The Importance of Checking Out Your Competition (or, Watch Out for Evil Twins)

Like many writers, I’ve developed a habit of thinking “That would make a great book!” and immediately composing a brilliant outline any time I see or hear or read about anything remotely interesting.  Being a bit of a nature nerd with an interest in psychology, my latest Great Idea for a Book was to investigate ancient folklore and modern studies pertaining to the relationship between nature and mental health.

I wrote up an outline.  In fact, I wrote up three outlines, each with a slightly different angle.  This book was going to be huge—think Last Child In The Woods meets The Noonday Demon. After a two-second scan of I decided that nothing like my Great Idea for a Book had ever been written before, much less published.


Two days ago I had the distinctly humbling experience of plucking a book off a library shelf only to discover that not only had my Great Idea for a Book already been published, it had been published in 2002 by a British osteopath who had already dug up all the myths, folklore, science, and studies (up until 2002, at least) that I had been planning to uncover.

It was like going to the supermarket and meeting my evil twin.  Although this book had a different angle and a different tone than I had been planning to take, the content was so eerily similar to what I had envisioned—right down to the quotations at the start of each chapter—that I decided to put this particular Great Idea on the back burner for the time being and go on my merry way.

While it may be true that “there’s nothing new in the world” and the best ideas are continually being recycled and re-imagined, it’s important to find out if your proposed book has already been written—and, if so, to make a realistic assessment of whether or not you can bring something substantially different or better to the table.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the best ways to check up on your book’s “evil twins” (otherwise known as its competition).  Hint:  a two-second scan of isn’t enough.


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