Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: My 2 Published Books...kinda

It is often said that there are only a few stories out there, a few ideas and they keep getting recycled over and over.  This is said mainly by editors, agents, and writing teachers who claim that originality is hard to come by.  Its usually used as a battle cry to find something unique.  Something fresh.

But its true.  And here is my "story"...which I am sure you all have experienced, too.

My first published book came out in 2010 and was published by Greenwillow Books...which is crazy because I don't have an agent and never sent in a query.  It was just published.

I came up with the idea while participating in PiBoIdMo 2011.  Yes, my book that was published in 2010 was an idea that I didn't come up with til 2011.  What's the confusion?

My 3rd idea for PiBoIdMo last year says, "A porcupine desperately wants a balloon.  Everyone else at birthday parties gets a balloon...except porcupines...for obvious reasons.  But Milford (the procupine) is determined to find a way!"

You guessed it!  My book has the EXACT same premise at the uber-talented Deborah Underwood's A BALLOON FOR ISABEL.  Wow, right?  Guess I won't be spending any time on that idea. 

Next!

As a participant in 12x12 this year, I came up with my August manuscript and was feeling quite pleased.  In fact, its gone through a lot of revisions.  And I'll admit that I am not incredibly happy with the climax and resolution....but I truly felt, up until last night, that I was getting closer.

Last night I had some time to kill and I decided to feed my writer's soul by browsing the shelves at Books of Wonder. 

While browsing the Picture Book section I spotted a book on the bottom shelf that caught my eye.  I had never seen it or heard of it before and just by the title I could tell that it was "similar" to my August 12x12 manuscript.
Internal Spread from the Stan Wackarrino book in question.
I said to myself, "Self, you probably shouldn't pick that up and read it...in case you get influenced by it."  However, I was curious and I opened up the book.  To my dismay it had the EXACT climax and resolution to my August manuscript!!!  I couldn't believe it!

Now I don't want to give too much away, but it was published in 2001 by a highly-respected and often-published author/illustrator who's name rhymes with Stan Wackarrino. 

I was crushed.  This was not just an "idea" of mine that I found on the shelves.  It was a MANUSCRIPT that I had poured myself...along with Stan Wackarrino apparently...into.

So what is the takeaway?
  • I know firsthand that a truly original idea is hard to come by.
  • There is at least a part of me that is proud to have the same ideas as some of the best in the biz. That must count for something. 
  • Its back to the drawing board.  Time to take my "Stan Wackarrino-esque" story and turn it on its head.  Find a new twist.  Make it fresher.
  • Being a writer is tough.
What about you, writers?  Do you have similar stories?
Weigh In and share.  I bet we find out that even our frustrations are NOT original.

55 comments:

  1. Oh, this happens to me all the time. I'm constantly coming up with ideas, and then I write them down, and I let them sit for ten minutes, and then I realize that the idea is exactly the premise of a book already on my shelf.

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    1. The weird thing is...I had never read EITHER one of these books before. Never heard of them.

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  2. Oh, do I have stories, Marcie. I've almost cried in bookstores over these discoveries.

    Deborah is in my writing group and we had several discussions about her A BALLOON FOR ISABEL manuscript, a story I adore. Im writing an online course on writing character-driven picture books and will be using Deborah's book as an example. While researching, found another book with similarities (and differences) to Deborah's, HUGS FROM PEARL. Another darling porcupine story. Let's face it. Porcupines have a built-in problem if they are attending elementary school. Those quills! Ha.

    I think you're right: a truly original idea is hard to come by. But we might say that the other part is that there are lots of brilliant minds floating in the ether... like yours. I like that perspective. I guess, the caveat is to write, write, write if we have an idea we are passionate about...to get it into the world, in physical form, as soon as possible.

    Thanks for sharing, Marcie. Love the post.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Marsha! It does make you want to cry...but hopefully will help motivate and light a fire under you.
      So excited to hear more about your e-course. :)

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  3. I wrote a manuscript that I still think is one of the funniest things I've ever written. My kids ask me to read it to them more than any other manuscript. However, in the couple of years since I wrote it, I have seen MORE THAN ONE book that is built on the exact same premise. I mean, EXACT. It is crazy! So yes, it totally happens.

