Oh Susanna! – Does A Similar Book Mean I Should Not Submit My Story?

Good Monday, Everyone!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend!

I finally put my annuals in because, after a week of over 90 degree weather, we are hoping the danger of frost (which we had last weekend) is past!  Who is in charge of the weather around here?  It’s nuts! 🙂

Of course, given my reputation as The Black Thumb Of Poughquag, my plants will probably be looking like this before long 🙂

Also (thanks to Beth Stilborn and Laura Miller) I MAY have a new plan for Perfect Picture Books which would make the list easier to search and easier to update.  Keep your fingers crossed!  It will probably take me the whole summer to put it together, but it will be great if it works! 🙂

Today, after many weeks in which we have been distracted by other things, we have an Oh Susanna question!

Oh Susanna!

I am currently working to get my first picture book published. I have been studying the market and in doing so I came across a recently published book that looks somewhat similar to mine. Should I be discouraged? Will anyone be interested in publishing my book if there is already one with a similar topic in the market? 

Sincerely, Clueless 

I think this is an excellent question.

Although we are all told to be original, there are some who say there are no new stories.  New baby and sibling rivalry and fear of the dark and first day of school and wanting a pet, etc., etc., etc. have already been told.

This may be true.  But if you spend five minutes in the library or bookstore, you’ll see (using new baby as an example) Julius The Baby Of The World, Not Yet Rose, The Best Kind Of Baby, Penny Loves Pink, A Baby Sister For Frances, The New Baby, On Mother’s Lap, Hello Baby, Babies Don’t Eat Pizza, Waiting For Baby, Peter’s Chair… I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea – there are LOTS of picture books about kids getting a new sibling.

Pretty much any topic/idea/theme you choose to write about will have been done before in some way.  The trick is to make it your own – to put a spin on it that hasn’t been done so that your story is new and fresh even if it deals with a tried and true topic.  If you were to read those 10 books listed above, you’d see that although they all revolve around the arrival of a new baby, they are all different stories.  In Julius The Baby Of The World, Lilly is jealous and doesn’t have much nice to say about her new brother until her friends criticize him and she rushes to his defense.  In Not Yet Rose, Rose worries that she won’t like being a big sister or that the baby might not like her.  In The Best Kind Of Baby, Sophie imagines all the kinds of babies her mother could have, thinking puppies and monkeys and fish would be much more fun than a human baby.  As you can see, those are all very different types of stories, which address different aspects of getting a new sibling and have different moods and atmospheres.

In addition to trying to put your own unique spin on your story, you will also want to research the publishing houses you plan to submit to.  For example, (sticking with the idea of new babies), does the house already have a new baby book?  How old is it?  Is it still in print?  Has it sold well and become a classic or is it lesser known?  Is the actual story it tells similar to yours (e.g. is it a brother waiting for a sister and yours is too?  Or is it a jealousy story and yours is too?)?

A house that has a book very similar to yours will probably not want to compete with itself.  But another house may be happy to have it… overjoyed if they love it and think they can outsell other houses’ books on that topic 🙂

If you find that your story really is too similar to one or more books already out there, think about ways you could tweak your story to make it different.  Could you tell it from a different point of view?  Could you change the focus slightly?  Could you make it a sister waiting for a brother instead of a brother waiting for a sister?  Could you place it in a very unusual setting or time period, or make it about an animal family instead of a human family?  Try stretching your idea in different directions and see where you end up 🙂

I hope that answers your question and helps you out a bit!  And as always I’d be grateful to have all our readers chime in with their thoughts and experience in the matter!

Have a magical Monday everyone! 🙂

82 thoughts on “Oh Susanna! – Does A Similar Book Mean I Should Not Submit My Story?

  1. Joanna Marple says:

    Great question from Clueless (who, I am sure, isn't!) and spot on answer, Susanna. I am sending green-thumbed vibes to your household!

