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. Stina Lindenblatt says:

    Great answer, Susanna. This is the best response to the commonly asked question. Even authors of novels are faced with the same issue.

  2. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    It's true – I really think all authors are. But you have only to look in the romance section to know there are a whole lot of ways to spin the same tale 🙂 I finished FORBIDDEN, BTW, and OMG! What a book! I'm still thinking about it and feeling bad for Lochan and Maya! Ye gads!


  3. disqus_bENDymTlMv says:

    Interesting! It all comes back to writing good stories, doesn't it? I just gotta keep working on that and not worry about the rest. 🙂

  4. Vivian Kirkfield says:

    GREAT QUESTION! And I love your answer, Susanna! Although there is nothing new under the sun…we do need to make the idea and story our own. Your advice about researching the publishing houses is also very good…for many reasons. 🙂

  5. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Great tips. I was lucky to find one of my WIP currently has older comparable titles. I really need to read at minimum the free info I can get from Publisher's Marketplace on a regular basis. Good luck with the changes to perfect picture book list changes.

  6. Janie Reinart says:

    Enjoyed reading your answer and examples. We are always looking for that new twist (and shout). 🙂

  7. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Oh, what a great point you bring up that I didn't think to mention! You are so right that sometimes you can tweak a story to work for a slightly older or younger audience! Thanks for reminding us of that! I'm not good about Publisher's Marketplace either… I seem to have more to do in a day than I can realistically get done and things like checking in with PM fall through the cracks…

  8. This_Kid_Reviews_Books_Erik says:

    What great advice! 😀 There are a lot of different branches to choose from in the form of writing about a certain topic!


    P.S. I hope the garden grows good! 😉

  9. Leigh Covington says:

    That is the perfect question for today. I really needed this post. Lately I've been worrying about how to make mine completely different. Really, the point is to make it your own. You can't completely escape all similarities, especially when it comes to romance! 🙂

  10. Kimberley says:

    Thank you for this Susanna. Lest you think I don't keep track of this fantastic blog because I'm so quiet, I want you to know that each and every time I think I should stop pretending I know anything about writing–I come on here and feel inspired. You and this lovely blog are very dear to my heart.

  11. Deborah Hockenberry says:

    This happened to me. I had a children's chapter book all finished, polished, and was ready to market for a publisher. Then I reviewed a children's book by for a friend that was identical! Since her's was already published and doing well, I had to re-write the whole story. Actually, I'm still re-writing. I did change it to put another spin on it but I was discouraged for a while!

  12. Romelle Broas says:

    Great question and an even greater response! Thanks Susanna for putting it into perspective. I see from the comments that this happens quite often. It has happened to me but I do see that there is a difference in execution or slight change in plot. Your answer is inspiring to a potentially discouraging question.

  13. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I'm so glad if the answer inspires you, Romelle. It really is true that you can always look for ways to make a story more your own. As for my annuals, time will tell, but so far they have survived 2 whole days! 🙂

  14. Carrie F says:

    Thank you, Susanna! This has happened to me – once with a story I'd worked for a long time on, and a few other times with ideas I'd jotted down, but (fortunately) hadn't done anything with yet. The bright side (if there is one) is that it gives me confirmation that at least some of my ideas are, in fact, “good.” 🙂

  15. disqus_bENDymTlMv says:

    Thanks for the laugh! Now when I'm blocked I'll picture Dory, “Just keep writing, just keep writing…” LOL!

  16. Belinda Brock says:

    reassuring to know that many of us encounter similar obstacles and discouragements—but also good to know we can find a way through.

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