Today I've decided to write about something I know I'll get asked later on. That way I have a handy link so I don't have to repeat myself over and over. I should probably write one about standalones, too. Pretty sure I'm gonna get asked where my sequels are a lot as well.
But today is for ideas. We writers can be really weird about our ideas. Sometimes we love them like people. Sometimes we doubt them or feel as if they betrayed us...or we betrayed them. We can be wildly possessive over them, and we really want to think that we're the only person EVER to have a certain idea for a story.
The truth is—other people are going to have your ideas.
Also, that is OKAY.
It's a funny thing, how there almost seems to be a collective mind when it comes to writing. Like, there will be characters with similar appearances all coming out around the same time, or similar names, or similar topics. This is how trends are built, by the way. It's an almost inexplicable phenomena, how writers who don't even know each other can miraculously write things in such similar veins. But being similar to other books isn't a bad thing in the end—it can be extremely helpful.
I've been to a lot of James Dashner events (we're both in Utah, it happens), and what always strikes me is how open he is about what he owes to The Hunger Games. He says The Maze Runner would not be as successful without it—they both came out roughly the same time, and he got the whole "if you like this, then read this" thing. It worked out amazingly. And it just goes to show that the success of one novel has a trickling effect. All publishing success actually helps us as authors because it gets more people interested in reading in general.
I love James' attitude about this, because I happen to think it's the right attitude to have. Also, it's really easy to go the other direction—to be upset that someone else is having "more success" in the same genre or with the same concept as your novel. Which brings me to how this has anything to do with me, because I happen to have personal experience coming to terms with this concept.
After my first novel failed to sell, I put everything into rewriting TRANSPARENT. It was the hardest thing, to this date, that I've ever had to do as a writer. I was so miserable I'd even decided that if it didn't sell, I would be done trying. I couldn't do the roller coaster anymore. So you can imagine that as the time approached for TRANSPARENT to go on sub to editors, I was, to put it nicely, a hot mess.
So naturally—because publishing has a strange sense of humor—a week before I went on sub Andrea Cremer and David Levithan announced the sale of INVISIBILITY, about a boy who is invisible and the girl who can see him.
Honesty moment: I totally freaked out. Like, ugly crying, panic attack, I am doomed for all eternity to never sell a book. I'm not proud of this, but there it is. I sent a panicked email to my agent asking if we should even bother going on sub, because who would want my book when two best-sellers wrote something probably way better than my story?
My agent at the time, bless her wonderful heart, kindly told me I was acting like a crazy person. She said this happened all the time, and it's not a big deal. I didn't entirely believe her, but six weeks later TRANSPARENT sold and I got to eat crow. I eat a lot of crow, guys. Apparently it's my favorite food.
Sometimes it's still scary. TRANSPARENT comes out around the same time as INVISIBILITY. I'll admit I worry about being compared (even when the stories sound completely different). I worry about being accused of copying (even when there's no way, unless I'm somehow a mind reader and don't know it).
But ultimately this whole experience has taught me that publishing isn't really a competition. It's a big web of connected creativity that all of us can benefit from. Like James Dashner, I could likely benefit from the success of Andrea and David. Just like I'll benefit from all the other 2013 books that feature superhuman abilities (and there are a lot of those, let me tell you).
So if you're afraid your idea is similar to someone else's, just stop now. It's okay, and sometimes more than okay. My first book failed on sub mostly because it was nothing like other books, and editors weren't sure where it belonged on the shelf. That sucks way more than being similar to people, because then you don't get to sell at all. Never underestimate the power of "If you liked _______, then maybe you'll like ______, too."