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 and say, “Hey if I send my manuscript to a publisher will they steal my work?” The author of the email is somewhat frantic usually. They are very concerned that a publisher is going to steal the manuscript, publish it, and leave the author out of the loop of making money from the work.
This isn’t a big problems in the publishing world, to be honest. This idea, generally, is not how work is plagiarized, and most of the time writers do not need to protect their work from publishers, and they certainly do not need to protect their work from legitimate publishers. Generally publishers make money from not only the books that they sell written by authors, but they make money from the relationships they build with those authors. This means most of the time you don’t have to worry about a book publisher taking your book and publishing it without your permissions.
If you are still worried about this, there are 2 ways you can protect your manuscript. First you could have it copyrighted through the United States Copyright Office. This process is a little lengthy and it costs $30-$40 depending on what you are having copyrighted.
US Law says that anything you write on paper is immediately copyrighted, so the right is always and already in place, it is the proof you are looking for. If you want proof 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 of course as having your work documented through US Copyright Office, but it might give you piece of mind.
It is rare for a manuscript to be stolen by a publisher, but it is not rare for people to steal your work online. If you publish your work on the web there is a very real chance that someone might decide to take your work. Usually this will consist someone republishing a story or a poem in their name. This can be very difficult to stop. Most of the time you can contact the website and let webmaster know that it is plagiarized, and it will be taken down. If the person who stole your work owns the site already you might 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. Right now there simply isn’t a really good way to have work removed from the web that has been stolen if that person owns the site and wants to publish it.
The best advice here is don’t publish anything online that you feel can be stole and you are going to make money from. If you publish a poem or a story, that usually fine. You weren’t going to make a lot off the work anyway, in most cases. With novels or works that are longer and require a lot of labor I would suggest that you not publish them online until they have earned you the money you were hoping to earn. Excepts are fine, but if you publish an entire novel online that took you months to write, someone can steal it, and there is very little that 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 risk when you are looking to gain something, so if you publish your novel online as a serial most-likely it will be fine. It is better of course to shop it to publishers or at least publish it yourself through a self-publisher. Make your profit from the work before you let it out there 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.