Before You Write The First Word
You pick up a book, one of those books that everyone’s buzzing about, and ten pages in, your jaw drops. Not because it’s such an awesomely written book (although it may well be) but because you've had an eerily similar idea.
Or maybe you pick up a magazine and scan the articles, nodding. Until you stop in mid-scan, your eyes riveted to a title that’s exactly like the article you were thinking of pitching.
Writers hit on similar concepts all the time, and I’m sure we all have a similar response when we see our great idea published. The pulling-the-hair-out, screeching, “You have got to be kidding me,” and throwing the offending book (or magazine) across the room reaction.
Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, after my little hissy fit, I heave a huge sigh and thank my lucky stars.
Yep, I’m grateful. Grateful that I found that novel or article before I invested my time and effort into all that writing. Maybe I’d only scribbled a few notes about plot and characters, or just a “What if?” question for a pitch. But after reading what’s been published, I know that my idea is not different enough to pursue any further. Time to move on to the next idea.
Researching ideas before you write about them is an important part of the writing process. I know it’s hard when you think you have the best idea ever. You want to pound out that manuscript while you’re super excited. You want to put together that piece for a major market that’s going to make you famous in the freelance world.
Except. Except that your time is valuable. You simply can’t afford not to do your homework. Besides, editors and agents won’t waste their time on something they've already seen.
So before you pound out that first chapter or even that first paragraph, do a little investigating. If you have an idea for a novel, check comparable titles. Consider the broad concept as well as the specific concept. Take, for example, a story about purple people eaters. It may be hard to believe that some other writer has penned a novel about purple people eaters (And P.S. They have.). But there are a ton of zombie books. And if you take away the purple part, you've basically got a people eater, right? Is your story different enough from not only the purple people eater books out there, but also the zombie books on the shelves?
As for articles, an Internet search will let you know very quickly if your idea has a unique angle or the same old, same old stuff that editors get every day.
But take heart. Publishing success can happen for you—if your great idea has an original spin. So do your research before you write the first word. (And cross your fingers that your idea will get out there first!)
~Cathy C. Hall