Friday, November 1, 2013

Storyteller's Journey

Embrace or Evade Comparable Books?

A few years ago, while my critique partner, Kriston,
and I were visiting Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, she had an eerie experience. She discovered a YA novel that had a flap copy description that would not only fit her own WIP to a T, but worse than that - the protagonist had the same name! I assured her that if anyone accused her of plagiarism I would explain to them that I had been her classmate in the college creative writing class when the novel had been conceived. (She went on to publish her amazing YA fantasy novel, Awakened, and is working on the sequel.) Since that time we have come to realize that this is not an unusual experience. But, I was always confident that my middle grade novel had little chance of duplicating another book, even a bit...until recently!

The above books are all not only middle grade novels, but they also all contain female protagonists. They would all - to lesser or greater degrees - be considered comparable books to the middle grade novel that I am currently submitting. However, one of the books (which shall remain unidentified) contains a protagonist with the same name as my own heroine; has a major character that is a quirky grandmother - like my story; and features ghosts in its plot - also like my story. (Thankfully the plot, setting, and other elements of that novel are nothing like my book.) I discovered this similarity, surprisingly enough, after I had purchased the book, but before I had it signed by the author. I was so unraveled, that when I met the talented writer, I mentioned the similarity. She laughed and said, "Don't worry, my book will be a great comp book for you!" However, for some reason I was still just a bit uncomfortable with the similarity. (If you follow my blog close enough, you will be able to pick out the book I am referring to in the photo.)

Since that encounter, I have researched the concept of comparable books quite a bit. What I have discovered is that authors of young adult and adult novels seem to be asked to mention comparable books more than authors of middle grade novels when submitting. That brings up the big question: Should we embrace or evade comparable books? Writing a book that is similar to a well-known published book would of course make our own novel more marketable. But how similar is too similar? I am still battling with frustration from the fact that there is already a published book in bookstores with strange similarities to my novel. It is, of course, a moot issue unless my book gets published!

What are your thoughts on the subject of comparable books?

8 comments:

  1. That realy is eerie. Although a few years ago I had the same experience in two different ways. I had written the fourth wish and was sending it out, when I went to the library and checked out a book whose first chapter opened with almost the same encounter with a magical person that mine did. Another time, I was working on a time travel story for kids and in the kids' section of the library, encountered my working title. I guess it happens more than one would ever suspect.

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. It's nice to know that this has happened to other writers! Have a great weekend. :-)

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  2. I hear of this happening a lot. My opinion is that unless they're identical embrace it. It means that there is a market for your book. It means that it's a good story, good characters, and good plot that has a great chance of being published. Yes, it's a little disconcerting. But, it's going to happen, I guess we better get used to it.

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    1. This is one of the big reasons I blog: to get awesome feedback from my friends! Thanks, Sara...I needed that. Have a wonderful week.

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  3. Horrible! I personally hate it when this happens--especially if I thought my book had an original idea. LOL This happened to me recently. WEIRD that this friend's comp book you refer to even had the same MC name, though! I suppose it can be a good thing, if you use it in the way you describe (as long as it's not TOO copycat-feeling, or too similar). Because if a reader likes a similar book, he/she'd be apt to read yours as well.

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    1. In regards to the protagonist's name, the one redeeming factor in my story is that my MC goes by a nickname of that given name. Thanks for your insight, Carol!

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  4. I hear this happens a lot. As surprising as that is to me, I guess we can't worry all that much about it. Even though a handful of similarities may be disconcerting, I'm sure they are outweighed by all of the unique aspects that set your story apart.

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    1. You make a good point, Ruth - there are numerous unique aspects within my story (and my friend's novel too). And, since I'm still excited by my story, I think I should view this occurrence as a bump in the road!

      Have a great week!

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