Someone Stole My Book Idea!

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.”

 

28 Responses to Someone Stole My Book Idea!

  1. Avatar
    Brennan McPherson June 28, 2017 at 4:32 am #

    Wow. That’s pretty bonkers how many plot elements Wilderness and The Edge had in common. I just read about how some writers tried to sue Pure Flix because God’s Not Dead “infringed” on their copyright on a screenplay they had shown to Pure Flix before they made God’s Not Dead. Though the two stories (God’s Not Dead and the writers’ copyrighted screenplay) shared some plot elements, they were substantively different in the approach, and the court said, “Sorry, writers. Pure Flix is in the right.”

    We can fear plagiarism, but we all are inspired by other creative works, and to some extent steal creative ideas, albeit morphing them to our liking. “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But your personality is unique, and so is your approach to characters and ideas. Great insight, Karen.

  2. Avatar
    Pamela Meyers June 28, 2017 at 5:38 am #

    The same thing happened to me recently. I submitted a proposal to an editor for an historical romance I wrote several years ago. It was quickly rejected because it was too similar to another novel by a multipublished author at another publisher. Curious, I ordered the other book and read it. Yes the plot points were quite similar, but the storylines went different directions and were not alike all that much. I wish the editor had been able to put the other story out of her mind and see my story from a different perspective, but it was all too recent in her mind to do so.

    An agent told me later how often this happens and just like Karen says here, plot points may be similar, but there is more than one way to write a story from the same points. Her advice was to not say anything about the other book in my proposal and chances are, the next editor won’t even give the other story a thought to make the comparison.

  3. Avatar
    Kim June 28, 2017 at 6:01 am #

    Anyone remember the movies Deep Impact, released in 1998, and Armageddon, also released that year? Both were about asteroids hurtling towards the earth. I always wondered how two major movies with the same plot line were released the same year!

  4. Avatar
    Heather June 28, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    Love this blog. But what about copyright issues? Could you be sued for writing on the same ideas? Would it be considered plagiarism?

  5. Avatar
    Carol Ashby June 28, 2017 at 6:29 am #

    It seems to me that the degree to which this is a serious problem varies with genre. Some, like suspense/thriller, need an extra degree of uniqueness to keep the reader from saying, “Read that already. I’m through.”

    Genres that are more relationship-driven than event-driven, like romance, shouldn’t have as much of a problem. I’ve read and enjoyed romances and historicals where I could predict the next scene most of the time, and I still considered them worth reading because the writing was good.

    Sometimes the theme is so appealing, uniqueness isn’t a requirement. I’ve enjoyed every variation on beauty and the beast that I’ve read or watched as a movie.

  6. Avatar
    Paul Wilhelm June 28, 2017 at 7:10 am #

    I have had this happen with stories and invention ideas. Every time it happens (because it will again), I let it serve to remind me to trust that inner voice that dropped the idea in my spirit in the first place. I believe that God sprinkles these ideas around for that very reason. He knows who will be first to market, but He also wants others to learn to trust His voice.

  7. Avatar
    Rebekah Dorris June 28, 2017 at 7:13 am #

    That’s happened to me with my current novel – twice. One was, ironically, Jerry Jenkins’ “Though None Go with Me.” The other was Cathy Gohlke’s “Promise Me This.”

    In both cases, my initial reaction was a heart sinking as I watched my ideas fleshed out much more expertly than I’m capable of. Both books were incredible.

    Then reality sunk in. I had ideas that mirrored Jerry Jenkins and Cathy Gohlke! Also, both books were significantly different from mine. Many of my insecurities were answered as I realized my ideas might not be so bad if other people had used similar ones.

    Encouraging post! Thanks!

  8. Avatar
    CJ Myerly June 28, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    I’ve always wondered this. I’ve read books that as I’m reading I notice a similar thread to something I’m writing–and I’ve always wondered if that was a bad thing. Generally, it fleshes out differently, but I’m glad you shared this.

    So encouraging.

  9. Avatar
    Maggie McKenzie June 28, 2017 at 7:25 am #

    Great Post! I appreciate hearing this prospective and I agree that when I read two similar stories it doesn’t bother me. But when it happens to me and I hear about a book with a similar story line I wonder…God, did you find someone else to tell that story since I haven’t gotten my idea in print?

    Your post takes some of the pressure off and I will continue to work on perfecting my story so I can get it published.
    Thanks

  10. Avatar
    Robin E. Mason June 28, 2017 at 8:47 am #

    my mom had a story premise that showed up as a movie of the week and she was convinced that whoever she had submitted it to had stolen her idea! this was years before I was vested in my writing and knew how common this is. i never read the story or saw the movie in question but i know that agents and publishers are not so thieving or desperate as to pirate an unwitting author’s storyline!
    it does take some of the fear that i might be suspected of stealing another’s story—and yes, i’m like most other authors and i believe i’ve got something, a twist or angle no one else has thought of! because you know, those exist! LOL

  11. Avatar
    Henry Styron June 28, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    It’s been said, regrettably I forget by whom, that “there are no original ideas. There are only original ways of expressing them.”

    Publishers do have to be careful of competing works, because the public is probably only going to support one “wacky hijinks ensue when an Amish time traveler gets caught up in international intrigue and meets the love of her life against a backdrop of dystopian malaise in the midst of a world gone mad” plot a year, so whichever writer gets it into print first has a leg up, no matter how different the voice or storytelling style.

    Having said that, thank you, Karen, for the reminder of God’s sovereignty and plan. Excellently and entertainingly written and knowledgeable post, but that point really resonated with me.

