience, and professional expertise – both our own and from the people we work with.

There’s also that magic something, that just knowing. I’ve had it a few times. Suzanne Collins says she knew about Hunger Games.

I’m looking forward to hearing my fellow authors in the SFF Seven weigh in on how they recognize the GOOD ideas.