Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No One Is Going To "Steal" Your Book Idea

We are all protective of our books. We've spent a lot of time cultivating our ideas, fleshing out our characters, and nailing down the finer points of our worlds, and we don't want all of that going to waste. We think our stories are special, and even if we're riffing on a tale as old as time we still think that we have something unique to offer. A cover of an original song in a style you've never heard before, and which you might like even more than the original.

Seriously, though, we all need to get over ourselves. No one is out here to steal your book.

Back... back damn you! This is MY book!

Original Characters DO NOT STEAL!

I don't read a lot of fan fiction, but the above quote seems to be legion on a lot of the arenas where it's enjoyed. These writers feel the need, while playing in someone else's sandbox, to put up big, bright signs declaring who their original characters are, and demanding that no one else steal them. While that's really presumptuous for someone writing stories with characters and a world typically created by someone else, it also shows an extreme arrogance. It is a big neon sign that says you think so highly of the thing you made that you are convinced people will take it, and claim it as their own if given half a chance.

You would have to pay me real money to fix the mistakes in your character, and grammar.
While most of us are not a stereotypical teen who is just discovering the joy and freedom of the creative process, this suspicion still thrives in a shocking number of places. Go to any Facebook group, any subreddit, or any forum dedicated to writing, and I guarantee you'll find authors on there who are looking for help straightening out a story conflict, or fixing a character flaw, but who are terrified of vultures just waiting to swoop down to steal their ideas.

Let me be perfectly clear on this point. We're talking absolute crystal, here. Repeat after me; no one is going to steal your ideas.

It's Not Stealing if They Write Their Own Book

Before you get yourself all in a twist about someone else stealing your firstborn fiction like some no-talent Rumpelstiltskin, answer this question. If you're discussing your idea with someone, or with a community, and your idea inspires them to write their own book, does that stop you from going forward on your own project?

I'll answer for you; it doesn't.

Besides, books being "too similar" never seems to stop them from selling.
You're not doing yourself any favors by treating your book like some kind of secret recipe. Because the people out there who would be capable of seeing a protagonist and a plot line they could turn into a book are already pretty busy doing that with their own books. And the people who would steal someone else's book, claiming it as their own to cash-in? Well, you're not giving them a book. You've presented a general scene, a main character, and a plot complication. Maybe a few hundred words at most, if you're generous.

Ain't no one out there going to try to spin that straw into gold. Because it's too much damn work.

Thieves Steal Books, Not Ideas

There are book thieves out there, don't get me wrong. But more often than not these are the vanity publishers, the shady "agents", and people who are looking for a quick score. If someone writes their own book, even a book that is similar to yours in some way, it won't be the same book you write. Two authors, even working from the same writing prompt, will create two different finished products.

Actual book thieves are only interested in a complete manuscript. Something they can take, then turn around to sell.

So, you're not wrong to be afraid of thieves. But know that no one is interested in the basic structure of your plot, or in your kickass protagonist. It's also not very likely that someone is going to think your story "changing up" the formula for magic, or space travel, is so unique that they have to copy it. Your book is pretty safe, until it's complete. When it is complete, make sure you keep a tight hold on it. Send it to publishers and agents, by all means, but do your research, and see who you're comfortable with. Because your book is a lot more likely to be stolen and abused by some fly-by-night "publisher" than it will ever be by a fellow author.

Also, if any of this was a revelation, you might also want to check out Questions Beginning Writers Ask (That Experienced Writers Are Tired of Hearing).

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps some folks out there who've been dealing with this issue. If you'd like to keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me and my work, head on over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. For $1 a month you can easily buy my eternal gratitude, and get some free books while you're at it.

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