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Two days ago, my universe imploded. Thanks to one of my alpha readers, I realized that my manuscript is a complete ripoff. Well, okay, that's a bit dramatic. It's not a complete ripoff. But when I saw the similarities, that's how I felt. Like a fraud and a ripoff artist. This happened completely unconsciously, by the way. I would never intentional steal someone's intellectual property. And this wasn't plagiarism like copying directly from their story. No, it just crept in. There’s this author who I really love, and I consciously am aware of deep admiration and a little bit of style and genre mimicry. I’ve read all of her books, most of them several times. And now I realize my favorite book of hers was so closely incorporated into my own manuscript that it is impossible to ignore the similarities. There are more than one plot similarity, and a similarity of language that I probably picked up from reading so many of this author’s books.
This is the reason for alpha readers. These people (in my case) are friends and family who volunteered to wade through my manuscript and tell me honestly what they think. And the reader who brought up this major flaw saved my life. Because not only do I not want to pitch a manuscript that is similar to another, I don’t want to plagiarize on intellectual property, even unintentionally. My characters are unique and I love them, and the story itself, despite some of the plot point similarities, is also unique. But I have to fix those details, and I could have walked into a very bad situation, especially if I’d been set on self-publishing. I could have even maybe been open for a law suit, though I don’t think my story is close enough to warrant that.
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I could just say to hell with it and throw away the MS entirely. I could start over. I’m a writer. We do that. I’m not sure if I want to, though. This could have been the first in a potential series that I have already started planning out. This would have been the first book. Am I really done with this story? Can it be salvaged? I think so. But if I weren’t getting honest feedback, I may never have realized this oversight. And that is huge.
I've read that when you're listening to your first readers, you have to be able to sort through and find the real essence of their critique. Everyone will find something they don't care for, but if more than three readers notice a flaw, it is incumbent upon the writer to fix that portion of the story if they can. Because if three people noticed it, many more probably will, and it is most likely indicative of a weak point in the story. Writers can't be all about the whims of the people, but we're storytellers, and we want the story to be good and make sense and speak to the reader in some way. Maybe even change them. It's a lofty goal but I don't want to reach for it by standing in another author's footprints and following their trail. I want to blaze my own path. So I go back to the drawing board once again, determined to eradicate derivation from my beloved manuscript. A lot of my friends chimed in and encouraged me, and that shored up my determination all the more. I'm actually looking forward to the next revision. Revision is usually my least favorite part of writing. But today, I feel good. Bring it on!
Julie Simmons-Wixom is becoming an expert at falling down and getting back up. COMMENT below on your own experiences, or email her for a more in depth discussion on the ontological necessity of man's existential dilemma.