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."
wonderful post! I think about this a lot. There are so many 1/2 finished stories I have sitting around because, just because, I happen to read something that is very similar to what I was writing. And I just assume what I can put together can't possibly be as good. Thanks for the reminder that, no matter how similar, my voice is still unique and still (hopefully) has a place in the world!ReplyDelete
(BTW, I sometimes think we're the same person, you're just the successful, smart, witty one).
Great advice. It's hard to think this way, but the idea is less important than how the idea is implemented.ReplyDelete
I always remember hating when people said, "Oh, that sounds like ________". That was always the worst. But now, I am sort of glad, because then they will have an idea of what to expect. Great post!ReplyDelete
Really great advice! I think as long as the idea are similar but the execution different, authors have nothing to worry about :)ReplyDelete
People don't exist in a bubble. Sometimes it feels like we do when it's just one person and a computer, but in reality there are millions of people who have similar experiences to put together into similar stories.ReplyDelete
Generations watch the same TV shows, read the same books and see the same movies. We play the same games at home or online and we see the same movements in society. So if you've got a pool of 10,000 people writing their first novel - people it's reasonable to assume all fall within a decade of each other - then they've got the same foundation for their experiences. Those experiences will be shunted through their own personal lives, but the base is still the same.
It's not really hard to see why kids who grew up on Gargoyles the cartoon would grow up to write stories about gargoyles. Or how a generation who devoured Fear Street might create a spooky renaissance.
You are such a dear! I'm so glad you wrote this. I panicked when, in the middle of revising my novel, I picked up a book and found a character with a similar age also on a journey. I thought, "Oh no! Will I have to change this story? Will everyone think I copied this author?" But a friend gave me similar advice and reminded me that I began writing the novel eight months before this book debuted. And now I read your post confirming the same advice. Thank you. And I will celebrate the debut of Transparent!ReplyDelete
Great post! As a kid, it seemed that every year I'd see at least one new book published and think, Drat, should have written a book about that idea I had five years ago. It's true, though. People come up with the same ideas. I ran across titles from the 1800's and 1900's with plots I thought had to be one-of-a-kind-mine. It happens.ReplyDelete
I can't tell you how many of my college writing professors stressed that there is nothing original out there - not in the bad "don't even bother trying" sense, but more of a "it's not about coming up with something brand new; it's about taking an (old) idea and telling it in an original, or at least entertaining, way."
That's how I like to think of it. Don't worry about how many other similar stories are out there or who did it first; write your twist on that idea and make sure you're happy with it.
Happy October and happy writing!
So true. Shit happens, especially in a saturated market like paranormal YA. But, heck, considering the sheer number of vampire books that came out in 2011, only one book doing a similar thing is actually pretty good.ReplyDelete
You should do some cross-promo with David Levithan! I bet it would be cool.
I sometimes think there's some kind of groupthink going on, where people hit up the same ideas at the same time. And I understand exactly how you feel. I had the seediest seed of an idea for the WiP I'm on now about a year ago. I started writing it just after the New Year. About a week or two after I started, I found a book that dealt with a very similar subject. NOOOO! After some debate, I read the book and found that, while it was similar, setting-wise, it was very different from what I was planning, so I was okay.ReplyDelete
Worse, though, was this summer, when I saw my first ad for the TV show, Revolution. NOOOO! But, again, similar setting, very different sotry, and if I can get mine finished fast enough, and if Revolution is a hit...coat-tail city, baby!
"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. "ReplyDelete
Exactly the encouragement I needed. Thank you so much!ReplyDelete
Great post sometimes though it can work against a writer if in the query they said If you like TWILIGHT, HARRY POTTER... I am not sure if it is because the books I mentioned are so popular and perhaps readers have had enough along with agents and publishers.ReplyDelete
I had a moment like this not too long ago.ReplyDelete
I've been writing for a couple of years on the book that I've got done, and the central plot thread is one that I've kept close to the vest. I started reading a book some weeks back, looked at the blurb on the dust jacket, and started feeling anxious, because my plot thread seemed to be his plot thread. In the end, though, the narratives went in completely different directions, along with character motivations.
