Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Novel Funnel

It seems like a lifetime ago when I was in software sales. I traveled an eight state regional territory and met with corporate executives. I loved my job because every day was different. Some days I would cold call potential clients. Other days I would set up appointments with prospects for the city I planned to visit. Then there were office days where I completed reports, filled out paperwork and considered strategy for my next sales trip.

My most important goal was to close a deal, but to get to that place could often take a year and usually two—sometimes even more—to find a potential prospect and court them, moving them to the place where they would eventually buy software in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that would change the way they did business. 

What does this have to do with writing? I’m getting there. You might have heard of the term “sales funnel” in which sales people toss all of their potential clients into a funnel and work them through the phases of closing the deal. There are many leads—people who are potential customers, but must be qualified. There are also many prospects and those people are ushered forward in the funnel and either you make the sale or you don’t. But even if you don’t, you can always come back to that prospect and try again later. 

The most important aspect of this concept is to have many leads going into the funnel. Sales is a numbers game. The more prospects you have, the more deals you’ll close. Each lead is continually being worked through the funnel, getting closer to passing through that narrow opening and signing the contract.

Let’s shift all this over to writing. So you’re working on your novel and maybe you’ve finished. Now it’s time to polish and make it perfect. Maybe you’ve taken a year or two to polish.  You send that off to an agent because you must land an agent before you can land an editor, and then you wait. Right?
The dream is that an agent will quickly snatch up your slice of brilliance and then quickly send it off to all the publishing houses. Two publishing houses will then dive into a bidding war on your amazing novel. Dream is the operative word here.

But let’s move on from here and say that you did get bites on your manuscript and did snag an agent’s attention. There’s just one problem. Agents, editors and publishing houses don’t want one book. They want a prolific author.

Yes, it’s important to work on the craft and content of your manuscript but equally important is training yourself to continually generate ideas that can be developed into novels.

It’s one thing to write a book, it’s quite another to be prolific. And it’s more important today than ever because readers are voracious. They’ve read your book and they want the next one. The sooner the better.

All this to say you need a novel funnel. You need a method for generating ideas, or rather, as many leads, which we’ll define as hooks that have novel potential, and you need to constantly feed them into your funnel. This is something prolific writers have learned from experience. They always have ideas in various stages of the funnel.

Some are stored away in an idea file for later--that day when an editor wants a new proposal from them. Maybe they’ve been working on a proposal or two, taking ideas from their file and fleshing them out to uncover the novel potential. Their ideas have been progressing into the funnel. 

You get the picture, I hope.Today I want to share a few techniques for finding ideas and throwing them into the wide part of the funnel. Maybe they’ll be tossed out at some point, but it’s important to learn how to generate ideas and hooks. Here are few basics:

1)      Use even a mild curiosity to develop interests and learn more about them.
2)      Broaden your horizons. Read a variety of magazines, watch the news and educational channels. If something snags your attention, put that into your novel funnel. Tip: choose from magazines that have potential for the genre in which you write. For example, I write adventurous romantic suspense novels so I read National Geographic and National Geographic Adventure Magazine.
3)      As writers we sometimes tend to be introverts, but get out there and meet people. Learn to be a great conversationalist and ask questions. People are story ideas just waiting to be written. They’re inspiration for characters.
4)      And then there’s getting your ideas from real life. (Goes hand-in-hand with talking to people). All around us in our daily activities, ideas are just waiting to be discovered, to be explored. Could be something a friend says over the phone. Toss that into your funnel. 

I’ll use this example from my book THE CAMERA NEVER LIES.  I knew I was going to be short on word count and needed to add another chapter or so. A friend shared a story with me about her husband who’d been taking Ambien. They discovered that he was buying Jesus, Mary and Joseph dolls from an infomercial while sleeping. That inspired me to write about my main character’s mother sleeping walking and added another layer to the mystery—had her mother committed murder in her sleep. Of course, I also added the purchase of the Jesus, Mary and Joseph dolls. (See the ideas you collect don’t necessarily get used for an entire novel!)

5)      Have a passion about something? Throw that into your novel funnel. Growing up in Texas I was always fascinated with the redwood trees that I’d learned about in school. I could only dream about seeing them. I never imagined I’d end up living close enough to drive to one of the state parks for an afternoon hike—it’s one of my favorite places in the world. That passion turned into three novels, UNDER THE REDWOOD TREE, SHELTERING LOVE, and HEARTS IN THE MIST.

Now you have a few suggestions on how to start tossing leads (ideas or hooks), into your novel funnel. They’re floating around and will stay there until you process them, ushering them along into the deeper part of the funnel, to the next stage in the process. We’ll talk about that more next time.
I hope this ignites your imagination and helps you understand how important it is to always have more than one novel going. That process starts with generating many ideas that are in various stages of becoming a novel.

Many blessings,
Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than twenty-three romance novels. A 7th generation Texan, Elizabeth graduated with a B.S. degree in computer science and worked in high-level software sales for several years before retiring to home school her children and fulfill her dream of becoming an author. Sign up for her newsletter at


  1. Thank you for this post. It was very encouraging. I've noticed that the more I write, the more things I find to write about.

  2. Oh I love these ideas! That bit about the sleepwalking - hysterical! I'm definitely going to start keeping my eyes and ears open to see what gems I can pick up!

  3. Hey Marji! Yeah, I need to do that too. LOL Writing this reminded me I need to be collecting those ideas. Also working on a new proposal--I had to open up my idea file and search on things I've already added. :)

  4. This is a wonderful post. You've really inspired me! Thanks!

  5. What wonderful points. Thanks for the ideas.

  6. Enjoyed it, Beth. Love the doll story!
    Margo Carmichael