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! 🙂

Goldilocks and the Three Hairs

Rapunzel and I have something in common.  Neither one of us spends a lot of time getting her hair cut.

Rapunzel and I also have something in common with Goldilocks.  We all have blond hair.  Or at least, we used to.  I’ll get to that in a second.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I take fashion ignorance to unprecedented levels.

I wear blue jeans if at all possible.

I am not really sure what a pump is.  (The kind for your feet, not the thing that gets water out of the basement when it floods.)

I have never, in my entire life (which according to some began during the stone age) had a manicure or a pedicure.  (No, I am not making this up.  Get your jaw off the floor.)

I have never worn make-up, unless you count the time in 9th grade when, for a bit part in Wild Oats, I had to wear mascara.  It made my eyes itch, so henceforth I have avoided the stage.  And make-up.

Hairstyles?  Handbags?  Haute coutour?  Forget it.

Fashion.  Ignorance.

So when I tell you that yesterday I had my annual haircut you will understand that it was a Big Deal.  My concession to fashion, such as it is.

Really, once a year is enough.  I can’t be bothered to go any more often.  I have too many other things to do.  And anyone can trim their own bangs.  (Although I read somewhere that trimming your own bangs was a sign of self-loathing….  hmmm….)

I used to get my hair cut every 18 months or so, but that all changed when the three hairs showed up.  (This is the part I was getting to.  You can stop holding your breath in anticipation.)  Allow me to explain…

Locks of Love is an organization that accepts donations of hair to make hairpieces for financially disadvantaged children who suffer long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.  The minimum length requirement is 10 inches, and I found that if I grew my hair for about 18 months I could donate that without shaving my head completely.  Then, one fine day, the three hairs showed up.  Unmistakeable.  Impossible to hide.  Three gray hairs, front and center.

The ladies at the place where I used to get my hair cut (which has since gone out of business… coincidence?) informed me that Locks of Love would not accept hair with gray in it because it didn’t hold dye evenly.  Foolish me.  I believed them.

Here’s how I discovered my mistake yesterday:

I seated myself before the lovely Veronica, whose unenviable job it was to hack off my golden tresses.

“What would you like?” she chirped.

Before I could respond, she began flinging around terms like, “layers,” “highlights,” and “side bangs” with reckless abandon.  I was forced to throw cold water on her blaze of enthusiasm.

“Hold it,” I said.  “Let me explain.  I wash my hair.  And comb it.  That’s it.  There will be no styling.  No blow drying.  No mousse, no gel, no spray.  Nada.”

Her face fell.  “So, just a simple cut?” she clarified, no doubt hoping against hope that she had misunderstood and there was still time to talk me into a devilock, a pixie cut, or anything with a name.  Even a mullet.

“Just a simple cut,” I confirmed.  “The simplest.”

With a sigh she set to work.  Snip, snip, snip.  I could almost hear her thinking, “Bor-ing!”

“You know,” she said conversationally, “another three inches and you could donate to Locks of Love.”

“No,” I responded, secure in my superior knowledge.  “I have three gray hairs.  Locks of Love won’t take it.”

“Yes they will,” she chirped, once again enthusiastic.

What???  Could this be true???  Had I really been so completely hoodwinked???

I refrained from raining on her parade by saying a better time to have mentioned this would have been two minutes ago before she started snipping.

7 inches of prime hair – unbleached, uncolored, un-permed, undamaged by hair products or blow dryers of any kind and blond except for three hairs – was currently hitting the salon floor.  Wasted!

If I was going to make any donations, I would have to start from scratch.

“Well,” I said, “maybe next time.”

I then made good use of the rest of my time in the chair by asking her questions about beauty school.  You never know, I might want to write a character someday who has talents and/or aspirations in that direction.  So the ordeal wasn’t a total waste of time.  I like to keep a weather eye for useful material.

The moral of the story?  Don’t let a few gray hairs stop you from donating.  In fact, I believe Locks of Love will accept your hair even if it is mostly gray, or even all gray.  As for Rapunzel, she could help a lot of kids if she’d get out of that tower and share her hair!

And me?  Now that my head is lighter, maybe some great ideas will float out of it.  You never know!