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They say there are no new ideas. But perhaps you’ve come up with a different twist on an old idea, or decided to give your characters certain traits, developed a unique plot, or even snagged a common saying to incorporate into your book. You work long and hard on your project, get ready to release it, and BOOM. There is your idea, or saying, or trait already out there in a book, movie, TV show, etc. Somebody beat you to it. Now, if you publish your work as it stands, it will appear that YOU copied someone else. Isn’t it infuriating? What do you do?

This has happened to us more than once. In a couple of instances, the issues were so minor we simply ignored them and went ahead with publication. For instance, in our latest release, Zeke, our male main character often says, “It’s all good.” Wouldn’t you know it, right before the publication of Zeke; we started seeing this phrase around. On television, in another book (you know who you are, you talented author, you!), in conversation, etc. Now this is a trite and common phrase, and we decided to keep it, in spite of its sudden renewal in segments of popular culture.

However, there was another situation with Zeke, one that we felt we could not ignore. Originally Zeke had gray eyes. Then out comes 50 Shades of Grey by EL James. I have not read the book, but I did peruse the reviews and received a shock. Some of the reviewers express great scorn for the number of times the author mentioned gray eyes. Christian Grey, the male MC, has gray eyes. And apparently his eyes are revisited with great frequency in the book. Here is a quote from one reviewer: “His eyes are gray. Super gray. Intensely gray. Intense AND gray. Serious and gray. Super gray. Dark and gray. [insert 100+ other ways to say "gray eyes" here]”.

This drove us back to our manuscript to scrutinize any mention of Zeke’s eyes. Needless to say, PJ and I made the decision to change his eye color from gray to blue, even though Zeke was initially written several years prior to the publication of 50 Shades. So thanks to the cosmic consciousness and EL James, Zeke’s flinty, cold gray eyes turned blue. It’s just a fact of life that many people have gray eyes. But not Zeke. Not anymore.

Had we left Zeke’s eye color unaltered, there is no way to know how many readers might have said, “You just copied that eye color from 50 Shades of Grey!” And we could have countered it by revealing that Zeke was a project started long before 50 Shades made its splash. But who would believe it? Then again, maybe no one would have even noticed. We decided not to take a chance. The bottom line is that it probably doesn’t matter so much when you wrote your book. What matters is when you finish your revisions and finally release your novel to the public.

We don’t really regret changing Zeke’s eye color. We’ve encountered similar situations with our other books and stories, and for the most part, let them stand. This is the one case where we felt compelled to make a change.

Authors, have you experienced this phenomenon? Considered changing details of your book because your idea, trait, plot, or description popped up somewhere else before you could get your novel released? How did you handle it? Did you stick to your guns or make changes to avoid being accused of copying someone else’s ideas?