Back in January, I talked about how a novel idea for me always starts with a character, and the three questions I answer to nail down that character.
Once I have that character, I know the basic premise of the novel, and move on to the next step, research.
The first part of research is to look at the market. As in, what's selling, what's becoming a trend, what's dying, what's about to be buried, and where does my idea land. This takes a lot of perpetual data collection about what's happening in the industry. Sort of like watching the stock market. You have to guess what editors are buying, which is what will be popular a year to two years from now. Keep in mind that production time = almost anything you sell won't hit the shelves for a year to two years from date of sale.
Some writers are good at following the market, and some aren't. I'd say I'm getting better at predicting what will sell and what won't, genre-wise. I base this partly on the fact that last year I sold almost 100% of everything I pitched off the first proposal, while in 2003 I only sold about 75%.
Why is it important to look at the market first? I may have what I consider a terrific idea for a historical novel, but if no one is buying historicals, I shelve it and do something else. This attitude will not work for everyone, especially the "but it's the book of my heart" writers out there, so if you feel you can hard sell your marvelous idea to a flooded, declining or dead market, by all means, skip this step.
Once I see how well the idea fits, if I still have doubts, I may run it past my best friend or my agent, get their opinion. If I don't, I look at the other part of the research: what information I have to gather in order to write this novel. Time plays a part here; I usually only have a month to three months to research a novel. If I see I'll have to interview two dozen people and read a thousand reference books, I shelve the idea.
If the idea survives the market fit, the run-by, and the info gathering scales, I decide whether I want to write the book. This is harder to explain. I've had some great ideas but they didn't feel right for me and the reader. A novel should always be exciting to work on, but it should also be like planning a big present or a hellacious surprise party for someone you love. If I don't feel that potential for me and for the reader, I set the idea aside.
If the idea is still hanging on, after all of the above, I'm ready to outline.