Decisions, Decisions

A writer asked:

If you have a bunch of book ideas, how do you decide which ones are viable?




Spend some time on each idea, one by one. First work on a rough outline of what the book would be. List the themes and topics you’d want to cover. Ask yourself: is there enough material here for a whole book? Consider whether you’ll be able to gather the information needed to fill a book on this topic. Is there enough to say?

Marketplace: Are there other books on this topic? Too many? Is there room or need for another one? Can you identify a hole in the market that needs to be filled? If there are no books on this topic, consider why. Is there a need but no one has filled it yet? Or is this something that people don’t want to read a book about?

You: Consider whether you’re the right person to write this book. Do you have any qualifications that would cause book buyers to trust you? Do you have a platform with which to sell this book?

The idea itself: Try to be honest. Is it unique, or derivative of many other books you’ve seen? When you talk with people about it, do they seem to get it? Do they respond with excitement, curiosity, inquisitiveness?

Put all your information together and a picture should emerge of each idea’s viability and chances of selling.


Others might have different advice, but I think you need to write the novel that is most on your heart and mind right now. Always save your book ideas in a file, and add to them when the muse strikes. But write the one that’s speaking to you.

Of course, you could carefully craft a one-sentence hook for each of your book ideas, then show them to a group of friends or fellow writers, asking them to rank the ideas in order of interest. This might help, if there is some similarity in their answers. Perhaps a clear winner will emerge. But be aware that you might get a variety of responses. So again, you’ll need to choose the book you are ready to write. With fiction, the idea is important, yet secondary to the writing.

You do need to pay attention to marketplace trends, but be aware they can change at any moment. What editors are looking for today might not be what they’re seeking eight months from now when you finish your novel.

If you haven’t sold any books yet, be aware that branding is important, so the first book you sell will set you up to begin creating your brand. Make sure that first book is something you want to write, and make sure it begins establishing a brand identity that you’ll continue.

How did you decide (or how will you decide) which of your book ideas to develop first?


Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Kay DiBianca on August 6, 2018 at 1:51 PM

    Rachelle, Thank you for this information. My first novel will be published later this year and I appreciate your comments about the brand.

    Since the book is a cozy mystery, I intend to develop a series and I’m currently exploring ideas for the next book. I’m going to take your advice and query some writing friends with several plot ideas and see which ones appeal to them. Then I’ll pick the one I like best ; )

    Thanks again!

  2. Kelly Scott on August 1, 2018 at 12:17 PM

    I JUST emailed Becky Wade and Lynne Gentry regarding the temptation to publish when you’re not ready. As a pre-published writer the temptation is strong to throw my story up on Amazon but you captured the essence of why I shouldn’t in one word – branding.

    I currently have one ms under my bed. It’s a story God gave me to write and so I did. But I wrote it without a critique group and the story reflects the fact I’m a rookie writer.

    Sometimes the book and I will hang out, discuss the good old days when it was the best story ever written, and the whole world would be lost without getting to read it. Other days I keep it securely tucked under the bed knowing it’s not for the world to see simply because it’s not my best work. And ultimately not a reflection of my brand.

  3. Allie McCormack on August 1, 2018 at 10:17 AM

    To be honest, usually a character grabs me by the throat and shakes me, and won’t let go til I have his or her story at least started. Usually this happens when I’m in the middle of another book, naturally. Sometimes just writing a few paragraphs will get the New Idea to back off and take their place in line; sometimes the story just comes through whether I want to sideline it or not.

  4. e-Mom on April 1, 2008 at 1:56 PM

    >Thanks for the input, Rachelle. Like Gina above, I’m curious about non-fiction e-books. Are they a viable option?

  5. Gina on March 31, 2008 at 8:42 PM

    >Thanks for participating in the Carnival of Christian Writers! I have a nonfiction idea that is unique, but I’ve been told the market isn’t big enough. How do you feel about ebooks which I could promote on my website?

  6. Melanie on February 21, 2008 at 1:20 AM

    >Forever banished is a bit strong. I shouldn’t post with a fever and under the influence of prescription cough medicine. Thanks for the advice, though.

