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Saturday, March 10, 2012

NEVER ENOUGH Secrets - Hey, You Stole My Idea!

I cannot believe how fast time has been going lately. When you first sell a book, the one and a half to three years before publication feels like FOREVER! But just like last time, the last six months zoom by!

Today it is only four more months until NEVER ENOUGH hits the shelves! To celebrate, I'm here to share another secret about the book.

If you're a writer and you've written more than a couple of books, I would be surprised if you haven't come across a book that's so similar to yours that it makes you physically sick. It happens it all of us. It happened to me. With this book.

So I'm here to tell you, there is hope!

I started writing NEVER ENOUGH about seven years ago. At the time, it had a different title, but the basic premise was close to what it is now. It's about two sisters and the eating disorder that threatens to destroy their family. The main character is a photographer. It's a story of grief and healing and finding your place in the world.

I finished the book, had it critiqued, revised it, sent it out to agents, the whole shebang. When it didn't get any bites, I went back to the drawing board, rewriting it pretty much from scratch. It still ended up being the same characters with the same basic premise though.

I queried again. Meanwhile I was writing LOSING FAITH and revising NEVER ENOUGH every time I received feedback from agents - and the feedback was getting more encouraging and specific. Finally I got an agent! Yayyyyy! And not only did she love LOSING FAITH and want to get it up for sale quickly, she loved the premise of NEVER ENOUGH. Double yayyyyy!!  I was in the middle of another revision, so I said I'd forward it to her when it was done.

So, as you can see, by this time I had put A LOT of work into this manuscript. It had been written from scratch at least a couple of times, and had been revised more times than I could count on my fingers and toes. But the story and the characters were important to me. I believed in them. So I kept at it.

Finally I sent NEVER ENOUGH to my agent. While I was waiting for her feedback, my critique partner send me an email with something like "Um, have you seen this?" in the subject line. She proceeded to share with me a synopsis of a new book coming out. Guess what it was about? Two sisters and the eating disorder that was tearing their family apart. And, yes, the main character was a photographer, plus, as far as I could tell, many of the other themes matched up. It was SO similar, in fact, that my critique partner asked me if the author had ever critiqued for me. She hadn't, of course.

Oh, and did I mention that the author of this replica of my book was also a former soap opera star and therefore already had a platform as an author? Yeah, it wasn't going to just fade away.

So, yes, I got sick about it for a few weeks. I entered contests until I won an early copy of the book. The author signed a nice note in the front of the book for me, and was so friendly it made it difficult to be angry with her. But I had to be angry with somebody, didn't I? I mean, I had spent HUNDREDS of hours on this manuscript! And now I was just supposed to trash it?

No, I wasn't. As usual, my agent was able to talk me down from the ledge. She encouraged me to read the book first. Then we would talk about it. I did. The first thing I realized is that even though there were a lot of similarities, her book was intended for a younger audience. But also, no matter how similar a premise, my characters were just not her characters. Each set had their own depth. you know, this story has a happy ending. After taking some time to tweak the manuscript with the help of my agent, we were able to sell NEVER ENOUGH only a year after the other book came out! This story and these characters are still so very important to me, and I'm so glad I didn't give up when this (or other things) threatened to kill my enthusiasm for it.

I've heard from many a writer about the book that they had to shelve because of something too similar releasing (and breaking their heart), so I just wanted to share my experience to let you know there still is hope :-)


  1. I've wondered about this, not with your book, but just about the whole similar premise thing. I'm glad you had a happy ending.

    In the art world, I often see these trends emerge. I had been doing jewelry in a certain style when someone asked me if I'd seen 'so and so's' work from a town about 2 hours away. I hadn't. I'd never met her. But our work was strikingly similar in technique - but the hand feel was different, mine was mine, hers was hers, and they appealed to different buyers. I remember when text in artwork started snapping several years ago, suddenly it was everywhere. I like to think of it as collective creative consciousness.

    1. Interesting how this applies to the art world too! Thanks for sharing - that's very eye-opening.

  2. I'm really impressed that you didn't give up and that this worked out for you, Denise.

    My first attempt at novel-writing was an adult novel called Tulku. The premise was an American child discovered to be the reincarnation of a high Tibetan lama, a tulku. It took me two years to write and rewrite and many months to find an agent. An editor at Little, Brown liked it enough to meet with me and ask me to revise it. Four months later, I had a revision she liked enough to take it to the editorial conference - where the sales team nixed it.

    That was the end. My agent gave up. I shelved the book, thinking I might do something with it someday. But a couple of years later, the movie Little Buddha came out - about an American child found to be a tulku. At that point I gave up. I don't even have the manuscript anymore, and I basically stopped writing for 13 years.

    Not a very uplifting story, I know. I should have plowed on. But part of what made it hard was that my father died suddenly a few days before Little, Brown finally rejected the book. I took that as a signal to reconsider a lot of things. My family set up a foundation in my father's name to support math and science education, and that became an important career for me. Besides, there was still medicine: I was practicing in a community clinic, which took the other half of my work time. And then there were the five kids.

    Anyway, I admire your courage, and your agent's good sense, in holding the course and continuing all the way to publication.

    1. Aw, I'm so sorry to hear about all of that. And I'm extra sorry that you no longer have the manuscript. It is so hard to see a dream like that die.

  3. Denise, so glad you didn't give up.

    I've also heard nightmares from people claiming a publisher stole their idea by asking one of their seasoned writers to write something similiar to a submission that's come across their desk. Don't know if it's true, but I guess it could happen.

    1. Hmm, I've never heard that about publishers, but I honestly think now that there can be two stories about the same thing that are vastly different. So the thought doesn't really worry me.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Denise. This little pep talk did give me hope!

    1. Glad I could be a little beacon of hope for you :)

  5. Oh my gosh yes on shelving the books (mostly PB's for me) that are eerily similar! Freeeaky I say. Really makes you think on the notion that we are all drawing from the creative universe where our ideas roll around waiting to be someone.

    So very glad we get to read NEVER ENOUGH in four months time!

    1. Thanks Deb, and I totally agree about our creative source!

  6. Wow, what a story, Denise. Thank you for sharing. I've written a picture book, one that an agent and I went back and forth with emails for a good 9 mos. In Dec. this agent said if I was willing to shorten / tighten the ms, she'd love to work with me.

    I made one last round of revisions and sent it to my lawyer sis in law, for one last punctuation check. Well, she went above and beyond punct. and dug up a "short story" from the late 1800's by a teacher who became known for her expertise in working with young children. The story had the exact same premise, the main character had the exact same name and even the title was similar.

    I researched the dog out of her and the story. I could find the story talked about in other publications and it's posted on teacher websites, still today, I never found the story "published." I was sick.

    I even had this wild idea. Maybe, I was her reincarnated, and insisting on publishing this story!! Lol. But, that's how similar they are.

    I decided to swallow my pride and email the agent with the information and my set of newest revisions, just after Christmas 2011. It may not have been "my job" to notify her, but I refused for us both to be humiliated later down the road and our reputations ruined.

    I'm yet to hear back from her. :(

    Your story gives me hope, thanks!