I’ve been working on getting caught up on my queries lately, and last night, came across several queries that read, to me, almost exactly like the plot of other books I’d read. Now, sure, that can happen naturally, as authors tune into a zeitgeist, just as Hollywood may prep two Snow White movies at the same time, or two meteor-coming-to-destroy-us disaster films, or whatever. And sure, sometimes it’s just a surface similarity, and the book itself may be completely different than the one it reminds me of, in interesting and compelling ways.
But still — unless you can show me that, it’s hard to get past the feeling that I’ve seen this before, so why would I want another book that treads the same ground already covered?
I have to wonder if it’s a matter of not really knowing the category in which you’re writing. As a writer of young adult novels, for instance, you’re not expected to have read EVERY YA novel out there, but I’d expect you to have more than a passing familiarity with the biggest names and the most popular titles. If you’re going to pitch me a novel about a teen girl at a private school that trains spies, I’m going to wonder why you don’t seem to be aware of Ally Carter‘s Gallagher Girls series. I’d rather you say, yes, I know about the Gallagher Girls series, but my novel does x, y, and z differently, and it’s set in 1945 instead of present day. That still might not get a request from me, but at least it shows that you’re aware of your competition.
Then again, I know that way back in pre-historic days, when I was working on my YA novel about a female perspective on Arthurian legends, I very deliberately stayed away from reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which everyone went to great lengths to tell me was about a female perspective on the Arthurian legends. So it’s ok not to have READ your competition, but I think you still have to KNOW about it.
The other thing to bear in mind is that it should be about the characters, not just the setting. Your zombie novel may be set in a world where the rise of the undead was caused by a cure for cancer, just like in Mira Grant‘s Feed, but if you can tell me what makes your characters as compelling as Grant’s, so that I’ll care just as much about their (spoiler!) deaths as much as I did about the characters in Feed, then you may have a shot.
Otherwise, often when I see a query like this, it makes me just want to respond with a link to the book I think they’re ripping off!
What do you think? Have you come across this problem in your own writing and querying?