One Writer’s Journey

October 25, 2016

When Someone Writes Your Book

A lot of the blogs I read feature children’s books.  That’s part of the reason that my library bag is constantly overflowing.  I see a book peeking-under-the-citythat intrigues me and I request it. But the other day I saw one that really rocked me back.  It looked like my book, or at least my idea.

I’ve been playing around with a dual story line picture book for a while now.  Part of my issue has been trying to settle the story line.  Part of the issue has been trying to do the research.  When I saw Peeking Under the City by Esther Porter, my first thought wasn’t “Wow, what a great book.”  It was much closer to “oh, no.”

The thing is that this is bound to happen.  Ideas don’t develop in a vacuum. They are the result of various external stimulus which are then churned around in your brain. But you aren’t the only one who has the stimulus.  You and someone else are bound to have remarkably similar ideas.  A friend of mine wrote an excellent book about an underground city right before The City of Ember came out.  We had already critiqued his manuscript and he had started to send it out.  The two books were so similar that it was spooky.

And that’s the first thing to do.  Get the other book and read it.  I’m sitting here with a library copy of Peeking Under the City.  It’s a fun piece of nonfiction about the various things that lie underground in a city.  Porter covers everything from utilities and trains to building foundations and fossils.  This is nothing like my idea or at least only very tangentially.  I am so relieved!

If the idea is very close to your own, you have to decide if you want to finish your book.  While I don’t want to tell you “don’t bother,” you do need to seriously look at the competition.  If it is very like your own idea, the two will be in direct competition.  Quite frankly, if the other book is flawed, that’s no big deal.  Plot holes and flat character may leave you enough room to maneuver.

But if it is a top-notch book, written for the same audience, by a big name author?  Then you have some tough decisions to make.


December 1, 2015

Help! I’ve found a book that’s the same as mine…

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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competitionIf you write for very long, this is going to happen to you at some point in time.  You’ll have a manuscript in the works or on the back burner and you’ll be going merrily about your day.  As you read through a book you’ve picked up at the library or read about a book online, you have that stinking sinking feeling.  This book is just like mine.  It just happened to me yet again as I read Jan Brett’s On Noah’s Ark.

Different people react to this in different ways.  Absolutely brand new writers sometimes assume that someone has stolen their idea.  Me?  Not so much.  For one thing, this isn’t the first time I’ve had this expereince.  If you like an author’s work a lot, you can probably assume that the two of you have some things in common.  You may read the same things, see the same movies or have similar experiences.  It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that similar input will yield similar ideas at least once in a while.

So what do you do?  Do you shelve your idea or discard is completely?  Maybe you keep working.

In part, it depends how alike the two ideas are.  Brett has a vast variety of animals, much as I pictured in my own story.  But hers are in the illustrations and not the text itself which is natural since she is an author/illustrator and I only write.  She also groups her creatures in a different way than I had planned for my story.  Although there are strong similarities, there are also big differences.

But this isn’t always the case. If you still want to market your book, sometimes it means that you have to change something to make sure that your book and the one in print don’t compete.

You can also read the reviews on the book in print.  Is there something that reviewers don’t like?  Perhaps important information was left out. You can address this so that your work goes above and beyond what the first book covered.

Me?  There are big differences so I have no qualms about moving forward.



September 17, 2014

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:16 am
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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.


August 7, 2014

Slant: Choosing Your Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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slantA couple of years ago, I pitched a cookbook series to a publisher who utlimately passed on the project.  The books feature fun recipes grouped around a theme — Book 1: Knights,  Book 2: Pirates, and Book 3: Mummies.  The only book that had any overlap with an already published book was pirates and the competitor was more “craft food” than actual recipes.  Still, it was competition so I’ve been noodling over ways I might strengthen it before I send it out into the market place.

At this point, my pitch has a humorous slant.  The knights’ recipes include food to lure in an ogre, what to do with the dragon once you’ve vanquished it, treats for your steed and the like.

Another slant would be historic.  I could give historically accurate information about knights and then recipes that show what they ate.

Is there a right way?  Maybe.  I want to come up with something that will sell.  Humor sells.  But teachers and home schoolers also like fact.

Is there a wrong way.  Again, maybe.  I don’t want to do what’s already been done.  I also don’t want to do what no one will buy.

Silly or historic?  I’ve been bobbling back and forth all summer.  Then I picked up Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Fairy Tale Feasts.  Yolen adapted the fairy tales and Stemple wrote the recipes.  Fairy tales are both silly and historic and Yolen’s sidebars include lots of additional scholarly information.  I was in heaven.  Stemple’s recipes aren’t what I call craft recipes — mix fish-shaped crackers with blue jelly beans and call it mermaid food.  This is real cooking.

So I’m still noodling.  I want the books to be fun.  My son loved making cookies that looked like bones and blue gelatin with Swedish fish suspended in it to look like a fish bowl. That said, I also love the idea of having fun while learning.

Obviously, all I’ve seen is that you can combine to the two.  The answer may be to write about ten pages using several different slants and then see which one I like best.  I’m still thinking . . . thinking . . . thinking . . .



May 7, 2014

Competition: The Titles You Are Up Against

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am
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Yesterday I wrote about marketability and selling points.  Another thing that Mary Kate discussed with us was competing titles.  Which books are the competition for your work-in-progress?  You should show awareness of this in your pitch and/or query letter.

There are two mistakes that writers make when naming the competition:

To think that no competition is a good thing.  No competition might mean no market as in “no one can find an audience for this kind of book.”

Naming only the big dogs.  Especially if you are a new writer, don’t think that your books will immediately compete with Harry Potter or the Hunger Games and win.  Don’t name the most recent block buster.  Show that you know the books that haven’t recently been made into movies.

The point of being able to name competing titles is to be able to tap into the audience for these books to help move your sales along.  Naming the competition helps the editor and the marketing department pigeon hole your book, and I mean pigeon hole in a good way.  Say Rick Riordan and they’ll think, fast plot and myth based.  Jane Yolen?  Literary and multi-layered.  Wilce?  Alternate history with a big dose of magic.

This isn’t easy to do but going through the effort will show the editor that you know the field and where your work fits.  It gives you a chance to impress them with your manuscript and your knowledge.





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