How to protect your writing from theft
Ok, so I get this question all the time, and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never written an article about it. People email me, saying, “Hey, if I send my manuscript to a publisher, will they steal my work?” The author of the email is usually somewhat frantic. They are concerned that a publisher will steal the manuscript, publish it, and leave the author out of the loop of making money from work.
Legitimate publishers are not going to steal your work or ideas. Publishers make money from the books and their relationships with those authors. Most of the time, you don’t have to worry about a book publisher taking your book and publishing it without your permission.
If you are still worried about this, there are two ways to protect your manuscript. First, you could have it copyrighted through the United States Copyright Office. This process is lengthy, costing $30-$40, depending on what you have copyrighted.
US Law says that anything you write on paper is immediately copyrighted, so the right is always and already in place; you need proof you wrote it. If you want evidence of you being the author of your manuscript, you can, of course, have it copyrighted through the copyright office.
Your second option, which many writers have done for a long time, is to send yourself a copy of your manuscript in the mail. DON’T OPEN IT when it is delivered back to you, and you’ll have government-documented proof that you wrote the manuscript. It is not as ironclad as having your work documented through US Copyright Office, but it might give you peace of mind.
It is rare for a publisher to steal a manuscript, but it is not rare for people to steal your work online. If you publish your work on the web, there is a genuine chance that someone might decide to take your writing. Usually, this will consist of someone republishing a story or a poem in their name. It can be challenging to stop. Tell the web admin the work is plagiarism. They will remove it. If the person who stole your work owns the site, you may have issues getting the work taken down. Google has some avenues you can use to have personal information taken down, but copyrighted information is a different story. Currently, the process of having work removed from a website is complicated.
The best advice here is don’t publish anything online that you feel can be stolen, and you will make money from it. If you publish a poem or a story, that is usually fine. In most cases, you wouldn’t do much of the work anyway. With novels or works that are longer and require a lot of labor, I suggest you not publish them online until they have earned you the money you were hoping to gain. Excerpts are acceptable, but if you publish an entire novel online that took you months to write, someone can steal it, and very little can be done about it. Keep in mind that many countries do not have the same copyright laws as the US, and if the people live in those countries, you may see someone else making a profit off your work.
There is always a risk when you want to gain something, so if you publish your novel online as a serial, it will likely be fine. Shopping for publishers or publishing it yourself through a self-publisher is better. Make your profit from the work before you let it out for free unless you have a lot to gain by giving it away. Do your research before you publish online. You never know what can happen.
We hope these tips help. If you want more information on publishing your writing please check out our Publishing Tips page.