Once upon a time, I took a theater class. My professor said something I haven't forgotten. There's nothing new under the sun. Yeah, not exactly ground breaking, but it stuck with me. He also said there are a limited number of plots out there and each writer has to adapt their story around one of them.
Years ago, I had two writer friends. One of them shared an idea with me that I thought was pretty cool. It was in its infancy and she had a lot of other irons in the fire, so it wasn't on her front burners. Meanwhile, the other published a book with a really similar premise. Time passed and the first friend edited her book and got it published. And there was a shitstorm. The fan base of Writer #2 accused Writer #1 of stealing the idea. They didn't even know each other and I can state with absolute certainty no one was stealing anything. (As if one can 'steal' ideas anyway.) Writer #1 had the idea before Writer #2's book was even published. But the shitstorm was of such a virulent strain that Writer #1 unpublished her book.
Which was too bad because her delivery of the concept was way better than Writer #2's. Sorry. Just being honest there. :shrug: And since then, I have picked up at least two other books with eerily similar premises. It might've been a new take on an old premise in 2000s, but it sure ain't new now.
Recently, I picked up a book to read. I thought it was a straight cozy mystery, but it turned out to be a paranormal mystery. And I stopped dead in my tracks when I got to the part that was too similar to Ugly and the Beast (i.e. when the talking cat came on scene). UatB is already written, so no worries about 'stealing ideas', but even the perception of it scares me. I don't need a shitstorm visiting me. Not that it isn't still possible some readers of that book will accuse me of 'stealing ideas' from her. Not a damn thing I can do about that should it happen. I know I won't be crawling into a hole if it does. I can prove I didn't steal a damn thing. (Then again, Writer #1 had proof, too. She simply opted not to fight.)
In the past month, I've seen two different 'similar to Harry Potter' series hit the stores. I read the first book in another one last year.
There's nothing new under the sun, folks.
But don't despair. So what if you have an idea and it's kind of like another book? Are you making it different? Of course you are, because each of us brings our own experiences to the books we write. Unless you're copying the book word for word, it's not stealing. (Okay, if you copy it and only change a few things - like names and stuff - it's probably still stealing.) If you learn about it before your book is published and you can make reasonable changes, do so if it makes you feel better. Sorry - the talking cat is staying. It doesn't make sense if Oliver is any other animal. And I already paid for the cover with a cat on it. I don't want to pay extra to have the cat removed, thank you very much.
What I do need to do is make sure Oliver's voice is unique to him. A little extra editing should fix that. (It was already in my notes to fix that, so no biggie.)
With all the books being written today, odds are you're going to be writing something that is similar to someone else's ideas. Not much any of us can do about that. How many different stories can be directly tied to something Shakespeare wrote - even if you discount the stories that actually SAY they're based on Romeo and Juliet or The Taming of the Shrew?
Do the best you can to make your stories unique to you. And weather the storm as best you can.
Oh, and as a side note, the other day I saw a book being marketed that's premise is an awful lot like Writer #1's popular multi-book series. Shit happens. I just hope Writer #1's fan base isn't as vicious about it as Writer #2's was.
(To maintain the authors' anonymity, I've tried to make this as vague as possible in relation to them.)