Thursday, May 13, 2010

What’s the difference between these two “What’s the Difference?” books?, part 1 of 2

In April 2004, I began to pitch publishers a book for adults and teens called What's the Difference? It was the result of years’ worth of collecting a specific type of factoid. The book would whimsically explain the differences between pairs (or groups) that we confuse or simply can’t articulate a distinction between, including alligator/crocodile, vanilla/French vanilla, and geek/nerd (plus dweeb and dork).

That same month, the humorous trivia junkie magazine mental_floss (which was on my radar but which I did not read regularly) put out
Condensed Knowledge, a book stuffed with eclectic, cleverly organized facts. It included a recurring callout feature called…"What’s the Difference?" Of its 14 comparisons, only one was already on the short list for my proposed table of contents: rap vs. hip-hop.

In early 2005, I sold my book to Barnes & Noble’s publishing division. That September, it came out in their stores and on their site (If only picture books could move that fast.)

Just before Thanksgiving of that year, I learned that the "What’s the Difference?" feature from mental_floss was based on a recurring magazine feature of the same name. I tracked down the first two issues that included it.

Four comparisons from these first two installments were in my book as well:

  • kung fu/karate (I also included judo)
  • hurricane/typhoon (I also included cyclone and tornado)
  • murder/manslaughter (I also included homicide)
  • mountain lion/cougar (I didn’t have this as a main comparison but rather part of the "Related Terms" of panther/leopard/jaguar)

Plus two more comparisons in the magazine were on my list of potentials for a sequel.

I contacted mental_floss to introduce myself. They already knew about my book, and in fact had been surprised to see it. I understood; it must have looked like I’d stolen the idea from the magazine or
Condensed Knowledge, though they didn’t accuse me of that. But it was almost immediately understood that delineating differences was just a good idea that we each had independently.

I suggested we work together in some way (not necessarily with regard to the differences concept). They kindly responded that we should indeed try…and also mentioned that they had a full book based on their "What’s the Difference?" feature coming out in July 2006.

Continued in part 2.

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