Happens ALL the time. I think everyone's muses sit around having a good laugh about it, or saying, "Let's see how many different stories about ____ we can inspire!"ReplyDelete
Great post. I have always seen books come out that are very similar to ideas that I've had and regret I didn't get around to doing it first. Just the encouragement I need :D Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
What a thoughtful post. I think that it's inevitable that people are going to come up with similar ideas at similar times--after all, we are all drawing on shared experiences, cultures, contexts, and backgrounds. But where two things can seem very similar at a high level, usually they're easily differentiable when seen closer up. I'm sure two takes by two different authors on the same concept will be markedly different, and may invite plenty of comparison and discussion. And hopefully, increased sales. :)ReplyDelete
Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
”After my first novel failed to sell...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.”ReplyDelete
This. So much.
Thank you for putting it into words, and congrats on getting through it. I hope I can do it with the same grace.
Yes, James Dashner has it right. You can't control things, you can just do the very best you can, and sometimes it all works out better than you even expected anyway! Congrats again on selling TRANSPARENT! :-DReplyDelete
Your post made me think of the people who sue writers and filmmakers because they claim that the writers and filmmakers "stole" their ideas, even when it's clear that they didn't. Those people apparently think it's impossible that other people could come up with similar ideas, or maybe they're just looking to get money out of them. (Though it is true that a few of those writers and filmmakers are guilty.)ReplyDelete
But it is true that many people may come up with similar ideas, but because of their different mindsets, experiences, and backgrounds, they're more than likely to write about those ideas in completely different ways.
My favorite thing about this post, I must confess, is that Holly Black JUST wrote about this same subject on Tumblr:ReplyDelete
Illustrates your point nicely, no? ;-)
Really great post, Natalie! I think you have a great attitude about this! In the end, that's what controls you the most. :)ReplyDelete
Wonderful post, Natalie. I've been struggling with this myself. My WIP is rooted in Greek Mytho and I can't tell you how many nights I've contemplated throwing it all away because of Percy. Thanks for talking about the pretty purple elephant in the room :DReplyDelete
This is a great post, Natalie. I used to say I was a book psychic. Every time I would get this awesome idea about a book, without fail, the very next book I read was exactly about that. And the thing is I absolutely NEVER read blurbs or synopsis because I hate knowing anything about a book I'm about to read, other than the genre. I find books by word of mouth (or blog) and always skip over what (exactly) they're about. I actually trunked a novel because of this but I've decided to get it back out, polish it off, and make it the best story that I can. Thank you!ReplyDelete
I am SO RELIEVED TO SEE THIS POST. I'm currently in the middle of revising a manuscript that I love, about an invisible girl, the boy who can see her, and the genetic mutations that got them there. Sound familiar? Ha. I have to admit, when I first found out about Transparent, I freaked out because of the similarities. And one of my beta readers happens to be one of yours as well, and she confirmed that the similarities are definitely there. It's scary, because I had this idea on my own (I didn't copy, I promise!!), but now wonder if there's any future at all for my book, since invisibility seems to be on its way to becoming the next big thing. Glad to know I'm not alone in my worry. :)ReplyDelete
Thanks for this. I wrote a first draft two years ago, and have been working on rewrites this year. In June I picked up _My Name is Memory_ and found that there were some uncanny similarities. Even a couple of my critiquers wondered if I had gotten the idea the book. I was sure everyone was going to think I copied the idea - but I wrote it almost two years before I even knew this other book, I swear!! Glad to know I'm not the only one suffering from this!ReplyDelete
So true! I honestly felt liike more time travel books sold during the time I was on sub than in the entire history of publishing. lol But it's important to remember that even if another book has a similar premise, no one else has your voice. Ultimately, that's what sold my manuscript.ReplyDelete