Don't Panic

What’s one of the fastest ways to kill your enthusiasm for writing? Stress about things outside your control.

You can’t control whether publishers are currently looking for zombie rom-coms or novels about vampire real estate developers. You can’t control whether the agent you're pitching to has just signed someone who writes in your genre. You can’t control the pricing structure of the Big W book department (though many people already in the industry would give their eye teeth to do so).

If you want to get published—and we’ll assume for the sake of this post that you do—you will no doubt worry about the commercial aspect of your book. This is natural. A beautifully written manuscript is only good to a publisher if they think they can sell enough copies to make it a good business investment. The problem with worrying about this is that it’s a double-edged sword.

While it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the marketplace and see what kind of books are being produced—and if you do send your manuscript to an agent or a publisher, chances are they’ll ask you what novels are similar to yours, a baffling question that is best to be prepared for—, this doesn’t take into account the fact that readers’ tastes change. Couple this with the fact that publishing a book via the traditional publishing industry also makes glacial retreat look speedy (my first novel took about two years from initial submission to publication, and this was considered pretty quick), and you can guarantee that any bandwagon you try and jump on will have left so long ago that it’s now just a tiny dot on the horizon.

Therefore, if the current trend is for first-person animal narratives about a journey of self-discovery through the Appalachian woods, do not—repeat: do not—decide to panic and ditch your current project to start Me & The Honey Pot: One Black Bear’s Search For the Elusive Bee Within. By the time you finish it, polish it, and submit it, even before you’ve had a chance to enjoy the delightful merry-go-round of contracts and re-writes and more re-writes and marketing plans and freaking out about the launch party, readers will have already moved on to moose or meerkats or wombats, or even out of the woods altogether. The lesson is thusly: trend-jumping is for chumps. Write your own path.

So what if, while diligently keeping an eye on the market and writing your own path, you discover that someone has written or is writing a book that has the same concept or storyline as yours? Do. Not. Panic. Resist the temptation, dear writer, to shred your manuscript, fling your PC out the window or immerse your Mac in a concrete bath. The simple truth of the matter is this:

no-one can write your book.

Two authors, given the same idea, will write very different stories. An orphaned child goes to live with their aunt and/or uncle who don’t want anything to do with them. This is the beginning to Jane Eyre, Heidi, and Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. It’s safe to say that all three books go in wildly different directions. Similarly, if you look at a high-concept book such as The Hunger Games—children fighting to the death as a televised game show—imagine what you might have written if this had been your idea. Not the same book. Nobody’s would be.

So what do you do with these worries? Easy: toss ‘em. Don’t think about them. You’ve got other things to spend time mulling over, such as whether a vampire really could take a job as a small-town horse trainer before everyone starts wondering why he doesn’t attend the local gymkhanas unless they’re held indoors.

No-one can write your book. This is all you need to know. So just keep writing it. We want to know how it ends.

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