Premise too similar to an already published book?

So, I’m writing a book that starts off on a very similar note as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It takes place during WWII, the protagonist is English, and she is sent away to the countryside with her siblings on a train, and then later wanders off into a magical world. However, this is where the similarities end. The siblings don’t come with her, there are no talking animals, no evil witches, no epic battle (at least not in the first book), the story is way darker and way more adult than any of C.S. Lewis’ writings, and though there are plenty of religious allusions, it certainly doesn’t hit you over the head with Christian theology (the MC turns out to be a lesbian, for one).

I kind of knew that my premise was similar to that of the Narnia series when I started writing it, but kind of shrugged it off because Operation Pied Piper was also a real historical event. It seemed like fair game to use it as a premise for my own story, even if Lewis used it for his. But now I’m having doubts, especially after one of my beta readers suggested that it might be a bit too similar.

I have been preparing my manuscript to send it out for queries. Do you think this might be the sort of thing to keep it from getting accepted by an agent? It’s kind of important that the story take place during the second World War, which is why I chose Operation Pied Piper as a starting point. The only way I could think of avoiding it is maybe starting it around the early 30s instead of the late 30s. What should I do?

An awful lot of published stories have similar plots but I think your story, although it starts like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, sounds quite different. It’s just a similar beginning.

Why not turn this into a strength and use the Lion Witch and Wardrobe as a comparison title? Say that it starts like it. That book was wildly successful. It was the first of the series to be published.

As for whether that could be a reason your book doesn’t get accepted by agents, no one knows. It’s a black box in my opinion. The way they choose is so subjective I sometimes think the time of day they read the query matters and you can’t decide that. So just give it a shot. You don’t have anything to lose by trying.

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Follow you hearts, maybe you can do even better

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Completely agreeing with this suggestion. I notice that a few books, both online and in traditional stores, do mention the similarity in theme to other published works. There’s some part of the description that says “If you love stories like this or that…” and “Perfect for fans of blah blah blah…” It certainly helps draw in the correct target audience/reader.

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I don’t think it’s a problem, especially if you mention Operation Pied Piper. It’s a real thing – and I expect many books used it.

Being “too similar” is far more than a very high level view. Also consider tone, voice, target audience, etc.

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Yeah, actually, right now I’m reading a book with a very similar premise to Mulan, except the girl disguises herself as a boy to work as a court tailor rather than go to war. The tagline for the book says “It’s like Mulan meets Project Runway”. That certainly drew me in because I like both those things.

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If you read the reviews on goodreads, you’ll see that a lot of readers have noticed similarities in their favorite books, but they still like them anyway. So as the others have said, you never can tell what’s going to happen. Good luck and I hope you succeed.

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I didn’t know that one could actually use comparison titles when querying. But yeah, that’s exactly it. It starts the same way as Narnia, but the heroine ends up in a place that is far more hostile towards humans.

Thank you!

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Lol, actually, Operation Pied Piper is the first thing I mention,

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I don’t know what your book is about, but if you were inspired by real historical events, I don’t think there should be any problem. Everyone gets inspired by real facts.

Here’s an article on comp titles: http://authornews.penguinrandomhouse.com/comp-titles-an-elevator-pitch-for-your-book/

@paulapdx mentioned in a comment that comps are on the rise, so it’s not a bad thing. :slight_smile:

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It’s best to have a few comparison titles on hand when querying. There was this agency I came across that demanded you tell them of at least 2 comparison titles. Couldn’t query without them which was annoying.

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Thank you for the link! That is very helpful!

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Really? Oh good. I can definitely think of a few comp titles.

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Most agencies demand(or expect you to provide) at least two comparison titles when querying, as it shows that you are fully aware of the audience your manuscript is targeted for. Contrary to popular belief agents/publishing house aren´t desperately seeking something unique, they want something that fits neatly into a familiar genre that is easily marketable. A case in point is the explosion of billionaire romance novels in the wake of Fifty Shades. So, having a premise vaguely similar to an established work is actually a plus point. As the words are entirely your own you have no need to worry about plagiarism.
Best of luck!!

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Thank you! This really is a relief.

Follow up question: do the comp titles have to be other books? Or could they possibly be movies? I could also quite easily compare the book to Pan’s Labyrinth just based on some of the horror elements.

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You can definitely use comparison titles. Pandean who wrote White Stag compared to her story to an already published book and it was a selling factor

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I agree!! Agents and publishers want to know where your book will fit on shelves before committing to it. If you have a strong comparison to a very popular book (and comparing it doesn’t make your book seem like a disappointment), then use it as your strength when querying.

I agree with turning the slight similarity into a strength. People love seeing things they know and then have it turned into a new thing.
I use also a comp for my fantasy story (Outlander meets ACOTAR) and another one for my mythological story (Dark Fairytale meets Evil Gods), although the latter is more a play of sub-genres rather than book titles.

You can definitely also use movies. I have seen people use Game of Thrones a lot, and I’m sure they were mainly referring to the HBO series and not the ASOIAF book series.

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