How Close Is Too Close? What to do When You Find a Story Much Like Your Own

too closeThe other day, as I was doing research on my latest nonfiction project, I popped open the library web site to do a few searches.  Ferreting out all of the details that I need for a chapter takes hours of work but I love the work so I’m more than willing.

Unfortunately, I was less than happy with the results.  Why?  Because right there on the screen was a brand new piece of chilren’s nonfiction.  The topic?  Way too close to my own, thank you very much.

So what do you do when you find a book that could be the evil twin to your own manuscript?

First things first, don’t panic.  Until you actually read the book, you don’t know just how similar they truly are.  This is a gruesome science topic but my manuscript is full of tongue-in-cheek humor.  It’s more than a touch irreverant, yes, but there’s hard science holding it all up.  For all I know, the other book is more quirky fact and less science.

I also need to look at the audience.  If the book is for an older or younger audience, no worries.  They won’t be direct competition for each other.

In part, audience is also determined by the publisher.  Although trade publishers love school sales, the markets don’t entirely overlap.  While teachers are happy to see their students reading and sharing a fun book, they want the book to have a certain amount of science (or history or whatever) if these same students might be using it to research a paper.

Last but not least, you also have to ask yourself just how much you love your topic.  I’m having a blast researching and writing this.  Yes, it will be a serious bother if it never sells because of the other book.  But am I ready to give it up?  Heck, no.

I’ve requested the other book from the library.  Their copies have yet to arrive from wherever but I’m not going to panic until I see what I’m up against.  If the book is direct competition, I will have to follow the advice that I give to my students and see if I can avoid the competition by somehow reslanting my idea.  As they say, we shall see what we shall see.


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