The Big Heist — How do I keep people from stealing my book idea?

by Max Nomad

in Writing

“There’s nothing new under the Sun.”
– King Solomon

The short answer to your question is that spending alot of time worrying about how to protect your book concept is a waste of time.

It would be easy to recommend the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) or NDNCAs and having people sign them each time you share your book concept. It would make people liable if they shared or used your concept without your permission. On the real, I wouldn’t bother with that approach. You’ll probably come off like you’re suffering from delusions of grandeur if you did.

For what it’s worth, it seems like the lurking fear of the Dastardly Idea Snatcher is almost always connected to writers who either (1) have been writing (with the intention of getting published) for less than a year, (2) haven’t finished their first book/novel yet or (3) haven’t ever had their work picked up by a paying publisher. The times that I’ve had writers submit manuscripts for my review and they were rabidly paranoid about ‘theft’, more often than not their concept was structurally unusable, the story was a slice of their life thinly disguised as fiction, or their writing was straight up garbage and it’d be too expensive to pay some editors to fix it.

Here are some down-n-dirty truths about book concepts:

  • No matter how fantastic you might think your book concept is, the reality is that 99.98% of the serious writers you tell about it won’t try to steal it. It’s not because everyone is honest and well-meaning. More often than not, it’s because they really don’t care. They might pretend to care or they’re listening only because they care about you and what you have to say. When it comes to book concepts, every seasoned writer has at least several of them swimming around in their heads that they plan to turn into a book one day, not including the concepts they’ve already started writing or put down in notes form. Whether they say so or not, most writers like to believe that their book ideas are better than almost everyone else’s. In their minds stealing your concept would be like a diamond miner trying to steal a cubic zirconia. Aside from that, on the occasions where writers seek to copy book concepts its usually due to the fact that a certain book or story type has enjoyed huge commercial success and they want to cash in on some of that money. The music industry does the same thing, hence the reason why it seems like everytime a Beyonce hits the scene and skyrockets up the charts, at least two or three Rhiannas and Ciarras will pop up with the same style songs and videos, all from competing record labels.
  • Another reality is that if you’re spending alot of time describing very intimate details of your book concept to friends/family/other writers, you’re not spending enough time actually writing it. There’s a reason that writing is a very solitary kind of activity and it’s not because writers have to be anti-social. Writing a book is nowhere near as much fun as the emotional high of bragging about the story you’re writing. Also, talking about ideas over and over again have a way of taking the magic and creative steam out of your drive to put in the work to make it happen, especially if you’re discussing it with people that don’t believe in you or don’t really know what it is to write a book. When asked about a book you’re working on, unless you’re talking to an agent or acquisitions editor, keep the talk pretty general and minimal, no matter how much you want to tell the world about your master work in progress. Think about it like this — don’t spend much time talking about your book because it has no dollar value until the manuscript is finished.
  • Your book concept is your vision. If you’re meant to write it, no one is going to write the story like you’re going to write it.
  • “The Poor Man’s Copyright” (mailing a copy to yourself) does NOT work so don’t even bother doing it. When you finish your manuscript and it’s edited, go to http://www.copyright.gov, download Form TX, fill it out, put a copy of the manuscript along with the $45 dollar registration fee in an Express Mail envelope and send it in. The Copyright is legally binding as of the postmark of when it’s mailed; 4-6 weeks later you’ll get the copyright form back with a certification seal on it. Again, a complete waste of time to think about until you’ve FINISHED a manuscript because you can’t copyright or trademark a book concept.
  • And as far as the worry about being sued because of inspiration, stop worrying about silly stuff — finish the book first. An editor can always help you go back in later to clean things up.

Good luck on the quest…

– Max Nomad

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jacqlain January 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Hi, that’s great – I’m writing, have been writing since ’94 a thing on how to speak English like an american speaker. It’s just a lot of sounds and how to do it. At one point I met a student I tutored who was a tech at Intel and I let him put it on his computer to see what would happen. The form he did was really amazing – 3d and easy to see and read. We both swore he wouldn’t reveal it and I wouldn’t tell Intel he used their stuff to try it out on. He told me all of asia would die to have this information which I half believed. So now I’m about finished and have done a lot more since then. I think this would be a sort of thing you’d put on a cd.
Do you think any publisher would be interested in this and how do I find one.
Thanks

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