It was bound to happen.
I spent three years, fifty rewrites, nine hundred miles to research, and countless dollars preparing, what I was certain, would be my book debut, the first kid-lit book on my chosen subject. Even the interested agent was anxious to finally see the end product, after suggesting I rewrite the original chapter book as a picture book. Arggh! As a final stage, I hired a fantastic writing coach/editor to help me put the spit-shine on the manuscript. Deadline to her, next week. Then, out of the blue, it happened.
Our local kid-lit angel, Cynthia Leitich Smith, had the misfortune of informing me that somebody beat me to it. A new book on my subject had just been released, by an award winning author no less. GAAAASP! My heart began to race. My palms turned balmy. I was close to hyperventilating. A profound sense of violation struck me. I had been robbed! The story had been hot-wired and ripped from my very soul. Not fair! This is MY story!!!
I had kept vigilant watch for any competition indicated by Publishers Marketplace, Google, Horn Book, Library contacts, etc. And, according to state archivists, I was the only kid-lit writer to dive into white-gloved research on the primary sources. So, hearing the news threw me for a nauseating loop. How had I missed this?
I sank into a self-declared pity party for the remainder of the day, while the inevitable questions plagued me. Have I wasted the last several years on this project I’m so passionate about? Is there still room for my book? While wallowing in my despair, I turned to my critique group and writerly friends. So many of them shared similar experiences, with fiction and nonfiction. They were encouraging and sympathetic and hopeful.
The harsh reality for all writers is that there could be numerous people churning out manuscripts about the same nonfiction topic. Or with similar characters or plot lines as your novel. We know, intellectually, that we do not own exclusive rights to our subjects or ideas. It wasn’t my rational mind reacting to the news. It was my heart.
I reeeaally wanted to hate this competing book, so it pains me to admit that it’s quite lovely and admirable. Dagnabbit! So, this weekend has been dedicated to reevaluation. What will I do with my manuscript? How do I process this experience?
#1 Utilize my picture book text-only study format to recreate the author’s manuscript.
(new book is historical fiction with invented dialog. Mine is nonfiction)
#2 Evaluate the content differences between the new book and my manuscript
(We chose similar events, but I have oodles of additional options.)
#3 Evaluate my angle, focus, theme.
#4 Reconsider intended readership.
(new book is for ages 4-8, so I should go for older readers.)
#5 Hit the library. Check out multiple kid-lit books on Darwin, for example, to make note of how each stands out. Gobs of these titles came out this year alone.
#6 Believe that there IS room for my book, if the approach is unique and compelling.
#7 Be grateful that my book didn’t come out simultaneously against this award winning author.
#8 Remember that, even if the book never publishes, the experience has been worth it.
#9 Stop beating myself up for not being quick enough.
#10 Remember, if Cinderella was invited to enough balls, eventually another maiden would show up in the same gown. Writing is no different. It’s a matter of choosing unique accessories that stand out from the rest.