Confessions from a Writer Whose Second Novel is not that Unique

I’ve just spent two days in mourning after reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I felt wrecked (a new trendy word that I loathe but am using for the first time in hopes of never having to use it again). The book destroyed me not because it was unputdownable, which is how everyone else seems to describe Taylor Jenkins Reid’s fifth novel, a book which just happens to be having a moment right now thanks to Netflix. I was shattered because my second novel, the one I have just finished writing has such a similar premise that I fear the book summary in my query letter may sound a little too familiar to any literary agent who has read Reid’s 2017 bestseller.

My teenage daughter introduced Evelyn Hugo to me last weekend after reading my query letter. Though she hasn’t read my novel, my daughter said the summary sounded similar to a book that’s been blowing up on social media lately. I did a quick Google search and realized I didn’t want to associate myself with a book that sounded oddly similar to the story I’ve been working on for over five years. But when both Google and Amazon started recommending Evelyn Hugo to me, I took the plunge and added it to my cart.

My dread turned to panic the moment I started reading, yet I powered through the pages feeling every emotion any writer would if it seemed she’d been two-timed by her muse. While the stories themselves are nothing alike (virtually no husbands make an appearance in my novel), the set-up and structure and theme, in other words the parts you squeeze into a query letter, felt a little too close for comfort.

This morning, as I began to come out of my book hangover, I stumbled upon a tweet from the 6th literary agent on my maybe-query list:

“Writers! Puhleeeeze, don’t tell me that your book is unique in all the world. It’s not. The best you can ever do, is to present a fresh take on an old theme. Deal with it.” #literaryagent

Steven Hutson @wordwiselit

This tweet, despite being 6 months old, felt like a little sign from the universe. So this afternoon, feeling a little less destroyed, I dumped Evelyn in a friend’s mailbox (had to get it out of the house, despite devouring it), and began a plan to rework my book summary, focusing on what is fresh and weeding out what might feel a bit too familiar. I’ll keep my current comp (oddly also featuring “Hugo”—Erin Somers’ Stay Up with Hugo Best), but will consider renaming a minor character called Monique, because it feels just a bit too woo-woo that both books would have a character with this kind-of-unique name. I’m thinking maybe I’ll call her Stevie, in honor of the agent who unknowingly helped me recover from this “amusing” experience, though I had to cross him off my maybe-query list since he doesn’t rep upmarket or literary fiction.

Writers! Have you ever felt wrecked by a book because it made you or your idea feel less unique? Do you ever wonder if a muse may have visited you and another creator at the same time?