It is a truth evidently discovered that as soon as you get a rejection letter stating that either you don't have a plot, or your characters are dislikable, you will pick up a book that has the exact same thing. It's like when you're having a relationship problem, and you read an advice column in a magazine months later, and someone has sent in a letter with the exact same problem that you had, or you discover that someone else is writing a book with a similar plot to yours.
For example, I had received a rejection letter from one of my dream agents stating that the stakes were not high enough for my main character, that there wasn't enough conflict. Sure enough, I read a book this weekend, that had the exact same problem. The stakes were not high enough. I won't mention the name of the book, but the plot involved two sisters and the youngest sister's six-year old daughter. At the beginning of the book, the youngest sister is newly divorced, her much older husband having left her for an older woman who runs a raw food restaurant. The sister is worrying about getting a job, but at least her daughter's expensive private school tuition is paid for by her parents, and her apartment was also bought for her by her parents at a low insider price, so her maintenance payments are small, plus her husband does pay child support. Okay, so what are the stakes for this character? She needs a flexible job, boom, she gets a job as a tour guide. That doesn't work out, boom she gets a job working in the MET gift shop. She hasn't had a date since high school, boom she meets a hunky fireman when she runs into a burning building to save a child. Everything in this book was resolved like a sitcom within a few pages. After awhile, I found the book hard to read, because nothing was happening.
So why did this book get published. Well the author has a track record, this is her fourth book. 2) The writing was good, the three characters were distinctly drawn, and some of the incidences were amusing. 3) books about upperwardly mobile parents in New York trying to out do each other with birthday parties, and getting their fetuses into the best schools are very popular right now. Think the Ivy Chronicles and The Nanny Diaries. Also, it had a cute premise, the book was narrated by the two sisters and the little girl. The book was very similar to the Kate Hudson movie that came out last summer called Raising Helen, although that book actually had conflict and the stakes were raised for Helen.
So what does that mean for me? Well, I need to make sure that the stakes are high for my character, and that I keep raising the stakes in the book, increase the conflict. I can't worry about what has already been published. I just have to write the best book that I can. Sure, I was a tad peeved, but I'll get over it.
Like Roseanne Roseannadana used to say on SNL "It's always something."