Do you ever read someone else’s stuff and think “oh Kate would have done it this way” or then think “I could have done that better?” – then fight yourself not to use the idea? I never want to borrow someone else’s idea but sometimes what is in a story is similar to what I was thinking.
Ideas can’t be copyrighted. Only words can be copyrighted. Given the same idea, 10 writers will write 10 different books.
There is a difference between writing fanfiction, a direct rip off, and developing your own story based on a previous used premise.
Fanfiction plays in the world of another author. It is done for the love. No money exchanges hands, although fanfic writers often go on to have successful careers, because it’s a good way to hone your skills.
A direct rip-off is someone who take another writer’s idea and writes a very similar, often an inferior work. It’s basically bad fanfic with names changed and written for profit. We’ve had a couple of instances of people doing it to us. In both cases, their books sucked. Deep inside they know it’s not their world. It didn’t come from their influences and experiences and so the end product is a clumsy, pale imitation.
An original work developed on familiar ideas is transformative by nature. It’s an author’s interpretation of a theme. These books can be wildly successful. For example, Eragon. If you are older than 15, you can literally pick out where the ideas in it came from. It isn’t doing anything new, but it does what it does in an engaging way and kids who are new to heroic fantasy love it.
Without imitation, we would never have D&D (Tolkien,) Green Arrow (Robin Hood,) Batman (Zorro,) and Star Wars (Seven Samurai.) Zorro isn’t diminished by Batman’s existence and you shouldn’t be afraid to draw inspiration. If you think you can do something better, do it. But do it through the prism of your own influences and experiences. Make it your own.
Does it ever worry you when other writers say negative things about your work? … I’m scared that someone I admire will hate my book.
There is a certain etiquette among writers. You don’t generally trash a book written by a peer simply because the world is trashing everyone’s work already and it’s polite not to add to it unless some egregious wrong has occurred in the book and you just can’t help yourself.
Not all writers adhere to this established behavior. For example, there is a writer on Twitter who sits there and retweets a negative review of one of our books. Over and over and over. Sometimes twice a day. She isn’t doing it because she hated it. She is doing it because she has nothing original to say, so her entire feed consists of retweets. Someone must’ve told her at some point that she has to maintain social media presence, so she is heroically maintaining it.
So it does happen occasionally. But the more prominent is the writer, the less likely they are to trash anyone’s book. Look at it this way: between all the social media accounts, blog, newsletter, etc, we are reaching roughly 50,000 people a day. If I pick a book at random and say, “I hated this book,” a bunch of people will run over and look at it. Some people will buy it. This is simply statistics at this point. If I dislike a book, I will never mention it because I don’t believe it deserves that boost. So I don’t think you have to worry about reading someone you admire criticizing your work.
But let’s say the worst has occurred, and your peer rips your book to pieces. You have to remember that reviews are subjective and writers are no better at being objective than anyone else. Often, if they choose to review, they do it for their own reasons and at the end, it doesn’t really matter. Did you write the book you wanted to write? Did it make you happy? Well, then all is good.
It’s hard but try to stop worrying about it. Write for yourself. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Hi, I’d like to know how you both got feedback as a beginning writer. Two years ago I finished my first novel, and wanted to get feedback to do edits, etc. I asked all my friends and family. Even some strangers. Only one person read a significant portion. I’ve honestly been writing much less since then because it was so disheartening when even the people closest to me didn’t have the time or interest. While I was thankful to that person, and their input was helpful, I would have liked more direction. Is that a realistic goal, or do I need to accept I’m my own editor until I write something interesting enough to score an agent’s attention?
I have a link for you: Online Workshop for SF, F, and Horror. It really helped Gordon and me when started out. The way it worked back then is that you would have 3 crit points when you joined. Three points allowed you to post a chapter of your work. To get more points, you had to critique 3 chapters by someone else.
I haven’t been a member in years and I’m not affiliated with it in any way, but it was very beneficial. It is a trial by fire though, because complete strangers will rip your fiction to shreds trying to be helpful and you have to be ok with that.
Try it out. Might be just what the doctor ordered.
