if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

Ask Daphne! I’m not a copycat, I swear.

Gucci shoes — or are they knockoffs? — for Jenny today, who writes:

I’m an unpublished author with a novel almost polished enough to query. Today I stumbled upon a best-selling author’s blurb for her next novel due out at the end of the year. It’s eerily similar to the premise of mine. I’m a fan of this author, and I haven’t seen the premise before today, so I definitely didn’t create my own book consciously knowing this one ala Kaavya Viswanathan. I’m worried agents or editors will be reluctant to take my ms on because of the similarities in the premises (both contemporary YA). I’m sure the stories will go in different directions, and the characters seem completely different based on what little information I could find, but since this author is a best-seller and I’m a nobody, will this hurt my chances of publication? Thanks.

This is a tough call, Jenny. I think you’ll find — I hope — that if you’ve written a strong enough novel, even if the premise has some similarities to a best-selling author’s new book, it will find a home. In fact, you may find certain publishers who may look upon the success of said BSA’s book as an opportunity to look for other books in that style — just to pick a random example, if you’d written a book about the President’s daughter just before Meg Cabot‘s All American Girl came out, some publishers may see the success of an insider’s look at the White House and want to find their own.
Now, in this case, I’d think that querying Meg Cabot’s publisher, editor, or agent would be right out. But that only limits your options a little.
The other thing to remember is how long it takes the publishing industry to spit out a book. If BSA’s new book comes out at the end of the year, and you’re only querying your novel now, at the earliest, I would say your book isn’t likely to come out before Spring 2010. And that’s if it’s in PERFECT shape, and you happen to immediately luck onto a great agent, who knows the exact editor who’s looking for a contemporary YA novel, AND she’s got a spot to fill on her Spring 2010. That’s a lot of ifs. The more likely scenario is you start querying, eventually find an agent, eventually sell to an editor, who can find a place for your book maybe in her Fall 2010 list. Maybe Spring 2011. By which point, no doubt the BSA will have published several other books and no one, except certain scholarly reviewers, may note the similarities.
Good luck!

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