This morning I had an idea for a new book. This will be number 53 on my list of books I’d like to write. It’s a red-hot idea though, so it will likely be bumped up to number three or four. I already have proposals for the top two or three ideas. This one will need a proposal too. I’ll need to work on it while the idea is still “red hot” in my imagination.

I hope you’re all keeping some sort of project list on your desktop with your ideas for books. Since so few books we want to write will ever see the light of day, we need to keep feeding ideas to our “Books I Want to Write” project list.

Writers who allow themselves to become an idea factory have a huge advantage in becoming published over those who have one, two, or three ideas for books. Never mind that you probably won’t get to write all the books on your list. I’ll be happy if I’m able to write and publish 5-10 of my 53 ideas.

If you already have such a list, maybe it’s time to review it. The books near the top of the list should be those that a). you’re most passionate about (i.e. “red hot”) and b). for which you see a need in the marketplace. The combination of a marketable idea and your personal passion is practically unbeatable. Woe to authors who have great ideas about which no one is interested.

That’s why my “project list” as I call it, is a Word document that can easily be adjusted. It’s not at all unusual for me to bump idea number 46 up to number 5 when either my passion for the book intensifies or something happens in the marketplace that gives me hope that now is the time for that book proposal to make the rounds of publishing houses.

There’s one problem with a diverse project list such as mine—and perhaps yours. It’s true that most publishers are into “branding” authors in certain genres. Basically, it seems they want writers to find a niche in the market and continue to write in that niche for the rest of their lives. Some writers like branding. I don’t like it, even though I recognize its value.

Let me give you a peek at my list and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll also see that I allow crazy ideas on my list with the hopes that same day “crazy” may suddenly become popular with readers.

I’ll start by mentioning number five: Moonlight on Broken Glass: Essential Thoughts on Creating Great Fiction. To no one’s surprise, I like writing about…well, writing. The title comes from a Chekov quote “Don’t tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The proposal has been complete for a couple of years. No interest from publishers.

Number 8 is a novel about four guys who become accountability partners and the interweaving of their lives that follows. Working title is Iron Sharpens Iron. That will need to change though.

Number 12 is Raising Them Right: 101 Tips for Bringing Up Conservative Kids in a Liberal World. That book is currently on hold as I try to determine if that’s really a direction I want to go.

Number 14 is We’ll Meet in San Francisco. This is a “reunion” novel.

Number 17 is (yes, this is one of the crazy ones) Amish Kittens Run Wild!

Number 27: 101 Things Every Teen Needs to Know for a Happy Life

One title I love, but can find no interest in is God Walks Among the Broken-Hearted. This is a book for broken Christians. (Have I told you that TWO publishers rejected this because they didn’t “see a market for broken Christians.” Yikes).

That, again, makes my point. Finding a publisher for the ideas you consider “red hot” isn’t as easy as you’d think. Most of you know that.

On my project list there are books that are novels, children’s picture books, children’s chapter books, Young Adult books, gift books, “how-to” books, writing books, devotionals, and more….much more.

Obviously this makes me hard to “brand.” But let me hasten to add that if a book of mine takes off wildly (as I always hope they do), I will certainly allow myself to write to that market again and if branding happens to me, I’ll assume that’s the direction God’s leading me.

By the way, I do have a verbal commitment from a publisher for the number one book on my list. Once I have the contract, I’ll let you know so you can advance order a copy. 🙂

Now, how about your own project list? You certainly don’t need to be diverse if your writing interests are narrow. But, say, if you write fiction, I’d think you’d want at least ten possible novels you could write, perhaps (but not necessarily) in different genres.

The point is to have several irons in the fire. Be as versatile as possibe.

11 replies
  1. Joe Dallas
    Joe Dallas says:

    “Amish Kittens Run Wild” – please move that to the front of the line. I can’t wait to see if what I’m imagining comes anywhere near the actual product.

  2. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I am so glad to hear this! One of the novels on my list is actually in the almost-finished stage, but it is Biblical fiction. Everything else on my list is granny-lit, women’s fiction, or spiritual formation. I was afraid I could never pitch the Biblical fiction since I don’t have a series planned for it.

