Years ago, a successful author friend of mine contacted a group of us, horrified at the discovery that another author’s most recent release centered on the very same little-known historical event as her just-turned-in book. What should she do? What if that author—or readers!–thought she’d stolen the other author’s story idea? We all assured her that, as crazy as it may seem, she was far from alone in this kind of discovery.
It happened to me. My outdoorsman husband and I brainstormed all kinds of grand ideas for my novel, Wilderness, in which the hero and heroine get lost in Washington’s Cascade mountains. I’d finished writing most of the book when a movie called The Edge released. Hubs and I went to see it—and were horrified when almost everything we’d brainstormed for my book—from a plane crash, to using a paperclip to determine direction, to having a crazed grizzly come after them, to digging a pit with sharpened spikes—were in the movie. We drove home in a kind of daze. My book wouldn’t come out for months. Anyone who saw the movie would think I’d stolen most of the scene ideas from it. There was nothing to do but start over.
Think we’re the only ones this happened to? Hardly.
Robin Lee Hatcher was writing Ribbon of Years when she read a blurb for Jerry Jenkins’s Though None Go with Me. The books sounded identical.
Louise Gouge wrote Ahab’s Bride as her master’s thesis in 1999. She hoped to get it published after graduation, but learned Ahab’s Wife was being released that very fall. Both were about the wife of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.
Deborah Raney discovered that Library Journal had reviewed Francine Rivers’ The Atonement Child back-to-back with her own second novel, In the Still of Night. Both featured contemporary stories of pregnancy as a result of rape.
Yvonne Lehman had just turned in her novel about Gomer and Hosea when she found out her own publisher was about to release another novel about those same characters!
After Miralee Ferrell’s debut novel, The Other Daughter, released, another author emailed her to assure Miralee that though their novels shared a similar premise, this author had written her book months before she heard about The Other Daughter.
When Stephanie Grace Whitson was working on Jacob’s List, she learned that Lisa Samson had just released a book with the same type of story hook.
So what should you do if you discover someone has written a book that seems disturbingly similar to yours?
First, take a deep breath. Then:
- Remind yourself that God’s in control. It’s not like he was looking over the railing of eternity and said, “Huh. Didn’t see that” He’s got this. Don’t fret. Honest, you’ll be okay. Because:
- Regardless of how similar the storylines may be, your writer’s voice is just that: yours. As author Kristen Billerbeck puts it: “Even if the elements of your story are the same, your way of writing it will be completely different.” Robin Lee Hatcher says, “Different voices always make the stories different too.”
- You can change some elements of your book, as I did with Wilderness. But only do that if you want to and have the time in the schedule.
- Know that the likelihood that someone stole your idea is very low. As the examples above show, great minds think alike. Or as Robin Lee Hatcher says, “Many, many authors have seen something in the news and been inspired to write a story and then learned that someone else had done the same.”
- Let it go. Seriously. Don’t let what is more than likely a coincidence unnerve you to the point that you can’t write. Or that you give fear a foothold.
- Consider not reading the other book until you’re finished with yours. Stephanie Grace Whitson shared: “I made the decision not to read Lisa Samson’s book until mine was finished, edited, and ‘gone to press.’ That way I knew in my heart I hadn’t borrowed anything.”
- When you’re done with your book, go ahead and satisfy your curiosity. Read the other book. Robin Lee Hatcher did, and she found that “Although the blurb would have fit both Jerry’s and my books, the stories were quite different. There were a few readers who said in reviews that my book reminded them of Jerry’s, but they always went on to say how different the stories were too.”
The bottom line is that you can trust God with your career. He sees the big picture. We don’t. And He knows exactly what needs to happen to accomplish His purposes for each of us as writers. Who knows, this seeming disaster could actually work for you. Though Louise Gouge had to wait five years after graduation, a publisher finally took a chance on Ahab’s Bride, which opened doors for her current writing career. As she summed it up, “I learned that the path the Lord had for me wasn’t what I’d planned…
“It was much better.”