Monday, December 12, 2011

Idea Theft

Ever have that super cool idea that you think no one else will EVER come up with?

December 2008, I started writing my second full-length novel. In January I wrote a scene set in a math teacher’s classroom (imagine that) and, being huge on detail, I wrote this...

For the next few minutes, Alexa fiddled with her Blackberry while Brent fascinated himself with the bobblehead Albert Einstein on Mr. Traverso’s desk.

Bobblehead Albert Einstein? I didn’t even know if such a thing existed. It just made sense for this math teacher to have an Einstein bobble head on his desk. And as I finished up my manuscript in April, my naïve brain dreamt not only of Barbie dolls created for each of my characters but also little Einstein bobbles.

In May the fam and I ventured out to see Night at the Museum 2 and saw this

Yep. Einstein bobble heads in the Air and Space Museum. And they come to life. And spout out secret codes based on several digits of pi. Cue mass production of Einstein bobble heads ( I have two on my desk) and Smithsonian exhibits based on the character.


Okay, so OBVIOUSLY the folks from 20th Century Fox did not steal my idea. Obviously the screen writers wrote in Al way before I mentally conceived my manuscript. Obviously I make way too many mountains out of molehills.

But still. It was frustrating. I LIKE to be original. I enjoy the thrill that comes from generating quirky ideas. I didn’t want to come off as the idea stealer, but that’s what I would’ve felt like if my book did get picked up.

This has happened to me one too many times. My brain will produce what I think is a super original, insanely clever idea or I'll come up with some super awesome line or term to describe my characters. And then I’ll find it in a movie, or on a Facebook status. Or in a someone else’s story.

A while back I posted about queries and teased you with the first line of mine. I was afraid it would be a little on the offensive side, but decided to keep it, because while it might turn some people off, it might turn a few other people on.

And I didn’t share said first line because it is a little on the risqué side and to be honest, I’m a little averse to posting any of my work. It’s not that I think any of my faithful super awesome blog followers would “steal” or even that anything I post would be theft-worthy. Bu-ut, since the world, ya know, revolves around me and there SO MANY people that will stop by my blog and ohmygosh what if someone takes my first line of my query and uses it before I have a chance to use it—

I don’t have neurotic tendencies. Nope. Not me.

Anyhoo, many of you voiced hopes that I’d share my query's first line by year’s end. It may not even be that stupendous and worry worthy, but I’ll share now.

Senior JD Marshall has a power most guys would trade their left nut for.

Just so you know—this line came out of NOWHERE. I wrote it and deleted it probably twenty times. I struggled with it. I was all like Would guys really give up their left nut for ANYTHING? I mean, that’s a pretty valuable part of the male anatomy. I confirmed this with my husband—yes, there are some things that are nut-sacrifice worthy. So, I kept it. And I love it. And I can’t see the inside jacket of my book without it.

And then, just over a week ago, I read the awesomeness that is The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. The premise, the story, everything about it is AMAZING. I flew through it.

Yet there was one line that gave me pause.

Shana Roy raises her hand. Any guy in this room would give his left nut to be asked out by her.

Just in case you missed the comparison.

The first line of my query: Senior JD Marshall has a power most guys would trade their left nut for.

line from The Future of Us: Shana Roy raises her hand. Any guy in this room would give his left nut to be asked out by her.

Well, so much for being original.

Am I making a gihugic deal out of nothing? Probably. But I will tell you this. While it is a little frustrating to see something I wrote or slaved over or just plain MINE in a movie or on someone’s Facebook status or in a book, this feeling like I’m stealing other people’s ideas can be validating. Apparently bobble head Einsteins are not a super far-fetched notion. And apparently there are things guys would be willing to swap a piece of their manhood with.

So, am I the only peculiar one here? Did YOU ever come up with this super awesome idea only to find someone else said/did it first? Got a story to share? Or the first line of your query?


  1. Although its not common, I have heard that phrase numerous times in the past, so neither of you are actually original. But its totally different to use it as the opening line of a novel. I like it! It's so IN YOUR FACE, I'd really be interested to see what followed.

  2. Oh, yes! Try writing an entire mermaid novel (and querying it with no lick) and then 5 friends send you a link to a USA Today article saying that Stephenie Meyer is writing one. Talk about panic and heartbreak. But it's okay, my books released first! lol. No one can ever say I copied her.

    Now, just change your first line to right nut and you'll be fine. ;)

  3. Ugggh that IS frustrating... I don't have any stories like that to share. (yet--eek!) But I do worry about this kind of stuff. Usually for me they're bigger plot and character ideas though. Now that I think about it, I did recently come across a character who is a little too similar to my female lead for comfort...

    BUT as long as the ideas came from you and you're using them in an original way, it's usually fine. I think this post did a good job of demonstrating that. :)

  4. Oh yeah. I read the PM deal reports with great trepidation, totally scared that someone is going to come out with a similar book to mine. And that's one of the reasons I've refused to even share my title for my most recent book. It's kind of an awesome title (if I do say so myself), and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about someone "borrowing" it.