Thanks for the information. When looking for new books to read I always look at a variety of reviews before buying. An easy way for me is to use Amazon even if I am buying the book somewhere else. It is also helps to discover someone who has copied someone’s work.
As a reader, I do not mind similar story settings. I discovered Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs about the same time which led to Faith Hunter among others that I have enjoyed and don’t feel that I am reading a clone of someone else’s work..
Second vote for the workshop, though it’s been a long time and things may have changed.
Cath, I love the purple daylily!! I’m a daylily person myself.
Simon Lyon says
What’s your take on fan-fic here? I know you have no trouble with short vignettes but I’ve got the outline for a short novellette based on one I posted. Helen, roughly ten years down the line. You might remember it ended with “It’s a long story mum” and I’m tempted to write that story, while only using info that you’ve already given us about Inns and Innkeepers to stay as close to canon as possible.
Simon, if you write a particular storyline, that immediately limits what we can do. Right now, for example, you have precluded us from ever allowing Helen to say, “It’s a long story, mum” anywhere in any manuscript. Technically, even though your work is derivative, once your work is on paper, it’s copyrighted. That means you can technically claim that we plagiarized your fanfic. Sadly, there have been mentally unhinged people who have done this, not to us but to other writers. It doesn’t seem fair since we created the world and should be able to write whatever we want in it, but such is the nature of the beast.
For this reason, we ask that if you do write fanfic, you put it somewhere where we can’t see it.
Simon Lyon says
Yeah, that’s exactly what I figured. Probably precludes me linking to it here as well I imagine? I’m torn between writing something that hardly anyone else will see and wanting to “read” the story for myself.
Obviously I should come up with a completely new non-Innkeeper idea but I’ve never had the urge to write anything and this one is calling to me.
Whatever happens I’d never do anything to mess you up (sad to hear that some idiots have done that to other writers). It’s sad that something that’s supposed to protect authors can be weaponized against them.
Something needs to be changed – a derivative work, should be OK as long as it’s properly credited – but it’s not alright that it can be turned back on the original author.
If it does get written I’ll probably sign over the copyright to you – I’d never dare claim it. And I hereby assign you copyright on my vignette so you’re OK with “long story mum”! 😉
Jaylee Conaway says
What if a fan does or says (in writing) that you can do as you like with their idea without any ripper cushions? Are you still precluded from using whatever they have written?
Thank you for the post! I had always wondered about whether adapting ideas in your own mode was kosher or not… beyond basic story arcs and themes and such.
Simon Lyon says
That’s why I asked the question here, rather than mailing Ilona directly. I had some idea that US copyright law was a nest of snakes and thought that Ilona’s take on it might be useful info for others.
A few other people have written vignettes on the Innkeeper site and it tells us we should tread carefully.
I was just thinking about that crazy Cocky “author” trying to own the word Cocky last night and now your blog post is about copyright. ? Now if I can only think about the winning lottery numbers.
I love reading about this stuff, even though I’m never going to use it. Like probably 98% of the recipes I read, *sigh*.
I know…it’s fascinating! I’m much more appreciative of the writers I love knowing a tiny bit of what goes on behind the scenes. And I’m right there with you on the recipes. I haven’t made a complete meal in about 3 months, but just bought two new cookbooks. Oh well, they store well.
Cynthia e says
Cripes, RECIPES!! i have a 32 quart sterilite bin filled with 40 odd years of recipes i have downsized recently and I have to toss a lot of those. Saying well I haven’t made it in 20 years so I will toss it DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK!! At least i am not the Lone Stranger !!
Take a picture with a smartphone or scan into your computer.
My sisters, nieces, sisters in law and I have a plan to make a family cookbook featuring recipes from our mother (many in her handwriting) and other family favourites. Unfortunately thus far we’ve only got to the boxes and books full of recipes stage like so many of you. Ah well at least I’m not on my own in having great swags of recipes, many of which I may never cook!
Some years ago I was drawn to the first Kate Daniels book. I had already started reading one of the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher, who is a one of my favorite authors. I started reading your book and got hooked immediately. I put down the DF to read yours and after finishing fan girled you by sending an email telling I what I had done. It has been a while, but I think I remember you responded and you were so thrilled that it made my day, to say the least. Today, the same scenario would still hold true.
