Check the Competition

Don’t reinvent the wheel. That’s what they say.

If you’ve got a great idea for a novel about an orphan who learns that he’s a wizard, you may want to have a beer and rethink things.

It’s a bit of a horrifying scenario: you run your precious plot outline past someone at a cocktail party and she says, “You know, I just read something exactly like that…”

But there’s no escaping it. You have to know what novels have been written that are similar to your idea. But you have no titles or authors to search for, so Amazon is useless. How do you find them?

Try the search function at Library Thing.

You’ll see an entry field for works, another for authors, but then, something really cool — tags.

Suppose you’re thinking of writing a police procedural about a jaded cop who has to deal with a gargantuan medieval dragon in the sewers of New York. Has it been done? Will it remind agents and publishers of something that came out last year?

I typed “cop” and “dragon” in the tags field. Library Thing zipped through its 4.5 million logged titles for any tagged both “cop” and “dragon” by its members. Zero hits! Then I tried “police” and “dragon” and came up with one hit: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett.

I’d better take a look at that, to make sure I don’t step on Terry’s toes.

I tried “cop” and “dragon” in Amazon’s book search and got 113 hits, including non-hits like Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon (#4) and Naomi Novik’s Throne of Jade (Temeraire, Book 2) (#8). Lots of false positives to sort through.

I tried it again for “New York” and “dragon,” getting no hits on Library Thing and two thousand useless hits on Amazon (the first was a guide on dragonflies, published by the New York Academy of Sciences).

Good enough for me. I’m checking the Pratchett book (I don’t read enough of him, anyway), and putting “Cop vs. Dragon” in my novel queue.

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