How to Pick Your Next WIP

I’m done. Finished. Finito. It’s a wrap on “final” edits to my middle grade novel. I’m now a query critique-and-revision cycle away from sending it back out to agent slush piles. I can’t do much more to get this book noticed, represented and published, so short of edits requested by an acquiring editor, I’m calling it good. That means it’s time to pick my next major WIP—work in progress.

Cut to the scene of me huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth while eating my hair and crying with the stress of indecision.

This isn’t as easy a choice as I thought it would be. You see, I’ve been working on Colossa since early 2018, and before that, I dedicated nearly four years to an epic young adult fantasy series that’s now shelved. In that time, I racked up two dozen additional ideas for novels. I’ve got everything from a young adult zombie horror to an adult fantasy thriller. With such a wealth of options, I should have no problem picking one out, right?

Wrong.

It’s the curse of having too many options. Like when you go to the store to pick out a tube of toothpaste and find yourself sitting on the floor half an hour later, debating the merits of cool mint paste over fresh mint gel. I thought I’d settled on a young adult sci-fi project, even producing a detailed outline, world history and character beat sheets for it. But now, my eye is starting to wander, much like that cheating boyfriend meme. Sorry, Cirque Solare.  

Accurate.

I’ve been plagued with insomnia lately, and while I lie awake in the dark, my brain picks through all of the ideas in my Story Nursery. And each time, I can usually talk myself into an excited fever pitch over a different one. One night, I chose the YA horror about a bloodthirsty forest; the next, a young adult fantasy tentatively titled First Born. My fake reality show adult rom-com calls to me some nights (though that would make a better screenplay than a novel—more on that below), while on others, I’m drawn to the budding idea of a middle grade supernatural gross-out humor story.

So how does one decide which project to take on next when you’re excited about all of them? Here are the steps I took to narrow down my options. They might help you, too, should you find yourself in the same predicament.

First, consider the age category of the book you just completed. Is it adult? Young adult? A chapter book? If you want to build a platform as an author of that category, it makes sense to focus on more of the same. You can further hone that by focusing on genre, too. If adult cozy mystery or young adult romance is your author brand, then narrow your options to those categories. This is especially important if you want to go the traditional publication route and only have one complete manuscript under your belt. Agents or publishing houses want to know you’re not just a one-trick pony before they invest time in you. Conversely, if you have several manuscripts of a specific age category and genre and feel it’s time to branch out, then use that as your sifting tool. Figure out which way you want to go and get rid of any that don’t fit.

“Oh, you’d like to represent my dark adult thriller and want to know what else I have? How about a middle grade gross-out humor graphic novel? Hello?”

Next, with as discerning and honest an eye as you can manage, consider whether or not each potential manuscript is truly novel material. Some of those brilliant high-concept ideas might be better suited as a screenplay or the next hot streaming series. Others might only have enough meat to comprise a short story or novella. Unless that’s what you want to work on, you can move those to the side. I’ve got a fantastic idea for an adult science fiction romance in the vein of Starman, but I believe a movie format would do it the most justice. While that’s an industry I eventually want to explore, I’m not ready to tackle it just yet, so I removed it from my potentials list.

Finally, consider how much thought you’ve already given to each of the remaining contenders. Is it a short paragraph with a vague idea or the hook? Or do you have a full page of notes? The more fully-formed the idea, the easier it will be to get started. It’s also an indicator of how excited you were by the initial concept, and thus, how motivated you might be to dive into it. I have a couple of other adult science fiction ideas with only ten or twelve lines of plot detail but a “new adult” paranormal that’s several pages long, chock full of character names and personality types, plot sequencing, series expansion ideas, and settings. If I wanted to pivot to the new adult genre, I’d consider this project, but it’s another one I feel might be best as a streaming series.

Now, what’s left? If you still have more than one contender, the final decision should at least be a bit easier. After going through this process, I have four options remaining: a middle grade supernatural and three young adult speculative projects, including Cirque Solare. Which do I choose? Since my active query project is a middle grade novel, I feel like I should have one more in the works. Or at least, I should have it outlined and ready to jump into should I be asked to pursue it. However, most of my ideas are young adult, so I think that category will be the primary focus of my author brand.  Plus, no matter how many times my eyes wander to that adult fantasy thriller or YA horror in my Story Nursery, my heart returns to the stars. I clearly want to work on Cirque Solare.

This, but in space. With alien elephants.

And there you have it—my final decision. Time to get started! I can now move to the phase that involves me huddling in a corner, rocking back and forth while I eat my hair and cry with the stress of writing another full novel. Ah, good times.

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