Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Good Instincts

Or—
A Pat on the Back, Me

Sometime ago when I was looking to be agented, a well-known literary agent turned my novel down saying she has a client working on something she felt was similar. This agent was surprisingly specific about the setting and a couple of details of her client’s WIP. She asked that I check with her if and when I had other work, and was still unagented.


Shortly after, another agent offered representation, and I’ve been agented since. That particular novel has not sold, and we have moved on to my next.


About six months ago, I ran into a review of a middle grade novel that sounded so much like my unsold story, and I checked it out. What-d-y-know, its setting and specifics fit perfectly with the response I got from that agent. I began reading the book online in its E-version. I found myself heaving as the first paragraph reminded me of the way I chose to begin mine. But there’s more. The name of the main character, (an uncommon one) was the very same as in my story.



I did a bit of searching to find and verify that this writer’s agent was indeed the same one who liked my story, but had a client working on something similar.


I bought the book in its print version. I read it. It is a very good book, well written, and it deserves its place in the market.


You wouldn’t blame me for doing the next thing. I wasn’t going to, but something in me felt I just had to. I wrote to the writer to tell her I liked her book (true) and added that I liked the main character’s name very much.


Almost instantly, I got a reply. The writer was grateful for my appreciation, and added that, incidentally, the main character’s name was her agent’s suggestion, after her editor didn’t care for the name she had used originally.


I sat, heart pounding, staring at the screen. It’s rare that you get such confirmation of the tentacles you put out in the universe actually reaching somewhere. Bingo.


I am well aware that names, titles, and even general plotlines are not intellectual property and thus, rightly, can’t have a copyright. Inspiration comes from what we have read and seen before, and writers take from others (often subconsciously) all the time.

But it still felt... weird.



There’s a good article about writer’s envy that just came out a few months ago. I must have incorporated it inwardly, because I spent only a few moments feeling these pangs. I looked in the mirror and said, “You’ve done well. You had the good story and a name that was worth borrowing.”

Both stories deal with unseen connections across time. It’s fitting that I found just such a true connection between them, the one that was published and the one that was not. 

19 comments:

  1. Wow Mirka! So wonderful that you reached out and connected with the author of the book. By the way, I've worked on assignments that were someone else's idea and vice versa but it was always known and with permission. But this suggestion on the agent's part without asking feels like a violation. I'm sure you would've said yes.

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    1. You're right, Vijaya. I would have said yes, and changed the name of the protagonist in MY manuscript, to boot. I have many more interesting and uncommon names in my pocket ;)

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  2. Here's another huge ((hug)) for you, dear Mirka. What a yucky experience, but you succeeded in seeing a bright side to it. Good for you! You have such a good attitude about writing stuff and about life in general. You're an inspiration to me.

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    1. "You're an inspiration to me."
      ^Right back at you.

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  3. That's . . . odd, creepy, sad . . . I don't know what to say.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. It is what it is, and probably common.

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  4. Oh my goodness. I've heard similar stories of material stolen, both in the publishing and the film industries. I like your attitude, although it probably took a day or two for you to settle on the higher road.

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    1. It did only take a day. That's how I felt I earned a self pat-on-the-back.

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  5. While I'm happy you had a great idea worth borrowing, I don't approve of what that agent did. It doesn't seem right at all to me.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Like the issues coming out of Hollywood at the moment, I suspect this is very common while most prefer not to say anything about it because this is a small world, and so it usually goes unmentioned.
      I also think it happens most of the time inadvertently.
      I hesitated to even write this post. But it occurred to me that as I have all the correspondences, and can document every bit, maybe I am in a position to write about it. I am very certain this happened to others.
      And you know what? It really is sort of okay. No two books are really the same. The writer I spoke of here is very talented and her story has so many things mine doesn't.

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  6. And to give the agent the benefit of the doubt, she may not even know for sure where she'd heard that name--just knew it felt so fitting.

    Good for you for moving on so quickly.

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    1. Yes, this also. So I'm happy to have had such a spot-on name :D

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  7. Good for you for not holding a grudge and letting it go. Anger is a creativity thief. Easier said than done though.

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    1. Grudges are a sure way to hurt oneself and no one else. But really, I was not even tempted to go that way. I was more astonished that I got to know the ending to this real-life sojourn.

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  8. Certainly doesn't seem like a coincidence. I once (unsuccessfully) queried a non-fiction PB project to a publisher. Two years later, they published a longer non-fiction book on the same topic. I did always wonder if I may have contributed to its creation.

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    1. We borrow from each other all the time. Maybe that is why you can copyright specific execution of, but can't copy-write (i.e. copyright) )IDEAS.
      And I do think that limiting copyright in this way^ is a good idea. ;)

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  9. Sharing ideas does seem to happen way too often, but for an agent to do this with another author doesn't seem right to me, at all. She didn't take you on and therefore she knew you'd be still submitting that same work to others. Whether you hadn't happened to run into the other book and agents/publishers thought you were plagiarizing her? Good for you for rising above the situation.

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    1. It is what it is, Marcia. I told it faithfully. "Rising above" is the only palatable option for me.

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