  5. Actually, this happened to me last winter. A CP was looking on publisher's marketplace, and came across a book that had just sold. The little one sentence pitch of the book sounded almost EXACTLY like something I'd been querying. To the point that she IMed me and asked "Um...did you ever have a critique partner named XXXX?"

    When the longer summary of the book showed up on goodreads, it stopped sounding so much like mine, but still, it was FREAKY.

  6. Oh yeah. Similar to yours, a line from my query showed up in the book I read over the weekend. GAH.

    And I totally have an Edgar Allen Poe bobblehead on my desk!

  7. I feel your pain!
    While I was working through my dystopic about a world lacking water last spring (THIRST), I read a review of a book already out about the same topic. Then I read a PM deal recently about another book on the same topic. Then a friend told me that at a conference someone pitched the same idea with the same TITLE as mine... oh, and apparently the broadway play Urinetown from, like, ten years ago is ALSO on the same theme... they say there are no new ideas, but I didn't realize this one was SO overdone.

  8. I think it's safe to say that this has happened to everyone at some point, whether we realize it or not. I wouldn't worry too much about either the bobblehead or the query line.

  9. It's happened to me! I think if it's a minor detail, it's nothing to worry about. If it's a more major plot/character similarity, it's also not a big deal--most similar-seeming projects end up being distinct.
    I make a point to avoid reading any comp-sounding titles while writing, though. Just because I don't want any outside influence on my story.

  10. It happens to the best of us. You know what they say, 'great minds think alike'.

  11. My latest manuscript is about mermaids who are not nice. ;) My sister is an artist, so before I explained the way they looked in the book, her and I sat down to draw them. In doing so, I explained their personalities, abilities, etc. to her. A little while later (after the manuscript was written) my sister came over and told me she'd just gone to see the new Pirates movie. And much to my dismay, the mermaids in that movie were very much like mine, as far as their personalities go. Yes, I was upset. But, at least their tails don't look the same. I'm holding onto that one. :)

    I also made sure not to read any of the new mermaid books until mine was complete.

  12. I totally thought of your query when I read that line in THE FUTURE OF US! So funny! I've heard my husband use the "left nut" line before (not sure what he was going to give his up for...), so I think you're cool to leave it in your query if you want. It's so attention-grabbing... I love it!

    Also, I thought I was being all clever naming a YA character with dark hair Max after Max from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Then I read the exact same scenario in LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR. I wasn't sure whether to cry or be happy that I was somehow on the same wavelength as Stephanie Perkins. :)

  13. That is a great first line to a query, one I bet agents don't see a lot. If I were an agent, I would first choke on my coffee in laughter then continue reading. An,d having read all of the said "nut-referenced books" I did not and would not have made the connection if you had not spelled it out.

  14. I agree with David, you don't have to be original but that would make a kicking first line. Use it :)

  15. This is bound to happen because there are no original ideas. Everything is a derivative of the Sound of Music:)

    My friend Lucy had her book up online for almost a year. She got great feedback, fixed it, tweaked it, etc. It's being published and comes out in February. A month ago, she found someone's book online with all the same characters, etc. She laughed about it and called it "fan fic." Jay and Carolyn were giving you fan fic;)

  16. No specific stories to share, but I DO know that feeling! It's so deflating. But at the same time, it's kinda like vindication. At least, I hope it is... :)

  17. SERIOUSLY. I am soooo glad to read all these anecdotes. In fact, 2 seconds - literally TWO SECONDS before I clicked on this post, I finally skimmed the summary of a book I'm dying to read (I'm spoiler-averse so I don't even read jacket copy).

    Turns out the summary features someone with eyes described exactly like a major character in my book. DAMMMIIIIITTTTTT.

    I probably have to change it now, even though that particular description fits so much of the plotline. Sigh...

  18. I feel your pain. Seriously!

    A year ago a new t.v. show came on, and my kids' mouths dropped open, and they all chimed, "They stole your manuscript!"

    Well ... they probably did not ... but there were a lot of similarities. YIKES.

    Then, with a different manuscript, I put it to "bed" for a few days to give my brain a rest from it ... and in the meantime, I picked up a novel to enjoy. And. I kid you not. I read a line in a violent attack scene that was almost word for word what I had written. YIKES. I didn't steal it from this author, and I know he didn't steal it from me.

    Bottom line? There are only so many words in the English language. And, there are only so many different ways you can arrange them. Chances are, some of us might come up with the same idea.

  19. Wow, you are obviously on the same creative mindwave length as someone! I hate it when someone steals MY idea. LOL Well, back to the drawing board, eh? If you managed to come up with those, you'll probably be able to come up with others just as good! :) Good luck.

  20. I wantto take this to my friend. where can ı find Albert Einstein Bobblehead


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