I’ve kept the details of my upcoming release locked up tight, not out of fear that someone would steal my idea but out of fear that some blog reader might point out that it’s already been done. It’s an irrational fear because, let’s face it, there is no such thing as a truly original story. We are constantly recycling ideas from the smallest details concerning character and setting, to bigger ideas like central conflicts and plot points. It’s the unique combination of those familiar elements that creates a new story but even with this knowledge, I’m still terrified that I’ve spent the past year writing a series that someone else has already done better.
Confession: my upcoming series is all about dreams. And what new trend is popping up in this fall’s YA releases? You guessed it. I’ve discovered several upcoming novels that revolve around dreams or navigating dreams or dream boys or dream girls or falling in love in dreams. Each time I stumble upon another book that’s even vaguely similar to my own concept I feel like someone has just punched me in the stomach. I curse like someone has too. Because this is 400 days, thousands of hours, and countless sleepless nights we’re talking about here. I’ve devoted the last year of my life to this project and the thought that upon publication, it might just disappear, buried beneath the other novels like it, is devastating to me.
Eventually, in the midst of my panic, I started to remember this age old rule of storytelling–that nothing is new, not completely–and this thought spurred me to think about my own reading habits. After all, readers are precisely who I was most concerned about in all of this. I was afraid that after reading three other novels about dreams this winter that people would pass over mine either because they didn’t like those other novels or because they liked them too much and didn’t think anything could top them. Again, another irrational fear. But when I stopped to think about how and why I read books, I realized that when I love a certain genre or a certain archetype or a certain setting, I tend to seek out books that share those qualities. And if the publishing trends of the last decade have taught us anything, it’s that other people, if not most people, tend to do the same thing.
The most famous example of this? Twilight. When I was sixteen they released the first movie in theaters and I remember that whole semester, every girl in my high school was lugging around those giant black books along with their textbooks. Around that time True Blood aired its first season and soon after The Vampire Diaries was turned into a television series as well. Vampire books had always been a popular literary vice among readers but they’d never exploded quite like this. During the height of Twilight’s popularity, not only were people devouring everything they could related to the books, but they were branching out and devouring anything and everything vampire-related as well.
Why? Because when we find something we like we can’t get enough of it. When Kettle Korn releases their holiday drizzle corn every fall I clean out the shelves at Walgreens pretty much once a week and when my birthday comes around and my boyfriend buys me a cake from marble slab I usually eat half of it in one sitting. It’s ridiculous and irrational but we are consumers. We consume things. And when we like something we consume it as much as possible. So maybe the fact that these other novels about dreams are being released around the same time that mine are, is actually a blessing in disguise. I’m indie, which means that I’m invisible. I can’t afford, nor do I have the clout to send out hundreds of ARCs or to put out press releases or organize a street team to share my book cover and host really snazzy giveaways. But traditional publishers do. And if they want to expose and promote this new trend for the sake of their authors, who’s to say that my work won’t be made more visible as well? Who’s to say that someone won’t read one of those other books, fall in love with the concept, and seek out more? Who’s to say that being a part of the emergence of this new trend won’t actually work in my favor?
The key to all of this is perspective. I can either live in fear and believe that everything happening to or around me is part of some cosmic plan to ruin my life. Or I can live in the hope that everything happening to or around me is actually working in my favor to make my dreams come true. I choose to believe in the latter. Why? Because optimism just feels better. So if you find yourself in a similar situation and you’re creating something that other people may have also created or doing something that other people might also be doing, don’t panic.
I repeat, DO NOT PANIC. Instead, breathe, relax. Realize that books are about the journey, both for the reader and the writer, and that whether or not someone has a read a book like yours before, whether or not they hated it, the experience they have with your story will be totally unique. Because you’re unique. And even if the plot may be similar to something that’s already been done, or the characters are slightly familiar, or the setting is just being revisited, your words can never be replicated. Your point of view and your vision are something that no one else on earth has the capacity to create or translate. It’s you. Your book is you and you are one of a kind.