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    1. UGH! Frustrating! Sorry to hear this, Amy!

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  4. I think I'm afraid to look, Marcie, until I need to write a book proposal!

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    1. My advice, Jarm...is to look now. The PiBoIdMo idea was more funny to me because it was simply an idea. But the manuscript was hard to take because I had put so much time and effort into it. Now, the manuscript isn't completely dead...but I need more work.

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  5. I have received rejections because my manuscript was too similar to something that editor just acquired. That's always rough because you feel like you missed an opportunity by a nanosecond. If only I'd written that story faster! But, on the other hand, it's good to know your writing is appealing. It's nice to receive an "I love this...but" rejection--they're the best kind.

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    1. Yeah. That's the way I think I am going to think on this...my writing must be appealing because its getting published by someone! Just not me! :)

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  6. Ohhh, I'm sorry my little Isabel caused you heartache. If it makes you feel at all better, the story was originally titled A BALLOON FOR EMILY--but after it was acquired, we discovered there's already a book out there called EMILY'S BALLOON. I was so sad about having to change her name! The name "Isabel" has grown on me, but I still think of her as Emily...

    And to add my own story, I have a penguin ms that's been floating around for 10 years in various stages of revision. I did a full-blown dummy for it in 2001 or 2002. I recently met a wonderful illustrator, learned she had a penguin book, and decided I should read it. One of the spreads in her book is almost IDENTICAL to a spread in my dummy--so close I actually laughed when I saw it. (And of course she and I had absolutely no contact during the processes.)

    Good think we are all infinite sources of brilliant ideas, eh wot?

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    1. It gives me hope, Deborah!
      And I am sure, as the circle of life continues, somewhere down the line there will be people writing blog posts similar to this and crying over seeing MY book. :) Soldier on!

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  7. That is disheartening, but hey at least you know your ideas are publish-worthy!

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  8. I've been there Marcie. It's heartbreaking especially after spending so much time on it. Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. We'll all have these moments. Its bound to happen because we are all so freakin' brilliant!

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  9. Love this post, Marcie. Now I am understanding why editors are turning down numerous mss. It's because they've seen it before (among other excuses). Now if I think I've got an original idea, I'd better look for it at the library/bookstore before proceeding.

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    1. It is definitely something to keep in mind. And...it will help me revise my manuscript to be especially wacky and fresh. Motivation!

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  10. I drafted a silly alphabet/wordplay sort of a story, only to see E-MERGENCY hit the shelves. I know better than to compete with Tom Lichtenheld :) Soldier on is right!

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    1. And I know better than to compete with "Stan Wackarrino"! :)

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  11. Oh, Marcie, I feel your pain! Daisy, as in the award-winning, wordless PB, A Ball for Daisy, is the name of one of my Two Orange Pups, about whom I've been writing for over two years & about whom my most-developed MS is about, you guessed it, a ball. Different storyline, but...

    And after the SCBWI NY Meet the Agents panel last evening, I chatted with one of the agents who pronounced the premise of another fave MS not marketable. LOL!

    Back to the keyboard!

    Hang in there & thanks for providing a forum where we can share our pain!

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    1. Oh Patricia! So sorry I had to leave early last night. I think we need to meet up for a drink sooner rather than later. Hang in there!

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  12. I've gotten to the point where I can't write more than a rough draft without doing some kind of market research to see if something similar is out there already. It's a catch-22 because you don't want to be too influenced by similar work -- but at the same time, don't want to find out after the fact that "your" story already exists.

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    1. Exactly, Carrie. I don't like to be influenced by similiar stories. And I wouldn't have read this at all, if I didn't think my story was "done".

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  13. Great post Marcie! Guess reading tons of PBs will help too - somewhat! As soon as I have an idea I look for similar titles, themes or premises. We can only be as aware as possible - no more!

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    1. I read a ton of PBs. I think sometimes this is unavoidable. It happens.

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  14. See? This is the EXACT reason I have a hard time following all kidlit writers' advice of "Read, read, READ!" I can't! I begin to write, and then I realize I am subconsciously copying other books. It's frustrating!

