Friday, July 18, 2014

Evolving Your Dream (aka Don't Write Another Harry Potter)

This is by no means a blanket statement, so please don't take it as such, but in the publishing world, once a house or literary agency gets a big hit, let's use Harry Potter as our example, by and large the last thing they are going to do is take on another series or even a stand-alone about a school for wizards. Reasons: A) It's been done. B) Think of it as a conflict of interests. This could lead to some awkward conversations with the house's or agency's bestselling author and they are not going to risk losing said bestselling author by signing another author who's writing a "look-a-like" series. I mean, let's be honest, would you? C) Once a series is a runaway hit in the market, readers tend to mark that type of book off their list and move on, making the read-alikes, though maybe just as good, secondary to their earlier counterpart and always compared to it. Like I said though, there are exceptions to this rule, but when we're talking about a school for wizards, a camp for Greek demigods, vampires that sparkle in the sun, or an ancient clan of warrior owls, I'm darn sure you can tell me the title of each series, even if you haven't read them, which is saying a lot.

All that said, this post isn’t meant to discourage you from writing the book of your dreams. Just maybe, you need to reinvent your dream. In other words, take it to the next level so it becomes your own and incomparable to other authors. When you listen to music from thirty years ago and you hear those old school drum machines in the background, you may think how basic or even simple it all sounded, but back in the day, that music was the height of technology, ultra cool, but guess what, music went to the next level, and the next, and the next. Technology went to the next level too. Gone are the Amiga 3000's that could sink a small boat and in their place have risen tiny compact machines with awe-inspiring power that fit in the palm of your hand. Even cooking has evolved. Think of food from the seventies. I remember seeing a picture of my mom at a dinner party holding an appetizer that looked like plastic pink marshmallows on a stick, now compare that to what chefs think up today like Kobe beef skewers with Thai chili sauce. What a difference! Everything evolves. Shouldn't writing evolve? Shouldn’t our stories evolve? Instead of retelling the same idea (and I'm not talking about the retelling of fairytales, completely different topic), why not take an idea and make it completely our own?  

So, your book about a boy who goes to a school for wizards has already been done. Now what? Write it anyway? Sure, you could do that. You may even get lucky, but man, your chances are slim to nonexistent. But what if you completely switched things up? What if being a wizard was completely normal, the more wizardly you were the better, and if you weren't a wizard you were sent to school to be a domestic, destined to forever wait hand and foot on those who were born with gifts you were not given? How could you make that MC special? What could make your book shine? Think about it. What could a young servant learn living in the house of a great wizard? What secrets might unfold? How could he become special? And if this book's already been written, I apologize...I'm thinking of a story on the fly here! ;) 

What am trying to get at is you don't have to kill your original idea. You only need to nurture it a little and let it transform into a brand new story, something that's all you. Be your own catalyst. Evolve that dream and turn it into an amazing first-time-ever reality for your readers. Make your next story the one twenty years from now other writers will wish they'd have written.


  1. I like this, Hilary! I have a friend who somehow always seems to have her finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, but gets so discouraged when she sees her ideas executed by other authors before her. My book has djinn in it and now I'm hyper aware of whenever someone else is writing about them. There's a book on the NYT Best Seller list right now with djinni in the title! But I think as long as the core idea is your own, and you make the rest of it yours, then it's ok to soldier on with the project. And I like your encouragement to re-envision rather than chuck it altogether.

    1. Yes, save everything! I wrote a partial manuscript I never did anything with, but a great scene ended up getting published in a subsequent book. Never chuck it! I think so many stories can be reworked! :)

  2. Agreed. I also think there are no really original ideas. There are a few stand-outs, of course, but even then, it's not like no one had ever written about a wizard school before HP. But Rowling's world and particular execution made it original.

    I remember feeling gobsmacked when I discovered INKHEART on the shelves of B&N halfway through my first draft of STORYBOUND. "My idea is not original!" I thought, naively believing that no one had ever written about book-worlds before - haha! I'm so glad I didn't give up on it then and there in the search for something no one had ever done before. Instead, I put INKHEART back on the shelf and went to work on my own creation. Which reminds me, now that I'm done with the STORYBOUND series, I finally want to read that book!

    I remember shortly after STORYBOUND was published, THE LAND OF STORIES, SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL and EVER AFTER HIGH all came out. Different takes on a similar concept, but probably all in process while I was writing my book. Perhaps there is something to the collective writing consciousness. :) Good thing there's room for lots of different takes.

    P.S. I would totally read the ordinary boy in the wizarding world book. ;)

    1. It's so true. Every "idea" is appropriated from another. It's just how it works. All our gears start turning on account of other ideas. Honestly, when I wrote Nightshade City, I'd never read Redwall or the Gregor the Overlander series. I wonder though, how reading those would have changed my series. I'm sure it would have had an impact.

