Are there any original ideas left in chick-lit?

Chances are, if you write romance, it will have happened to you… that moment when you realise there is a book that is almost (or sometimes even exactly) like yours. And it sucks.

Last week I was browsing forthcoming books when I happened upon the blurb for a book coming out in January, by a big name in my genre, and it sounded exactly like a book I pitched to our shared publisher a while ago. At the time, my editor discouraged me from writing it, saying the premise was one people struggled to get on board with, and that the setting was mundane. At the time I accepted it, even though I really believed in the idea and wanted to write it, and suddenly here it is, only someone else is writing it. My idea, that I wanted to write ages ago. Same plot, same romance, same setting. Probably the same ending too.

Something similar happened to me where an editor was really keen to offer me a contract for a book I pitched, which I ultimately said I wanted to publish elsewhere. After a couple of months, when I spoke to said editor again, she mentioned that it didn’t matter, because they had someone writing something similar, with the same marketing hook, coming out at the same time, so they no longer needed my book…

So, what’s going on?

I think, the very nature of the romance genre, is that our stories all tend to follow a similar path. I find it funny, when people say romcom novels are predictable because they have a happy ending – but if they didn’t have a happy ending, would they still be romcom novels?

Is it really true that there are only so many ideas, and so many routes to take? After two very clear occurrences of my ideas popping up elsewhere, I did start to wonder… but then I got a review on one of my recent novels, saying it was a similar concept to a book they read from nearly a decade ago – a book I had never even heard of. And,

With the first book I mentioned, that had the same plot as the one I pitched, when I guessed that it would have the same ending as mine was going to… well, why would I assume that? Is it because there is simply no other route to take the story, using the standard romcom formula, to get that perfect happy-ever-after?

What do you think, are there any original ideas left? Are we using our knowledge of the genre and its troupes as ingredients that see us ultimately coming up with similar if not identical recipes? Are there really only so many things you can make with the same ingredients? Has this happened to you before? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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