Guest Post: Jen Nadol on Oh No! Someone Used My Idea! & The Vision ARC Giveaway

By Jen Nadol

You’ve got a great story concept. The minute it comes to you, scenes start unfolding in your head, plot points filling in faster than you can remember them. You grab a piece of paper and jot down ideas before they slip away.

You start writing. Chapter after chapter. Some easier than others, but still with that exhilarating sense that this is a winner. A story that will sell. Something new. Fresh.

And then one day you’re walking through the bookstore or scrolling through Publishers Lunch and you see it: your concept, already on the shelves or listed in the latest deals.

Has this happened to you?

It’s happened to me. Twice.

My debut novel, The Mark (Bloomsbury, 2010), was finished and in production when I heard about not one, but two other YA books coming out within a few months of it with nearly the same concept.

Take a look at these descriptions:

The Mark: Cassie knows when someone is about to die. Not how or where, only when: today.

My Soul To Take by Rachel Vincent: She doesn’t see dead people, but she senses when someone near her is about to die.

Numbers by Rachel Ward: When Jem Marsh looks into a person’s eyes, she sees the date of their death.

Oh, no! I thought. My new, fresh, exciting idea has already been used!

It was an agonizing, terrifying, deflating moment.

What did I do? The only thing I could: after moping around for a while feeling rotten, I ignored those other books. I didn’t look them up again or follow their reviews or sales numbers. And I certainly didn’t read them.

Until now. Two years later I was finally un-chicken enough to take a peek.

Turns out I was right to avoid them. Not because they’re just like my book (fear #1) – they’re not.

But because of the doubt the few similarities would have planted in my head. That insidious, parasitic second-guessing that is a writer’s worst enemy: Should I change that character’s name? Have her live with an uncle instead of an aunt? Cut that line that sounds too much like one in another book?

Re-write this scene? Or what about this one? Make the narrator male? Or instead of a glow, maybe it should be something else…

You can see how that might be unproductive.

Fear #2 – that these books might influence my writing – was real. The Mark was beyond my ability to change, but I had a sequel to write, one that wouldn’t benefit from shaken confidence.

Writing is a leap of faith. It’s one thing to examine your characters and plot to make them as good and authentic as you can. But when you stop believing in yourself and your story and your characters and start changing them just to fit a mold or break one, you lose something essential to the process: your unique voice and point of view.

Writer Audre Lord said: There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.

Of course it would be better if no one ever came up with the same fabulous concept you did, but what are the chances of that? And yes, there is probably a saturation point for certain ideas. But if you don’t know of five or ten books already out there, that point probably isn’t close. Vampires have proven there’s ample room for variations on a theme.

So if it happens to you, I say believe in your story and write it anyway. Because even if your basic concept is the same, through your eyes and with your voice, it will still be unique.

At least, I’m banking on that for my WIP, a novel called The Box that was eighty percent drafted when I read about the new Jay Asher/Carolyn Mackler book The Future of Us.

The concept? Teens accidentally see a slice of their future.

The same as my new, exciting, fresh novel. Oh no.

As you might have guessed, I wrote it anyway.

Cynsational Notes

Enter to win an advanced reader copy of The Vision by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, September 2011). From the promotional copy:

Cassie Renfield knows the mark tells her when someone is going to die and that she can intervene and attempt to change fate. But she still doesn’t understand the consequences, especially whether saving one life dooms another.

With no family left to offer guidance, Cassie goes in search of others like her. But when she meets Demetria, a troubled girl who seems to have the same power, Cassie finds the truth isn’t at all what she expected. And then there’s her heady new romance with bad boy Zander. Dating him has much graver repercussions than Cassie could ever have imagined, forcing her to make choices that cut to the essence of who she is and what she believes.

The Vision is a riveting sequel to The Mark, offering readers a romance with big stakes and a new ethical dilemma with no easy answers.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “The Mark” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 6.

23 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jen Nadol on Oh No! Someone Used My Idea! & The Vision ARC Giveaway

  1. Thanks for this honest post, Jen. I found another book awfully similar to the one I've been pitching the last six months, and I just wanted to go home and pull the covers over my head. I haven't decided whether to continue or cut my losses, but I appreciate your insights here.

  2. M.G., whatever decision is right for you, please know that we're rooting for you.

    I likewise had a "yikes" moment when I discovered that Carol Lynch Williams' wonderful Carolina Autumn had been released a season before Rain Is Not My Indian Name, which was already in production (perhaps even in ARC).

    The books both involved photography, grief/healing themes, and I believed even both used journal entries as a storytelling device.

    I was doubly intimidated because Carol is one of my personal favorite authors.

    In the end, it didn't matter. I happily referred readers who'd loved Rain to Carol's fine novel. "If you like this," I told them, "you'll like that, too."

