Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's too similar - by Terry Burns

I have to respond that way from time to time and it’s a shame, but it happens. I don’t like to pit clients up against each other so if I have something under contract and something very similar comes in, whether it’s a similar story line or similar in other aspects to they would be competing with one another then I just don’t take it. That’s a no win deal for me for no matter where I might pitch or sell something the other one would be saying “why did you do that one instead of mine?” Hard question to answer, so I just avoid the conflict.

There’s another way they can be similar. When I start reading and I step and check what I’m doing because I think I’ve read that one already, that’s a bad sign. What editors and agents are looking for is unique projects with unique voices. Now I know there are a limited number of base plots, but there are a myriad of ways to treat those plots, settings and writing. If I think I’ve already seen it chances are it is too similar.

That’s a shame when an author sits down and writes something they think is quite unique only to find out there are a ton of them coming in that are quite similar to one another, and we see that a lot. Maybe a movie or TV show hit a number of months ago, or an event in the news got a lot of people thinking along the same lines. Whatever the stimulus, all of a sudden a lot of proposals hit that are very similar to one another. It happens a lot, and when it does none of them may end up being chosen as editors and agents think “with this many coming in there are bound to already be some in the pipeline by now."

When that happens the author may end up having to put it in a drawer to pull out some time later when it has a chance of better standing alone. It’s all about the fit in the marketplace. Most, however, don’t think with a career view but keep trying to push it in and then possibly self-publishing it instead of trying for the big score again when the time is right.

Too similar can be a particularly frustrating response to receive to a submission.


Sue Harrison said...

Thank you, Terry, for reminding us to think with "a career view!" I have a tendency to focus on my most recently completed manuscript as if it were the sum total and zenith of my output.

Sue Harrison

Nicole said...

Terry, thank you for the post. It opens up the perspective to see that sometimes as writers we need to broaden our view outside our manuscript that we treat as a first born. Writing is a business. We have to think of our writing more as a career, we're in it for the long haul.

Martha Ramirez said...

Thanks, Terry for the post! It's always great to learn what agents are thinking.

Nikole Hahn said...

Or you can simply take the advice, sit down with the manuscript and revise, revise, revise until you find that unique tone.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Terry: I would like to know if you as a writer have experienced writing a book or proposal, only to discover "It's already been done."

How do we as authors avoid spending time on a project that dozens of others may be duplicating? Or, can we?

Terry Burns said...

I have indeed. It happens a lot - let's say a lot of people find themselves motivated by the events in the news to write a thriller, say one full of terrorists and FBI and middle East oil intrigue and the like. By the time they get the book ready to go all of a sudden agents and editors find themselves covered up by a bunch of similar plots because everybody got inspired by the same thing at the same time. I've done that myself, have a number of them laying around. I'm cutting several of them back to be short stories to go into the short work collection I'm working on.

Terry Burns said...

How can you avoid it? By being more aware of the market when you start a work and as you work on it. But even that doesn't preclude the possibility that a number of people are working on the same thing at the same time - no way to know about that until they start trying to come to market.