    I have also had many stories that I have started, and then discovered that the book had already been published. In fact, I started on a manny one time and I was suuuper excited about it. Before I finished it, I went to my critique group for our usual monthly meeting, and- no joke- one of my lovely ladies brought something new... And her something new? It was precisely the same story I was in the middle of working on. Couldn't be mad, though. It just means our group is very connected!

    Sorry, friend... I'm with ya, for sure!

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    1. I guess its bound to happen. We are all so brilliant! :)

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  15. aaarrrgggh....that sucks! I worry every time I start reading book descriptions that someone will publish my idea before I do. haha. But, I write YA, so the plots are a lot more complex than PB. I try to tell myself that, even if I find a book with the same concept, the story will be totally different. But I still don't want it to happen. :)

    Good luck with coming up with your twist!!

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    1. Thanks, Tamara. I'll be twisting the night away!

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  16. Ugh. Definitely! Right after my first book came out, I sent a manuscript called Ballet Secret to my publisher and the same editor that yanked my first book out of the slush pile LOVED it. It was happily and successfully making the rounds, up the totem pole, when one of the editors picked up The Only Boy in Ballet Class. Done. Too close. So sad.

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    1. (insert sad trombone here). Sorry, Genevieve.

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  17. True about the ideas. Thanks for sharing this perspective. I've cried out while reading a book to my son more than once, "This is my (fill in the blank for theme/topic, etc) story!" Of course, if we follow the advice to know the market. We all know there are tons of books on the same subject. We just need a different twist. No one can tell your story, but some can tell a version of your story first. Sigh. Happy writing and ideas this week.

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    1. Thanks, Stacy. Alas, this wasn't just the subject. It was the plot. Argh!

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  18. If you peek in my PiBoIdMo 2011 book, I've scribbled on many ideas, "already published." So you're right! Now, before I write a rough draft, I research on Amazon to see if I can find my idea/topic. My latest idea...I found zilch! Yea! Great insight, Marcie!

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  19. I often do exactly the same thing as Tina Cho - If I feel I would like to develop a concept and spend a lot of time on it, I often check Amazon children's books first and then check the date it was published. If it has a fairly recent published date, I tend to leave it unless I feel I can put a stronger twist into the storyline.

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  20. A few years ago, I had for a splendid idea for a magazine article and started writing the article. I decided on the perfect magazine that would interested in this article--and went to the library to read old issues. Yes, sure enough, there in a old issue was "my" article--it even had a similar title.

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  21. I agree. The writer's life is an adventure! At least that's what I call it when a detour suddenly appears. Thanks for the reminder that it happens to us all, Marcie.

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    1. I figure the least I can do is blog about it to help others feel good. :)

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  22. I always try to do a little research before I start a story but even then there are so many stories out there it's impossible to know them all. I've had critique partners point out that my story was very similar to a story I had never heard of. I work in a bookstore and I can't believe how many titles that I've seen that are similar to my MG novel. I think it's time I write something else.

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  23. Oh - Marcie. Another post that rings so true. Totally been there.

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  24. I know your pain, Marcie! Kevin Henkes apparently wrote my book Chrysanthemum (right down to the exact same NAME no less) before I did! Ouch!

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    1. Ouch! And who wants to compete with Kevin Henkes? Ugh

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  25. the story of my life - er, stories..... bummer, eh? So we just pick ourselves up, dust off and get back to scribbling. Because, heck! if it was good enough to get published, then it's a good idea! So we just gotta write faster, right?

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  27. Thank you for sharing, Marcie. I had what I thought was a great idea during this year's PiBoIdMo. I started the story and remembered I should look for books that might be the same. Yep. Found that published book about what I thought might be a unique idea-LOL I am trying to think of a different direction to take my character.

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    1. YES! Think of a different direction, do not scrap that idea all together. Just know that you have the added push and challenge to think deeper about the story and make it even better than the one that is already published. You can do it!

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  28. Oh, my god, I'm laughing because it's so painfully true. I had a WONDERFUL lemming book all ready to start subbing. PW rights report comes out and that darn too-adorably-awesome team of Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora are smiling at me next to the title: Read The Book, Lemmings!

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    1. LOL! You had a lemming story, too?? I had one that I wrote a draft of back in 2011, but decided to hold off on working on it further thinking that it would always be there. Well, you are right Ame and Zach have a lemming story coming out. It'll be fun to see how close to my idea it was.

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