Seeing Your Ideas in Other Books That Are Coming Out?

Has this ever happened to you? You open up your email from Horn Book, Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog, etc. and you see a review for an upcoming book that sounds a lot like yours? Then, you knock your head against your desk.

Once the little devil on my shoulder has had its say, the angel comes in and says something along the lines of ‘Chill out! Use this information to make your book better.’

Here’s how this plays out for me: I’m working on a story that’s a twist on guardian angels. Just a couple of weeks ago, the male-lead in my novel said:

“Bodyguards for the ultra-rich and famous,” Quinn muttered. His voice dripped with disgust.

I was proud of my character. He was talking for himself, and giving me material to take the book in a new direction. This is perfect, I thought at the time.

A few days ago, I read the following in my inbox from Omnivoracious:

Scott Speer is a director already well known for his music videos and films, including this summer’s Step Up Revolution (hitting theaters in July).  Speer is also the author of Immortal City, the first book in an action-packed new young adult series that brings together Guardian Angels (for those who can afford them)…

I stopped reading at that point. There was no point in reading so much that I’d get upset. More importantly, I didn’t want to takeaway enough from that novel that it would affect mine.

This is the second time I’ve noticed something that seemed too similar to my novel in a book that’s coming out. The first time, I read through chapters of another book made available online. (I don’t remember the book now.) The protagonist in that novel is Scottish, and very old. Quinn, my male-lead, was born in the mid-1700s and is from Ireland. I then thought long and hard about Quinn: who he was, and where he came from. I went back and looked at two profiles I’d written in the first-person in Quinn’s voice. In the first, he was 18 and living in Boston when he got caught up in his new life. It hadn’t felt authentic, and so I tried it again. That’s when I met the Quinn who inhabits my book now, an immortal born shortly before the Irish potato famine. I decided to keep the Quinn who felt authentic to me.

Now back to Mr. Speer’s Immortal City. I decided to take a look at the concept of mercenaries in my book.

Was it central to my plot? In a way, yes. What’s important in my book is that guardian angels are being corrupted. Is there another way I can show this to readers? Possibly.

Was it going to take up as much room as it does in Mr. Speer’s book? No. It’s useful in terms of one of the themes, but not the central theme in my book.

Did I need it for my book? Yes, at least the idea around corruption.  So, unless my characters lead me away from this direction, I’m keeping it.

I’ve been told by other writers not to make decisions based on what’s in the market. I can’t agree more with this point. What I’m doing is more nuanced than changing a whole book based on what’s coming out. I put the ideas in my book up to a test. Ultimately, my book becomes much stronger based on what I glean from other books that are out there. Plus, I add to the experience I hope I’ll need someday while marketing my book.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Are you telling me I should change my project because someone else wrote something that sounds like it? Well, that doesn’t make any sense! You make your book your own.’

That’s all true. Someone who imagines a new twist to the vampire story should sit down and write it. What’s the point in getting frustrated that you want to work on a book about vampires ? Yes, there are lots of vampire books. This is really about studying your market, something agents and editors are going to want from us as authors. Your vampire book will be different from all the other ones that grace bookshelves. Study the market. It will either make your work even better, or at least make you more knowledgeable about how your book is different from others.

What about you? Have your ideas ever made it to the market before you could get your book out there? How do you respond when this happens to you?

–When I first started this blog, I thought I’d post two or three times a week. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking! I have a full-time job, and I’m a mom and wife. I’m going to try to stick to posting Sunday nights, and tweeting throughout the week. I hope you’ll join me!

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