    And, no market for broken Christians? Obviously the publisher has never been to my church.

  3. Judith Robl
    Judith Robl says:

    No market for broken Christians?!?
    “God Walks Among the Broken-Hearted” is not just a title. It is a statement of beautiful, wonderful, gracious fact. When you are the most broken-hearted, God IS the only refuge. Is it a fear of seeming a failure as a Christian that makes people reluctant to admit to broken-heartedness? Do we have to put on a mask for church and our church families? Is that why publishers think there is no market for such a book? Good grief!

    Yes, I do have a project list. My problem is listing more than I write.

  4. Jane Daly
    Jane Daly says:

    You spoke to this in your workshop at the OCW conference, Building Your Writing Career. Your suggestion was to have several projects going on a particular subject. I’ve found it useful to keep a file labeled “Future book ideas.” I keep adding to it, hoping that someday I’ll be able to get to them all. I’m grateful to God for an active imagination that keeps me adding to the list.
    PS I’m glad to see you are blogging again!

  5. sally apokedak
    sally apokedak says:

    Good post.

    I have a question:

    “Moonlight on Broken Glass” is such a lovely title. Don’t you think you could self-publish that title and sell copies at writers conferences and make enough money to make it worthwhile? I’d buy it based on the title alone.

    And a comment:

    I can’t believe publishers would think there is no market for broken Christians. Are those publishers out of touch, do you think, or are they seeing that church in this country if full of affluent health-and-wealth types?

  6. Marcy
    Marcy says:

    Nick, You have no idea how much of a relief this post is! I also have non-fiction, fiction-in three categories, picture books, chapter books and then articles, devotions and poetry. It’s not on purpose either. The idea comes and then as I mull over it the shape it’s to take comes too. I’ve tried to find the niche ( and come close in non-fiction) and with fiction the setting and theme have high priorities, but still the stories seem to go where they want. Thanks for letting me know I’m not entirely crazy and that it would be a good idea to prioritize them.

  7. Jenni Brummett
    Jenni Brummett says:

    I have a story idea file where I organize website links and pictures that spark ideas. Many times an image or painting triggers a story or scene idea. My pinterest board with pictures of shipwrecks is helping inspire my WIP, a Christian Gothic Romance.

    It’s wonderful to see the ideas you have stewing. Much luck to you!

  8. Jan Cline
    Jan Cline says:

    I love, love the moonlight on broken glass title. I would really like to read that one, so keep trying will you? I have to admit I’m not a think tank of ideas. Only one at a time. Maybe I need to meditate more about it.

  9. Marta
    Marta says:

    As the owner of many of Bob Dorr’s books, I have come to expect that aniyhtng he produces will be well-researched, well-presented, and very well-written. Hell Hawks! is right up there not only with Dorr’s other works but with the best in Be There combat writing. Here’s an example: The German pilot ran flat-out low threading the needle between a church steeple and tall brick smokestack. Narrow streets raced under the wings of Kraman’s P-47 as he engaged the throttle button triggering emergency water injection. His Pratt & Whitney surged as Kraman squeezed off short bursts at his quarry, the enemy banking abruptly left and right to throw off the American’s aim. Across the Rhine, farther into Germany, the pair raced east Dorr and co-author Thomas D. Jones (USAF Academy grad, ex-B-52 driver, veteran of four NASA space shuttle flights) also rightly recognize the guys who weren’t strapping into the 365th Fighter Group’s P-47s: The men with stripes on their arms didn’t pilot Jugs, but they made warfare in the Jug possible. We tend to forget that the aircraft of WW II, after all, were just 15 years removed from Lindbergh’s Ryan NYP of 1927 but were very complex machines. The authors salute the men with the stripes well. The results of close to 200 interviews of 365th FG veteans, other combat vets, family members, and more, plus four years of research, Hell Hawks! is loaded with the day-to-day details of fighting a tenaciously fierce enemy, demonstrating throughout the book that ground attack combat was a deadly way to earn your flight pay. The authors bring the personalities of the young pilots alive as well as provide a big picture of Allied strategy and the pace of war from D-Day to victory. This is an excellent book not only for military historians but for anyone who enjoys aviation writers at the top of their game. Splendid!


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