Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What to Do When You Find Out Your Book Has Been Written By Someone Else

So last night I was in my weekly writer chat. And in a slight lull in the conversation, I started gushing about how excited I was about my new project, about how I couldn't stop the ideas from coming to me, about how I had notes in my notebook, on my laptop, even in my phone because everywhere I went I was just getting smacked with scenes, dialogue, and whathaveyou.

Everyone said, "That's so great, Heather!" They know I am a freak of nature who likes first drafting more than revising, and since I am thisclose to finishing my current WIP, I am almost ready to start my next book.

Then someone in the group asked, ever-so-innocently, "What's your book about?" I told her, and she said,

"Oh. That sounds like a book SUPER-FAMOUS YA AUTHOR just sold. :("

And she was right. She pulled up the Publisher's Marketplace listing (of which she is a paid member and I only get the lame free emails) and, with the change of a minor detail, it was pretty much my book. The book I'd been sitting on and plotting, letting it simmer and researching for months.


So what's a girl to do? I had playlists started, scenes plotted, even the first 1,000 words written in a frenzy of inspiration I got a few months back. I felt pretty heartbroken.

But this, blog-readers, is why having a support system in place is awesome. Instead of letting me cry my sad tears, she immediately jumped into "Let's solve the problem" mode. Of course, the first thing she said was the writer's old favorite stand-by, "It's OK. Really, how many books with the same basic plot are out there? It's how you write the book, how you make it your own, that matters." She even brought up vampire boarding school novels and vamp romances, of which there are apx. 6 million.

Now, while I totally, 100% agree with this, I was being irrational. So I said, "That's normally true. But this is SUPER-FAMOUS AUTHOR, not no one's ever heard of them author. They're going to sell a MILLION COPIES and no one will buy my book!!!!" (Apparently I have never heard of Stephenie Meyer or any of the people who have managed to sell vampire romance books after her success. Then again, this isn't a genre, this is a pretty specific plot, so...)

So then we moved on to, "How can we salvage this plot?" We talked about new character motivations, other reasons the MC would behave that way, and in the end I have a NEW idea which has the opportunity for an AWESOME TWIST.

Am I still a little hurt over the loss of my original SNI? Yes. But I think this is the best way to deal. And I'm glad I found out now before I actually started writing.

The point is, when you find a book that is so similar to yours that it might as well BE yours, all hope is not lost. You can pick up the pieces. Think of a new plot twist, different motivations, or change a few key elements. Who knows? In the end, it might end up making your story even stronger.


  1. Ugh! How frustrating! This hasn't happened to me...yet... but I've had friends with ALMOST FINISHED books who have realized their concepts were very like things on PM. I think you've got the right attitude. If you can differentiate your story a little BEFORE you write the whole thing you'll feel a lot better about it when it comes time to query.

  2. OMG. Yeah this has happened to me. But in a super weird way. I was friended on Goodreads by an author who has a book coming out in 2011. I clicked on her book summary and...it. Was. My. Exact. Plot.

    Let's just say I was a basketcase. I had a good support system urging me to go on, but in the end it was the push for me to shelf my first ms and work on a different book that is very original.

    In the end I'm happy with my choice, but I hope next time I find this out (which is sure to happen- how many plot ideas can there really be?) I hope to handle it a teeny tiny bit better...and keep writing MY book.

  3. ugh. i would have been devastated. ESPECIALLY if i had put in as much work as you had.
    BUT i'm glad you have a new pretty idea to go with!
    Yay success!!

  4. Whew, and here I'm worried about genre-bending. That's gotta be about the most gut-wrenching discovery EVER.

    Your "let's fix this" approach is commendable, Heather. We're all cheering you on as you find that special twist that's uniquely yours!

  5. This is very often a huge fear of mine. You poor thing!

    Another reason I want to surround myself with support! Where's a good place to start that...?

  6. It SUCKS to find out how similar another book, that's already slated for publication (or is published) is to your own! But it sounds like your support group did a fabulous job of getting you back on track =)

  7. That really sucks, but I'm glad you forged through and came up with something even better!

    I was having a crisis when I saw the previews for not one, but TWO movies with similar storylines to my current WiP, but I've got a couple plot twists in mind to keep my baby from being TOO similar to these movies. That doesn't mean I'm not kicking myself for not writing this book when I first had the idea for it five years ago. That could have been ME with the movie deal!

  8. I try not to think about my plot originality too much. Everything has been done before. Even if my plot is extremely similar to a plot of someone else, particularly a well known and successful author, we'll still have different styles and characters so I always hope that will be enough to make mine stand apart. I agree, though - it's always good to add a new twist or spin on old ideas.

  9. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? Your book will be even better now because you've had to overcome this. You have to really tap into your creativity, which I know will add all kinds of awesome to your idea.

    It hasn't happened to me, but it scared me to death the whole time I was writing that someone would do the exact same thing and it would get published before mine. I do know someone who has experienced this and the sad thing is, they did a much better job at it than super-famous author. The good news is that she's adding in some new ideas that will make it different and even better.

    Good luck! I know you will do it well!

  10. Ok I would seriously NOT worry--like at all! Its impossible to tell what the book is REALLY about from those pub blurbs. Chances are that aside from some basic plot structures your book is 100% different! I promise. Also, how do you compare to the super famous author--I mean objectively--do you both write in 1st person, do you use present tense? Does their writing use a lot of whimsical language descriptions? Are you more likely to write with humor? All of these things and BAJILLION others separate you. Until you read a copy of the book and see your main character winking up at you, do not even think about it!

  11. Oh and thanks for linking to SNIS--a very serious disease. I love coming here--besides how awesome you are I always feel the linky love:)

  12. Oh no. I'm glad you managed to salvage the idea though. I read somewhere that there are only so many plots, but the words are the thing that make the story. I'm sure it'll be awesome. :)

  13. This happens more often than not. It doesn't make you any less of a talented writer. Total opposite--it shows your concepts are marketable. You should definitely do the funky chicken to celebrate!

    Or... you know... a less embarrassing dance, perhaps...

    Best of luck with your SNI!

  14. DUDE. That is rough. But it sounds like your support system kicks some serious booty. What a positive way to address the situation!

  15. I completely agree that not all hope is lost for you and your new WIP! I literally read almost the same book by two similarly popular authors within a week of each other. Both books came out around the same time too!

    You probably have time also if this author's book is coming out soon and you haven't yet begun writing. Your story may change so much along the way as you write, so I wouldn't worry!

    And your own personal spin will be awesome and different, I'm sure.

    Not to worry :)

  16. I'm sorry -- that's incredibly frustrating! I'm happy that the super support system was there for you. There are definitely many ways to twist the same premise, and the author's story might not be very familiar to yours, in the end.

    Good luck!

  17. See Natalie's comment. Yeah, she's referring to my latest MS. As I was nearing completion PM got blasted with lots of similar stuff. You just have to accept it and keep writing.

    Yay for your new awesome ideas though. :)

  18. "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun."

    I'm on board with Frankie - it's impossible to tell what a story is really about by the pitch. I'm glad to see you are taking this in stride and using it as an opportunity to improve your SNI.


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