It’s every unpublished writer’s worst nightmare—browsing the bookstore shelves and discovering that someone else has written the same story you’ve sweated over for a year. Only they’ve written it faster. And—that obnoxious little voice tells you—they’ve probably written it better.
You have two options. One: pretend you never saw it, then let the questions eat away at you. Or two: buy the book and satisfy yourself that it’s different enough to yours.
I know a lot of people avoid reading stories from their genre while they’re writing because they don’t want to be inadvertently influenced, but I’d go for option two.
For one thing, the blurb on the back of a book could never give you a sense of all the nuances of a story, and it’s those nuances that will distinguish your book from another’s. Your voice, your secondary conflicts, your characters—there’s no way they’ll be exactly the same as someone else’s. While it may be difficult for you to assess your own nuances impartially, seeing the many ways your story is different can be reassuring. Why let the unknown eat away at your confidence and motivation?
For another, you may discover ways to work out problems with your own manuscript. If someone else dealt with the same set-up, they probably encountered some of the same plot problems. Clearly you don’t want to copy what they’ve done, but you may be inspired to find different solutions. Maybe your main character needs to make a decision—you’ve seen how another author approaches it, so what would happen if your character chose a different route? Your story could spin off into an entirely new direction and end up so different that no one will ever know you once feared it was the same story.
Have you ever found a story that sounds like yours? What did you do? Do you avoid reading similar-sounding stories in order to avoid being influenced?