I get my stack of queries to sort through in batches of about 15-30 emails. One day I was sorting through a batch and realized I had (in a batch of about twenty emails) three queries for books that were retellings of the same fairy tale. Three out of twenty(ish). What are the odds? Moreover, we already had a partial for a manuscript based on the same retelling.
None of these queries were particularly bad (though I don’t think any of them were outstanding). But I didn’t request any of them because we already had that particular fairy tale in our stack of potential clients. Of course, when the authors sent these queries they didn’t know that I was going to be on overload with that particular fairy tale.
The timing was just bad.
I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of those manuscripts found a home with a different agent.
Is all hope lost if you write a book and somebody with a similar idea gets there first?
I say no. Yes, it certainly makes it harder. And it may depend on just how many other people are going ideas similar to yours. But sometimes there’s room on the shelf for two books that are very similar.
Consider Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball and Heather Dixon’s Entwined. Both are fairly traditional retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale and were published relatively close together. Although both books are similar in many ways, they are also both distinct and beautifully written. And both have done well.
That said, it’s always easier when you have a fresh idea. So if your book is too similar to something else that’s circling around the publishing world, put it aside. Work on another book because that drastically increases your chances of getting published down the road. Keep working, and maybe the tide will roll back around and be ready for your book.
Timing. It can be killer.