  12. Avatar
    Ronnell Gibson June 28, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Thanks for this post! I agree with the “take a breath.” I had my freak out moment when I read a blurb about a newly published book, that could have been describing my work-in-progress. I bought the book and realized that though the blurb could have been describing either story, the two stories were completely different in topic, theme and voice. Blurbs aren’t always an accurate portrayl of the their books.

  13. Avatar
    Mary Hampton June 28, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    I had the same thing happen with my first book. I submitted it (at the Mt. Hermon conference) as an illustrated devotional before there was a “gift book” category. The book was all but completed (under contract with a leading publisher) when a small book with the same title appeared in another publishers catalog. My editor contacted me all indignant as though I could have known (a year before the catalog came out) that there was another book releasing with the same title. So, we changed the title and proceeded.

    After the book was done, a major CBA author released a gift book on the same theme (very different treatment). When my book appeared in the catalog the other publisher contacted mine threatening a ‘trade dress’ lawsuit because the two covers were similar. My cover was virtually the same as the one I’d submitted at the conference several months before the competing book appeared in their catalog or was released. Both even used the same font. It was frustrating to be accused of “stealing,” or at the very least being influenced by, projects that I didn’t know existed until mine was finished. It taught me very early in my career that two books can look alike or have the same theme but two authors won’t treat them the same way. It might not seem like it in that moment, but each will appeal to a slightly different audience for different reasons, so there’s room for more than one in most cases.

  14. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 28, 2017 at 9:07 am #

    Yeah someone DID steal my idea…and boy, was I mad when the movie “Pride+Prejudice+Zombies” came out.

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 28, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      I suppose I can dust off my WIP about the zombies of Camelot…”Knight Of The Living Dead”.

  15. Avatar
    Edward Lane June 28, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    Very inspiring, Karen!

  16. Avatar
    Mary-Anne June 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    Thank you Karen especially for your comment that “God is in control”. I have to constantly remind myself of how awesome He is, and He wants the very best for us.

    Seriously, once again, how do people live without Him!

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

      Amen, Mary-Anne!

    • Avatar
      Gypsy November 5, 2018 at 2:44 pm #

      I keep telling myself that but I feel so stupid, this manuscript was written by my deceased husband and someone i let read it to do the illustrations may be getting it copyrighted as we speak!

  17. Avatar
    Michael Emmanuel June 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    Now, I’m tasking my mind to imagine a similar concept to the idea I summed up last week, and my face is contorting in various smiles.
    After staying away from brainstorming novel ideas for six months, it sure would have me… scared.
    But if it’s happened to published authors, it can happen again.

  18. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D June 28, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Karen, thank you for sharing this information with us. Your blog may save a lot of folks some headaches and tears.

  19. Avatar
    Peggy Booher June 28, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

    Karen,

    Thank you for letting us know this does happen; it’s not a big deal if it does, and most importantly, thanks for the reminder that God’s in control and He knows what He’s doing.

  20. Avatar
    Kara Isaac June 28, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

    Great post, Karen!

    This happened to me with the manuscript that my agent signed me for (that is still unpublished). It was rejected by a publisher because they thought it was too similar high concept wise to Susan May Warren’s My Foolish Heart. I hadn’t even heard of it and when I looked it up on Amazon and read the blurb I almost died because they did sound SO similar!

    I couldn’t read it fast enough. Phew! Even though high concept wise they did sound very similar they were completely different stories.

    Then it happened again. I was in the middle of writing Can’t Help Falling when I discovered another author had a book releasing set in England with a rowing connection. I was like you have got to be joking! I gave my editor a heads up and she asked me how many romances I could think of that had a football connection. I could list five off the top of my head and then realised that it was true. There really is nothing new under the sun. Some times the timing may not be ideal but there are many many books that will sound pretty much identical when distilled into just a couple of sentences but are completely different in the details.

  21. Avatar
    Christine Henderson June 29, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    Guess the old adage is true – There are no new stories under the sun. However, we can each write them with a different twist. Two most notable stories come to mind as examples: A Christmas Carol and Cinderella. How many times have those plots been rewritten? They may touch on the same theme, but the way they are portrayed is unique to the author or scriptwriter.

  22. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell June 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    While story ideas may sometimes intersect, we can take comfort in the fact that a body of writing has its own unique fingerprint. No two storytellers will tell the same story even if they shared the same outline. The real problem is that it seems to steal the thunder of a story. The authors are able to move on the actual story would be left on the shelf knowing it came to the party wearing the same outfit as another.

  23. Avatar
    Mary Elizabeth Brown July 2, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

    Thank you so much for this encouraging article. As a new writer I have been afraid that somehow, someone else is writing my book even as I am struggling though my first novel. Is it worth all the suffering to finish? I am compelled to write this even if no one ever reads it but God has all of that in His control. Nothing is a surprise to Him.

  24. Avatar
    Bonnie Engstrom July 2, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    Although this is a different situation (maybe one you would like to address), I just finished a book set in a historic hotel – one I visited many times. Right before I wrote The End, I decided to check out one fact and went to the hotel’s website. I was shocked and saddened to learn the hotel was destroyed by fire just a month before. I wonder how often a venue is somehow destroyed that the author is writing about. I’ve decided to write a sequel about how the owner couple deal with the devastation. There is always a reason and a way to overcome tragedy.

    Bonnie Engstrom

  25. Avatar
    Aspen Garner April 5, 2018 at 4:51 pm #

    I have a similar problem but my story idea is becoming a movie. I wrote the story truth,dare,or die on hooked back in 2017 February to March and now a year later someone is releasing a movie called Truth or Dare with the same concept as my story! I don’t know what to do in order to reach out to the producers and tell them that the material they are using was stolen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!