  2. Iza Trapani says:

    I agree. It's a great question. And. as always, your answer is thorough and helpful. As for being the Black Thumb of Poughquag (ha!), not to worry. You have lots of other talents 🙂

  3. Robyn Campbell says:

    Hahahaha. Black thumb. Thanks for the laugh. Look. Just talk to them everyday. You don't have to get into a conversation with them (if you did, I'd be worried about ya). Just show 'em the love. I am a master gardener. I absolutely have flowers everywhere.

    This answer to the question was great. And you are right. Everything has been done before, It just depends on HOW you do it to make it your own.

    Hugs and loves to you. Hey!! Can you believe they found what causes Sturge-Weber Syndrome? I sat at my computer last night at 1:00 AM and cried my eyes out. This changes everything about treatment, etc. A mutated gene, Sus. WOW!

  4. Clarbojahn says:

    Thanks for this answer to a good question. I wrote a manuscript that has been done many times before although I did not know that when I wrote it. After finding out how many similar books there were out there on that topic this particular ms is sitting on my thumbdrive somewhere. Maybe someday I will find the twist to make it more mine. And more salvagable for a publishing house.

    We never know when a story will come in handy. In fact many of my ms are done before. That is why I don't submit them. I am too afraid of rejection.

    And that is why now I do a thorough search when I have an idea before spending time fleshing it out.

  5. Sue Heavenrich says:

    good time to plant because you can always say it was the heat that did 'em in – or the frost – not you!
    and that thing about similar books? I've found no idea is unique; it's all been done before. I've submitted a MS only to learn that someone else has submitted something very similar….
    oh well. We just need to tell the stories we can, in our own voice and make it worth reading.

  6. Kirsten Larson says:

    Susanna, this is great advice. The same holds true for nonfiction. Almost any nonfiction topic has been done before in some capacity, but there is always room for a new angle or a fresh approach to the topic. I can't wait to see what you have up your sleeve for PPBF.

  7. BJ Lee says:

    What a good question! I've run into this problem as well. I think it's also important to address the issue in your cover letter, query by pointing out how your book differs from a similar popular book.

  8. Angela Brown says:

    I must admit, I struggled with this question myself with a story of mine. It's a MG fairy tale smash up and as part of my prep to write an MG story, I wanted to read some MG stories to get a better feel of MG voice and style. Enter the published story that made my heart stop because my idea was sooooo similar that I nearly trashed it. Seriously. But there were and are some differences in the premise of my story and that published story so I pressed forward, wrote it, revised it and edited. it. Although I publish my YA and NA myself, I am hoping to get an agent for this MG story. Now to get going on the agent/query hunt. Stocking up ice cream for the rejections lol!

  9. Catherine says:

    Super question and answers, Susanna! And I love that plant picture. I am amazed at how i've kept my indoor plants alive for a good 6 months now. They look pretty shoddy but they are alive! Great about the pb list too 🙂

  10. Margaret Greanias says:

    Great advice, Susanna. I live in fear that there are pbs already published that are similar to my babies that I spend so much time on. It's nice to hear ideas on how to salvage them should that happen!

  11. Patricia Tilton says:

    Great advice Susanna. I had that happen to me, but my story was very different than the other two. But, I always search to make sure what has been written. In your query, you can also address how your book is different.

  12. Pamela Courtney says:

    I am glad this question was asked. Susanna, I appreciate your brand of
    insight. You always advise that our perspective IS unique and worth
    being heard (well that's my take away anyhow). Thank you for advising
    on how to better research publishing houses. Your paragraph on the
    point of view (although it can be tricky for me) is always a great
    exercise. Susanna how do you pronounce, Poughquag? I hope your plants
    survive. I'm known to have a gangrene thumb. I mean, I touch a plant and it dies a slow death. I wish they didn't I love plants. Anyhoo, great advice!

