Recycling Story Ideas




As authors, our stories are our assets. They are what brings in money, in the shape of published books that readers can buy.

Now, there are many ways to take a single “book” and use it wisely, by selling limited licenses and being very careful about the rights listed in contracts. If you want to look into that, read Kris Rusch’s series on Estate Planning. She has many, many awesome tips on that.

Today, however, I want to talk about something else.

Recycling story ideas.

I first heard about this while chatting with a friend. She mentioned one of her author friends who takes a story and turns it into a full novel. Then she creates a short story, a love story and a zombie story, all of them from the same old idea. And sells them all to different markets. (These are not her examples, but you get the gist.)

Now, as you may know I’m in the process of branching out into another pen name that will publish explicit Romance stories. Yep, the smutty stuff. For reasons. Don’t judge.

And it’s also NaNo, and aside from another story (which is Hannah territory) I started writing a dragon shifter story that was *supposed* to be a Joanna tale. With the real stuff, hot dragon guy et cetera.

Except when this hot dragon guy started out doing the invesitation that brought him close to my heroine, it dragged out and became quite a focus, with the love stoy relegated to subplot. That’s okay, it’s fine for Hannah to create a fantasy adventure. And so I punted it over to her. That’s what you get when the heroine isn’t particularly fond of men. *sigh*

It just wasn’t what I had planned.

And then I figured out what the villain wants, and it’s very sly and underhanded, and it catapulted the story right back into Joanna territory: breeding his own army of dragon shifters, under his control from childhood and brainwashed into complete devotion to the villain. His way to power. His way to create a small empire of his own.

Writing went well for a while, but my mind was shocked. And then it remembered that conversation with my writing friend and her prolific author friend…

It seems that I’m raising Siamese twins during this NaNo season:

One story, two versions.

In the Hannah version, the villain has captured young dragon shifters and is in the process of breaking them when my hero arrives to foil his plans. Plain fantasy dragon adventure with a nice little love story as subplot.

The Joanna version will use the original villain plan, and offers many opportunities for hot stuff, since my hero will interview several women after getting nowhere with the men, and then will eventually be captured and used… before escaping and turning the tables on the villain, of course. With a love subplot, as well, that’ll usher in the happy ever after in the end.

Will this work?

Thing is, I believe the stories will be different enough to appeal to different readers, but they will use bascially the same idea and plot. The characters will get different names, and a different description, the action will be quite different, and yet… it’s the same basic story.

And there’s a part of me that tells me that’s cheating! It’s cheating!

It’s cheating my readers!

But is it, really?

I’m creating the two pen names precisely because I believe there will be two different audiences. The Hannah fans have told me repeatedly they are not fond of explicit scenes and that they won’t buy books with them. Which is fine – I’m very glad for the clarity! I love you all!

Which leaves the future Joanna fans who – I hope! – will love the hot stuff inside stories with a reasonable plot and adventure. Who don’t particularly care if it’s contemporary, SF or fantasy, because they want believable characters and an enjoyable story, plus the tantalizing scenes.

I believe there will be some overlap in the audiences. In fact,  I hope for it, because that’ll help Joanna become known. But the truth is, that overlap will likely be small.

And by “recycling” a story idea and adapting it to the different audiences, I make my life easier. They each get a story they enjoy, and I can publish one faster. Maybe that is win-win, after all.

And the truth is, this will be a rare thing. Most of my stories are not easily adaptable to the other pen name. Usually, it’s quite clear what I’m writing and whose story it is.

And you know what? I blame NaNoWriMo!

NaNo made me write under pressure every evening, made me go with spontaneous ideas; and Hannah and Joanna merged in the rush. Kind of.

That’s my version, and I’ll stick to it. So there.

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you and whether you believe this is a good idea or a reader rip-off.


About Hannah Steenbock

Hannah Steenbock is an author, dreamer, and coach. She has published several short stories in English and German, as well as one novel in German. In 2013 she started self-publishing her work. In 2014, she has won two awards for her short story "Sequoia".
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2 Responses to Recycling Story Ideas

  1. Leticia says:

    You can use an idea and take it to different directions if there are enough plot differences/genre and characters to make it original enough. I don’t see a problem unless the books are so alike that someone who would read all your books might get bored.

    • Hi Leticia,
      yes, that’s the idea, to have enough differences that the books are still telling a story that’s different enough to be entertaining. I also don’t think this is going to happen often, my usual “series” are quite different.

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