    2. I SO get what you're saying, Hilary!

      I hadn't read many of the "Classics" many beta-readers compared me to when I first drafted "Gabriel."

      Well, I did read the first Redwall (after a few dozen beta-readers "pestered" me to), and it was great, but I NEVER understood why people compared that to Gabriel.
      (Who now has his own OFFICIAL website!)

      Gabriel isn't a sword-touting hero of legend (Not that there's anything wrong with that, BTW, and he likes them too!), he's budding toymaker with a lot of friend/first love/identity struggles. BIG difference. At least to me...

      I know I'm probably too sensitive about the whole "comparison" thing, but it's hard to make peace with that when the business side of me takes over, and I feel some authors who're naturally more business minded (ESPECIALLY if their pre-author career was highly cerebral or inherently commercial) forget that, and probably why I ticked off a lot of people on a forum I used to frequent (In the early years, before I found my tribe) I'm better but this is part of me that seems to grow the SLOWEST...

      My overall slant with T.A.A., and my work in general is simply this, I know of the classics, I respect them, and I will read/have read many of them, but I'm doing my own thing here, just give it a chance.

      Sometimes, I feel one of the downsides of the (U.S.) Common Core Standards PUSH toward nonfiction is that it will have an adverse effect on our ability to differentiate self-sacrifice from self-medicating in unhealthy ways.

      In the last 20+ years, I feel we've created a generation of people who're so financial-minded/driven and pragmatic they don't know how to dream or do things for the FUN of it!

      Not everyone 18-30 is still at home because they're lazy or even WANT to be (Especially those of us who don't have most open-hearted families to begin with), they just can't afford to live anywhere else, and more jobs are requiring college degrees that are HARD to get and EVEN HARDER TO AFFORD the tuition to try and get one...!

      Oy, sorry, got carried away again. This is still a sore spot for me. I know you have a son in school, Hilary, I truly hope he has a better experience than I did. I have to remind myself every day: Just because I didn't finish high school, it doesn't mean I'm not smart.

      I just wish I could be at a point where I'm helping my family more than I'm leaning on them, and I don't just mean financially, but that's part of it for me.

    3. Side Note: I've read enough to Redwall to know you're safe from "copycat" claims, especially since in most clan-based warfare stories depict all rats the bad guys, and some of your characters are good, or at least trying to be.

      As much as I love what other authors have done in their work, including yours (I'm way behind on so many series) I have enough of my own ideas, that might be influence a little, but that's not the same as outright plagiarism, and I've got enough life issues as it is, I don't need copyright lawyers beating down my door. I may sound a bit jesting but I'm dead serious on this point.

      That said, sometimes I wish I could illustrate and start my own animation studio so people can SEE my stories more easily, if I have to hear one more "How can he grasp this without thumbs?" question...

      Seriously, I wonder how Mickey Mouse and Snoopy get on in an ever increasing world of "Enlightened Skeptics?"

    4. I have no issue being compared to other books, especially really good ones. ;)

      Taurean, just keep doing what you're doing and go down your own unique path. I guess I don't need to tell you that, though! Congrats again on your debut! :)

    5. I wish the "Comparison" thing didn't bother me, Hilary, but it does sometimes, I'm better dealing with it now more than nine years ago, and in part that's because I have such a strong and open-hearted circle of e-friends now, but back then I felt so alone in my pain as I'd yet to click with other writers who (at the time pre-published) that wanted a career as seriously as I did and still do.

      I'd had a difficult experience early on in Gabriel's pre-published life where I had been accused of plagiarizing, and that hurt.

      I just want my work to be taken seriously, and know to be genuinely from me, not in the shadow of someone else's work, even if though I now know it can be a compliment.

      As I said above, I love (or at least respect) most of my predecessors and contemporaries, but I can only be me, and I just want to be seen as me, that's all.

      But this is part of the business that I really struggle with.

      Writers do have to see books different than lay readers (who don't write to publish) do, and I say that not to be negative, simply honest without sounding dramatically pessimistic. Hope that makes sense.

      All that said, take care,

      P.S: Reminder, I'm SO glad that one day to be on the same shelf as you! (Alphabetical Order ROCKS sometimes!)

  3. Replies
    1. Humans are smart! I don't care what other species think! ;)

    2. Well, I'd like to at least hope other species know we're not all savages, given our environmental crisis ever escalating, but that's me, but I agree humanity overall has it's good points, despite all the exceptions we hear about every day...

  4. "[Y]oung servant learn living in the house of a great wizard?" HEY, that's the plot of King's Quest III, Hilary! You'll never sell that book.

    1. I'm far too lazy to write that one, so I think I'm okay! Ha, ha! ;)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!