    And I just deleted more that I had written because, ocne again, that whole fever, flu, cough medicine thing. Must learn to hold tongue.

  7. Rachelle on February 20, 2008 at 9:07 AM

    >Cyndi, Pam & Melanie,

    I will try to answer all your questions in a future post. Basically there are no hard and fast rules about re-submitting but I will be able to give you some guidelines. About branding… it’s difficult to accept the concept that you might only have success in one genre at a time, but in many cases, it’s true. However, you can’t “what if” yourself to death. Make the smartest decisions you can, always trying to balance marketplace realities with what’s on your heart.

    Melanie, nothing says that just because you feel called to WRITE that “dark” story it means you have to publish it. Think seriously about this if you really want your publishing career to be in the more “fun” realm. Also, don’t use words like “forever banished” because that’s a little strong. There are exceptions to every “rule.” But as you probably know, even the most successful novelists of our time like John Grisham have a hard time getting acceptance for their books that lie outside their “norm.”

  8. Melanie on February 20, 2008 at 12:49 AM

    >The branding thing worries me sometimes. I’m not a published novelist, but my work in progress is what God laid on my heart to write.

    My problem is, though this is the novel I have to write, writing it has taken me to some pretty dark places. It’s not a happy fun book. It has it’s moments, but seriously, there are parts that I don’t like to read before I go to bed at night.

    Sure, I’ve let flirting, wit and a wee bit of snarkiness through, but at some point in a book vaguely inspired by a conversation about Job and Jabez meeting (very, very vaguely), you have to set the sense of humor aside.

    If I am blessed enough to have the story God gave me see commercial success, does that mean I’m forever banished to the realm of serious mysteries/”literature,” or is there hope that I can one day be goofy and just have fun?

  9. Cyndi Lewis on February 19, 2008 at 8:15 PM

    >Hmmm… I sense sarcasm and frustration in that comment, Rachelle. But I like the answer! Thanks!

  10. Rachelle on February 19, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    >Hmmm… I can’t for the life of me figure out where I wrote “write what sells.”

  11. Aimless Writer on February 19, 2008 at 3:51 PM

    >I have a lot of ideas started but only work on one thing at a time. When ideas pop into my head I write a blurb, a few paragraphs, sometimes pages just to make sure it doesn’t escape me.
    Write what sells? With such a large selection of books out there I think knowing what sells is hard. (okay, maybe it’s easier for agents.) It’s hard enough fitting it into the correct genre.
    Thanks for the great post.

  12. Pam Halter on February 19, 2008 at 10:42 AM

    >”You do need to pay attention to marketplace trends, but be aware they can change at any moment. What editors are looking for today might not be what they’re seeking eight months from now when you finish your novel.”

    If you have completed your novel, sent it out and got some rejections, how do you know if and when to send it back to a house you’ve already sent it to? I’ve heard many times that an editor bought and published something he rejected a couple years back.

    I’ve also heard of authors submitting for 10 years or more before selling. Somewhere in all that time, they must have sent it to the same publishing house.

  13. Cyndi Lewis on February 19, 2008 at 9:06 AM

    >In regards to branding… are authors stuck in one genre forever then? I have a women’s fiction piece that I’m working on currently and a romance novel also in the works but some of my other ideas brewing lean more toward fantasy and some are for young adult and children. (Yes, I do know the Christian fantasy market isn’t currently robust.) Do I need to scrap those ideas all together or is there a point in one’s career that an author can experiment a bit?

  14. Gwen Stewart on February 19, 2008 at 4:34 AM

    >Good morning Rachelle,

    Thank you for your great advice as always. As a fiction writer, I cannot write what doesn’t sizzle in my head and heart; and believe me, I have tried. If it’s a story I feel compelled to write, it appears fully formed. I just have to cut through all of the mental bramble in order to discover what belongs and what doesn’t. It has happened just the same way when I’ve written songs. In both cases, I wish cutting through the bramble were as simple as it sounds.

    Also, thank you for the reminder on “branding”. I’m as unpublished as unpublished can get, but if I’m ever so diligent, talented and fortunate as to achieve anything close, I want to remember to think carefully about that first book.

    God bless you today!