Simon Lyon says
I love Dresden Files but Jim B seems to have lost interest. The next book has been “coming real soon now” for years.
Jim got divorced and remarried and moved house at least once. Harry is a marathon, but Jim has started writing Peace Talks.
According to an old update at this link: http://www.jim-butcher.com/faq/upcoming-works
Peace Talks was “finished” in that a draft had been sent to his editor. But in addition to his home life upheaval, he’s just plain not been writing it. I know this because he keeps putting out graphic novels on a regular basis. That seems to have been his focus since his last book.
I really dislike it when authors criticize other writer’s work such as the way Stephen King did Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer. 🙁 I don’t see how anyone benefits from the negativity.
J.Lee Conaway says
I am an avid reader, and I try almost any kind of fiction (and some non-fiction, too) but I do have my favorites. I literally inhale books in my favorite categories by my favorite authors. Yes, that’s authors, plural…because, let’s face it: no single auther is going to be able to write enough books to satisfy my craving. So, maybe Jane Doe writes a Highland historical novel, and then Joan Public writes one. Settings are the same…but, that’s about it. No theft there, no plagiarizing one another…just two writers using the same general background for the story. It’s the same with Vampyres. You have them…Jeanine Frost has them, and never the twain shall meet. And, when I finally get around to writing MY book, I won’t feel the least bit guilty that I got the general idea from one of my favorite authors. Because, I read their story(ies) and started to wonder “What if…?” Which is, in my mind, how stories get started a lot of the time. Would I leave a negative review? Sure. But, I would not rip the writer’s work to shreds, because that would be rude. However, I would state what I thought was wrong with the book, and explain why I didn’t like it. Whole different idea, right? And, now I better wander off, and give someone else the chance to put their 2 cents worth in. Bye!
Constructive criticism is always helpful, especially if it lets a person know what is or isn’t working and why. I really like the way things are being addressed here, lots of good advice and love seeing the process… it also explains why certain authors, series and books succeed. Always good to have a book that is a page turner! Thanks again!
Julie G says
I’m sorry, but the thought of Ghastek trying to pilot one of Jeanine’s vampires has given me a fit of the giggles.
Oh no loolol that would not end well for ghasket
Re: vampires, there’s a clip somewhere (I think from a True Blood ComicCon session) where someone asks Charlaine Harris “where did you find all of these interesting facts about vampires?”, and gets the reply “you do know this is fiction, right? I made them up.”
I’m watching/listening to Mystery Road and reading this. Reading the comments brought up a memory of books based on an Australian outback native police detective that I read in high school and haven’t thought about in 40+ years. Pretty amazing what pops up out of memory with the right stimulation!
Anybody else watch Mystery Road? It caught my attention when I saw the lady police officer. I thought and thought about it and finally Googled the show. She was the white house security person in Absolute Power with Gene Hackman. I had no idea she is Australian. So far it has been pretty good.
The books about the Australian outback detective are the “ Boney” series by Arthur Upfield. The detective was called Napoleon Bonaparte.
The actress is Judy Davis and she is a very talented actress. She first burst onto Australians consciousness when she starred in a movie called My Brilliant Career based on the classic Australian novel by Miles Franklin.
Would those be the Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte books by Arthur Upfield? Loved those books & the tv series they inspired.
I didn’t watch Mystery Road, but now I’ll have to go check it out 😀
And yay, the autofill on the name etc is back!
Re: Aussie mysteries. I highly recommend to everyone Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, both the books and the TV show (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). Set in 1920’s Melbourne. The books and TV show go in different directions with the characters and are different and excellent enough that one can enjoy both.
For context, there is very little I recommend to EVERYONE. Most of my recommendations are tailored. The Kate Daniels series (but not Hidden Legacy, Innkeeper, or Edge) is a second thing I recommend to almost everyone. Every fantasy reader, anyway, and many who aren’t. So. Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher Mysteries.