  3. Such a disconcerting feeling. I have deliberately avoided reading a book I know is similar to one I've been querying but I've read about it so I can distinguish if needed. At an online forum, I recently saw a book with a very similar premise as well. It certainly makes me feel less creative, but I love the lessons outlined here. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is such a great post! I've changed my plot and characters, and even dropped novels that were similar to others, even though I hadn't seen those books before I began writing my novel. You're so right: there are no new ideas. And some things are simply coincidences.

  5. Tricia, good luck with your queries! You're not less creative. You're part of a tradition, a larger conversation, where ideas are battled back and forth, twisted and reinvented over generations. Believe in your unique vision and voice for your idea!

    Lin, sometimes I think certain creative vibes surge at particular times in history–great minds and all that. Your take on the idea will be special and vibrant–take a deep breath, believe, and keep typing!

  6. Thanks for this great post! 🙂 I know what it feels like to see someone publishing a book with similar ideas and themes as my WIP. Especially if that person is a well-known author, I wonder: I'm just a beginner, how can I possibly catch up? It's a sad and scary feeling. Thanks for sharing and for the giveaway!
    Email: bluefish3000 at yahoo dot com

  7. I've read The Mark, My Soul to Take, and Numbers. I loved all three and did not feel like I was reading the same story.
    The Box sounds intriguing; look forward to it and The Vision 🙂
    cegluna at Gmail dot com

  8. Thanks for the great advice on what to do when you find yourself in this situation. I've read that no ideas are unique. What's unique is the execution of the idea.

    Don't enter me in the contest because I'm getting an ARC of Jen's book and giving it away at Literary Rambles in early October.

  9. Sometimes this fear overtakes me while writing and I curl in on myself. It's good to remember that I just have to keep doing the best I can with the story I want to tell. Thank you for this post!

    angelidgcruz at gmail dot com

  10. Great post! I honestly don't get turned off by similar stories. Often enough they're completely unique and I enjoy them both equally.
    Please enter me 🙂

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  11. Late to the party (travelling on the west coast), but thanks to everyone for chiming in!

    M.G., Eisen, Tricia, Lin – I'm sorry it happened to you, too. It's not easy to push past that Oh no! moment. I wonder if I would have been able to if the books in question hadn't been so far along already, but in both cases I'm really glad I did. In finishing The Box I wound up with a twist on the idea I hadn't even considered before so maybe that Oh no! pushed me to think even harder about the concept? Good luck to all of you in pushing forward with your manuscripts & queries and pitching what is surely unique about them.

    Thanks for commenting Donna & Natalie!

    And I agree, cgluna – I really enjoyed Numbers & My Soul To Take and as an objective reader, the stories seemed very different to me (though as a neurotic writer, i was still, um, a bit neurotic : )

  12. Natalie, I agree that no ideas are wholly unique, and I think that's directly related to the fact that we don't get any copyright protection. In the law, what we protected is that execution. That's where the value is.

    Your entry is noted, Sayomay. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, whether from this giveaway, a bookstore or library! Jen is a wonderful writer.

  13. Angel, fear is something that we writers all have to face. I've heard YA rock star Nancy Werlin speak, and she's even named her fear (Fearnando) so she can better work around it. Hang in there!

    Vivien, that's a terrific point. Librarians often talk about read-alikes, per my example with Rain Is Not My Indian Name and Carolina Autumn.

    Jen, it's incredibly gracious of you to check in while you're on the road. Thank you. I love this: "In finishing The Box I wound up with a twist on the idea I hadn't even considered before so maybe that Oh no! pushed me to think even harder about the concept?" That's the sign of a writer with legs for years to come! Enjoy your trip!

  14. Jen, I am so excited about The Vision's upcoming release! The Mark was such an awesome book, and it has been a very long year and a half wait for what I'm sure will be more aweseomeness in the second book.

    I also want you to know that your book was definitely different enough from Rachel Vincent's series. Few ideas are truly unique, but that should not detract from the reading experience. (I haven't read the Rachel Ward books, but I would assume the same applies here as well.)

    Good luck with this and all of your future projects!


  15. Oh, sounds sooo familiar! Three other books with the Greek mythology (& Hades in particular) came out around Sirenz. But we're all different, so it doesn't bother me. Of course if we were the ONLY one, it would help us standout, but it is what it is. Another reason to polish and perfect the writing.

  16. Charlotte, I'm sure that readers who pick up those other three books will quickly find their way to yours. I've found that teens in particular are often eager for more of whatever they like, and Greek mythology is ever so ripe and fascinating! Congratulations on your success! Thanks for chiming in!

  17. Angel – exactly right! Like Cynthia points out, we all battle that fear, sometimes it's tougher than others, but your attitude is the best possible!

    Amanda – thank you so much! Cynthia is so right & I feel lucky you found your way to The Mark…I hope you enjoy The Vision just as much!

    Thanks Jess, Vivien & Sayomay!

    And, Charlotte, so true: it is what it is. I find myself saying that a lot…there's just so much we can't control so why fret about it? Easier said than done sometimes…
    Congrats on your success with Sirenz!

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