Monday, January 26, 2009

Room For Us All

Whenever I do a “Breaking Into Publishing” event, aspiring authors invariably ask me whether they should worry about sharing their ideas with others before their books are in the marketplace.

I understand the fear behind this question. We’ve been taught that there’s only so much space on bookstore shelves and, worse yet, that there are individuals out there trolling for good ideas, just waiting to steal ours.

Frankly, I don't worry about such things. I truly believe that there's room for us all. If you write well and your words resound with truth (granted, those are big ifs), you will find an audience. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, every book is unique. Each one of us has our own voice, our own take on any given topic.

A case in point: Back in 2000 when I titled my book Defying Gravity, people kept telling me to copyright the name. Sounds like a smart thing to do. The only problem is that book titles can't be copyrighted.

Fast forward eight years. A woman named Carol de Giere contacted me last summer to let me know that after much anguish she'd decided to call her book--a biography of Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz--Defying Gravity as well. Far from being upset that she'd "taken" my title, I was philosophical. I knew that some of the attention she garnered for her work would also call attention to mine. (A number of people have already told me they came across my book while searching for hers.)

Which brings me to the photo of the tire swing I posted a few entries back. As I mentioned at the end of that entry, the person who took that picture is a childhood friend of mine. What I didn't say is that the newspaper running the photo had scheduled someone else to do the shoot. As it turned out, that photographer had taken pictures of Carol for an article on her book the week before. Not imagining that there were two Defying Gravitys, he figured he'd already shot what he needed. When he didn't show up, the newspaper running the piece sent along my former classmate to do the shoot instead. I hadn't seen him in 36 years!

Needless to say, I wouldn't have reconnected with this person had Carol not titled her book the same as mine.

Note: Seated at the table in the above photo are the members of my "Breaking Into Publishing" panel. (Click to enlarge.) From left to right are Denise Marcil, President, Denise Marcil Literary Agency, Inc.; Nina Nelson, author of the young adult novel Bringing the Boy Home (which has just been named by Smithsonian one of its Notable Children's Books for 2008); myself; Lucy Hedrick, a five-time nonfiction author; and Jessica Bram, NPR commentator and author of Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes on a Joyful Journey.


  1. Anonymous8:42 AM

    There is room for everyone! When you allow that mentality, harsh competitiveness just vanishes. What fun to run into your old friend!

  2. This is such a great point, Prill! I always love and admire your positive attitude and energizing spirit. It is so fun to look at things in a good way, than negative. Does wonders for our mood too, now dosen't it? Wish I could see you in action on the panel you did!

  3. Great message. And true. There is enough for everyone and no one will put together the same "product" as you...even if they borrow your idea.

  4. I hear that at my seminars, too. Even more so is the paranoia of copyrighting. I tell writers to copyright their work for their own peace of mind before sending it out, but at the same time, if they are sending it to reputable publishers, NO ONE is going to steal their work! They don't want the lawsuit and ensuing hassle.

    Actually, the thought of someone stealing ideas makes me chuckle. If a writer has to steal another's idea because he can't come up with one of his own, then he's probably not a very good writer in the first place...

    L. Diane Wolfe

  5. LDW-- I so agree! If you can't come up with your own idea, how in the world are you going to have the wherewithal to write an entire book?