What a fascinating insight into ideas and copyright and fan fiction.
I had no idea the dangers for authors regarding copyright if they even use a phrase some fan has written! It has cured me of ever again putting forward some imagined scene in the comments because I would hate to inadvertently spoil some idea the AL had for a future scene or story.
It has also clarified why sometimes I read a story and think “ this is the same as xxxxxxx” eg I have read several “ dragon” stories that seem to be based on the people dragon relationship Anne McCaffrey created in her Dragons of Pern series. Still, in fairness to authors, there are lots of romances who explore the ideas and relationships that Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte wrote so well so long ago.
I read somewhere that even Shakespeare based his plays on ideas that had been previously used. I guess it is the quality of his treatment of these ideas that has resulted in his plays still being regularly produced and his writing still studied.
Thankyou for this interesting insight into the process of authorship.
Simon Lyon says
It’s said that there’s no new story in film/fiction – all are derivative of basic archetypes. The “hero’s journey” is most often quoted:
Warning: This level of anal analysis of storytelling should be scanned quickly, not read – lest it suck out all the joy of reading good books! 😉
Only linking it to illustrate that some people analyze literature *way* too much!!!
Certainly Shakespeare based all his plays on earlier works, which were themselves based on earlier works, most of which have been identified. Doesn’t detract from the genius of what he *did* with them.
P Martin says
You introduced me to one of my new favorites…Grace Draven. You mentioned how you loved Phoenix Unbound so I gave it a try. Yes I did like it but (you knew there was a but didn’t you? *L*) but it started really slow for me and took about a quarter to a third of the book before I started warming to it. But I did and it was really good. Thanks for that. To be honest, though, I still prefer your couples Kate/Curren, Nevada/Rogan and Dina/Sean.
Talking about Nevada/Rogan reminds me that Diamond Fire is only a few weeks away (6 November) so I must be due for a leisurely reread of the first 3 Hidden Legacy stories in preparation.
It will give me something to do in my spare time besides stalking this site hoping for a new instalment of SOTB!
Patricia Schlorke says
If you read the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Prophecy comes out October 30. That may help shorten the wait for Diamond Fire. ?
I am not an aspiring author. Yeah, yeah I did the typical little girl trying to write a horse story when or 12. It was abysmal. Anyway, although I have no writing talent and no plans to plough through and try to write despite that, I do truly enjoy your blog entries on advice to writers. They are interesting and very educational and if I WERE an aspiring writer (I promise I really am not) I think these articles/essays/blog entries would be very helpful.
P.S. I recently wrote two newsletter articles…. I will not be winning any prizes for those. It was a little traumatizing actually.
Thank you for the last few chapters and for keeping us engaged with your Writing Q&A’s.
I appreciate you!
Not the right place but….. did you flood? Is your office okay?
Thank you for responding to my question and exposing me to the Online Workshop for SF, F, and Horror. This is exactly what I was looking for. You made my day!
Teri Strutt says
When I was 11, we had to write something in class. My teachers feedback was “trying to get an original story out of Teri is like trying to get blood from a stone”. I’d been reading a lot of Enid Blyton, and pretty much just wrote what I guess would class as fanfic.
Becky C says
Off topic, but — might you you ever return to the Kinsman universe, or the Alpha: Origins universe?
This is to the person discouraged by acquaintances not responding to his/her requests to review writing.
I had this experience too. Then my brother, a prolific writer, asked me (an English major, writer and grammar freak) and family to preview his writing. That’s when it dawned on me. It’s hard to read a close friend or relative’s writing for many reasons; most of them impossible to explain. It’s sort of like you know them too well, you don’t want to criticize, and sometimes you’re unsure what they want from you. So, it’s just a phenomenon of some sort. It has little I think to do with the caliber of your work. Sensing this, I next used a critiquing service. If you can’t afford that find people outside personal inner circle. Also, I do have one sister-in-law who loved my writing but then went sentence by sentence suggesting word changes and tons of grammar notes, commas everywhere, etc. That is really hard too, when you want to ignore half of it. So, take heart. I don’t think it’s what it seems: a rejection or reflection on your work.