Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I got scooped!

A couple months ago, a dear friend of ours who hangs around these parts (I'm not mentioning any names, but I don't need to, since I'm sure this has happened to more than one of us) read a deal description in Publishers Marketplace that was so close to his/her WIP that s/he went into a tailspin. What was the point of writing anymore? Were two/three/ten years of hard work down the drain?

Naturally, this scenario is stressful. But Aprilynne Pike post this very excellent take on why we shouldn't care quite as much (she also found a really superb illustrative video, which even the Rally Monkey, who has zero interest in writing or publishing books, thought was da bomb).

Let me add my own two cents example. When I first started at Tiny Publishing House, I bought the Most Excellent Book in the World. I knew it was not only going to be a great read, it was going to change the world. I KNEW IT! Four months later, Huge Giant Publishing House bought from Extremely Fancy Agent a much more expensive version of the exact same book. I was infuriated and heartbroken at the same time. I cried and screamed and waved my fists. Then I did everything in my human power to make my book as perfect as possible, because that was really the only element of this scenario I could control. The take-home? Three years later, my book is still in print and getting constantly reviewed on the internet; the author has placed her second book; and most importantly, the reviews of my book were much better. Despite the odds, I win. (Well, my author does. But you know what I mean.)

At the end of the day, no idea is unique. There are too many people in the world. So hold the bar high in terms of the execution you expect from yourself. And may the best book win.

14 comments:

Crimey said...

Exactly, no idea is unique, but the author's voice, his/her special view of the world will make the book unique.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've had something similar happen more than once but it never stopped me yet.

Anonymous said...

This is good to hear because there is a book I've always wanted to write, but someone did a variation on it that is just too close to what I have in mind, and yet not it at all. This was in the last few years. Unfortunately, it was a big author and people liked it, even though I didn't (and I'm not being biased because I hoped to like it - this author just doesn't speak to me with any of her books). Maybe in five or ten years, I'll write mine.

P. Bradley Robb said...

My mother always used to yell at me when I was younger "Lethargy breeds lethargy and energy breeds energy" and I think the natural extension that readers know is that "reading breeds reading."

Or, to put it in marketing terms, while one book might define a market, it will not likely become mutually exclusive. Look at the rise in vampire related books from that one vampire-esque series. Or how one strong steampunk book can increase sales across the genre.

When similarities get more specific, the potential benefits also increase. If Books A and B deal with the same topic, the differences are what set them apart. One will blaze new ground and establish baselines, while comparisons between the two raise awareness and mindshare.

That being said, if one book suffers from a marked lack of quality, the other book can benefit even more. "Oh, don't read book A, it sucked. But, if you're interested book B is awesome."

Once pride is pushed aside, there are a lot of benefits. Wired actually ran a piece about this regarding cheap movie knockoffs - http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_the_asylum/2/

Catherine Kariaxi said...

This is good to know... even though I know the similarities between my book and two other books I read (after I wrote my book) are such that mean I have to take my work apart and rewrite. I haven't yet figured out how. But I will.

#wailsgnashesteethfeelsbetter

Pamela Hammonds said...

I remember Elizabeth Berg writing that this happened to her when she turned in her draft of The Pull of the Moon. Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years had just released with a very similar theme. Berg read Tyler's book and realized the two stories were really nothing alike. So, original ideas? Not so much. Original style? That's what we should strive for.

zz said...

This is a great encouragement! I love that you went for it, despite how big and impressive the opposition was! What was the book that you published?

magolla said...

I had this happen to a short story I subbed to Ellery Queen magazine. The month after my rejection they pubbed a story that was almost identical to mine. It happens, but sometime I want to be first!

Claire Dawn said...

That's why we have things like genre and themes: because sotries are grouped by their similarities.

I think telling story these days, after millenia of storytelling is all about what new spin you can put on it.

Claire Dawn said...

Just read the link! It was awesome. Thanks!

Ebony McKenna. said...

The link is great.
I'm part way through a draft and read on a website about an upcoming tv show in Australia that will feature similar themes to mine.

I just have to roll with it. Out of all the creative people in the world, some of us are going to have similar ideas - sometimes at the same time. It's what you do with it that makes it unique.

(Mind you, it still drives me crazy when it happens, because I always hope I've come up with something really different!)

Jon Sprunk said...

Great advice. You just have to press ahead and let the chips fall.

Amanda said...

Thank you for this post and for your opinion.

Joan Mora said...

My current WIP takes place in and around Highgate Cemetery and includes ghosts, of course. I started it long before I'd heard about Niffenegger's HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY. (I put it down for a while--I'm not that slow!). I was crushed--but after I read HFS, I saw that the only thing the two shared was setting. Whew!