I take part in Tara Lazarre’s StoryStorm challenge every year – I generate 30 new story ideas (one a day) in the month of January. Though Tara’s challenge is focused primarily on picture books, I use the month to generate ideas for board books, non-fiction, young fiction and even MG and the odd YA – I don’t judge. I just jot down what comes to mind – in Notes so I don’t lose them!

At the beginning of February, I load all my ideas into an idea database on Excel (see previous post).

I have hundreds of ideas and parts of ideas, I’ve collected over the years, so which one should I write next?

There are always some ideas I like more than others and some that I think are unique but I have learnt to hold off working on anything until I’ve done some checks.

I’ve learnt that a winning story has a lot of strings to its bow, and I need a way of analysing them as dispassionately as possible.

Down the page I list my story idea titles, and across the top of the page I type headers: Original idea. Title. Hook. Strong MC. Stakes. Emotion. Creative language potential. Child appeal. Parent Appeal. Teacher appeal. Series. International. Promo link. (e.g Christmas or World Book day.)

I mark each story idea against each of these criteria – marking 1, 2, or a 3 if the concept really has the potential to nail it, and then I use the Excel ‘Sort’ function to rank the totals.

Some story ideas don’t do as well as I thought they would, which may just mean they need more creative thinking time, so I won’t discount them, I’ll let them brew for a bit.

The top five, however, do standout – they all have important universal themes – and are going to take some serious research, structuring and word trickery to pull off.

Perhaps that in itself is a lesson – if an idea ticks all the boxes – I have to sweat the hard stuff – in the end, those stories are more likely to receive attention and less likely to be written by someone else – well, at least not all of them.

The next thing I must do is research the market, thoroughly. Ideas don’t have to be unique but if there are three similar books on the market I won’t go there. There may well be more coming. Publishers follow trends and want to plug the same gaps in their ranges. The ship has probably sailed on that theme for now. It is better to be first or second to the market or have a unique twist on an old theme. Then it’s easier to sell a book and it will in theory be more likely to keep selling.

At the moment there are kindness and feeling type books everywhere. I think that theme is done. What do publishers want next? Now there’s the question! But if you really really know the market, you might be able to predict this. (See blog post: Why you really really need to know your market)