  13. Renee LaTulippe says:

    You are so knowledgeable and reasonable and give-good-advice-able! I've wondered this many times – everything you say makes sense, which of course makes you also sensible! 🙂

  14. Sylvia Liu says:

    Great post, Susanna. I've had that feeling a couple of times – most notably one of my first PB manuscripts with my husband. We wrote about a cute clownfish in 1997 and Finding Nemo came out in 2003. That was discouraging but now I realize that there were many other ways to tell the story and it wouldn't have been competing in the same space.

  15. Wendy Greenley says:

    I just ordered a book to read for precisely this reason! I hope your PPBF work doesn't eat up too much summer time!

  16. Darshana says:

    Great answer. Felt like I was reading it for the second time today. 😉 I am so thrilled to hear you have may have a new plan for PPBF. I know how much work it was for you to maintain. I have to admit I am curious to know what this new maintenance plan/tool is.

  17. Julie Rowan-Zoch says:

    Great post, Susanna.I worked one of my first mss into a dummy, only to find that the story was almost identical to one written almost 50 yrs ago! My librarian pointed out that it was out of print and suggested I 'go for it'. It didn't win the WIP competition, but I haven't given up on it yet!

  18. Rosi says:

    This is a wonderful post. Very thorough answer to your questioner. You are not alone, by the way, suffering from black thumb. I'm pretty famous for that around these parts.

  19. pennyklostermann says:

    Another great response to a question we all think about. Great suggestions for figuring out ways to tweak a story to make it different.

    I, too, am curious about PPBF. I really appreciate the work you've put into it. It is an amazing resource and has introduced me to so many wonderful books.

  20. Genevieve says:

    I love this question. Great answer, Susanna. I guess it's all about the tweaking. It does get discouraging and worrisome to see your very own fantastic, original idea on the shelf at the library, though.

  21. Lauri Meyers says:

    Good question and very helpful answer. I just one with a similar main character the other idea and turned into a whining, stomping 4 year old. Luckily my tantrum stopped when I realized the book was what I'll call a “high message driven story.” So, maybe there's still hope!

  22. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    My flowers are begging you to come visit. Please, Robyn, please save us! Do you hear their desperate little voices? Glad you liked the answer to the question. And YES. I know! How utterly fantastic about Sturge-Weber. Now that they know what causes it, do they have new ideas about how to treat it? Something that will help your Christopher soon??? Oh, I HOPE so!

  23. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    The search is so important, Clar, you are right. And I know how disheartening it is to find that an idea you loved and wrote well has already been done. It's very hard to rethink a story that you feel works just right the way it is. But sometimes, given time, you can come up with a twist that will make it more your own – different from what's out there and maybe even better than you originally thought 🙂

  24. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    You're exactly right, Sue, that's all we can do 🙂 And yeah, if my plants don't survive it was definitely because of the heat… or the frost… or the heavy rain… or the drought… or the deer… definitely not The Black Thumb 🙂

  25. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Now Angela! Think positive! You ill not get rejections. I've read your work – it's wonderful! The agents will be lining up I'm sure 🙂 I bet that reading the other tales may have helped you steer your story as much away from that really similar one as you could without losing your original vision. Good luck 🙂

  26. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Glad you enjoyed the Q&A, Catherine. As for plants, the problem with them is they don't let you know when they need something! A dog, for example, will remind you if supper time has come and you have not noticed, but plants not so much… 🙂 Hopefully the outdoor ones have a better chance, what with the possibility of rain even if I forget to water 🙂 Fingers crossed for the PPB list!

  27. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    It's true, Pam. I think everyone tells a story in a slightly different way because of who they are and what they bring to it. Sometimes you have to look for ways to emphasize that a bit more 🙂 Poughquag is pronounced po-kwayg… I hope that makes sense 🙂 And you are so funny with your gangrene thumb!!! 🙂

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  28. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I know! I do that all the time. I find books that sound similar and go rushing off to the library to see HOW similar. But usually I find they're not really the same after all 🙂 Reorganizing PPBF will be a very time-consuming job – there are over 1500 books – I'm not even sure how many more because I'm behind in updating! – but if it works it will be worth it!

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