Sunday, October 5, 2008

rerun: Copyright, Intellectual Property, and the Threat of Pythons

Old post, new inquiry:
Dear Anonymous,
How safe is it to pitch a book idea?
I'm writing a book but don't want anyone to rip off my idea.
This is a not infrequently asked question. The worry that your manuscripts need protection is pretty unnecessary, but let's go through this once anyway.

I don't send out stories, but if I did: copyright is more trouble than it's worth, and I've heard that the ways of documenting your manuscript via mail are not terribly secure in the legal sense.

This is where your critique group comes in handy. If you have been using a critique group, as you should, you have witnesses. But this is just a safeguard for worriers.

Let me be clear. The chances of your manuscript being stolen while at any of the reputable publishing houses are essentially the same as the chances you'll be killed by a python while riding a streetcar.

...But perhaps you're afraid someone will steal your idea. This is the concern that makes people at publishing houses laugh their espresso out of their noses. Your undeveloped, unrealized idea is intellectual property? Ah, the irony.

In publishing, execution is everything. Say, in 1998, somebody had come to me with the idea for a book about a kid who finds out he's magical and has to go away to school to learn about magic. My response would have been somewhere between "Eh," and "It's been done." Because it had been done. It took JK Rowling to express that idea in a way that was really what the market wanted. Behold the difference between idea and execution.

Ideas are not only a dime a dozen, they're recycled at a rate too fast to track. Write badly, and it doesn't matter how brilliant and original your idea is. Write well, and it doesn't matter how many times before your idea has been done.

18 comments:

Crystal-Rain Love said...

Great post. Seriously, is there ANY idea that HASN'T been done yet?

moonrat said...

although i've been mauled by a python on a streetcar on two occasions, i have yet to die from such an attack.

GeePig said...

Yes, saw two pythons on streetcars myself this morning, and I wasn't really paying attention.

If anyone has a shortage of ideas then I can generate any number, my apartment is so jammed with them I hardly have space left in which to sleep.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Reminds me of the guy who offered to read my latest manuscript for me. He was afraid to talk about his idea for a novel. Talking to him further, I found out he had not yet put a single word on paper, but he was in school for writing. Um, yeah. So an idea and some classes made him a writer rather than actually writing anything.

Alysha said...

I've never been a fan of giant snakes.

I get lost in ideas and then lost again when I try to write them down.

Deirdre Mundy said...

oooooh.. I didn't know there were "free viruses here" sites for I-phones too!

Editorial Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting to see if the Blogs Of Note thing does anything for this blog besides finding me a bunch of spam commenters.

Moderating comments is a pain in the ass.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hi EA,

Why not let them waste their time posting here. And if you really feel the need, you can delete any comment you want. That should be easier than moderating and can be done in your own time.

Frankly, I'm good with ignoring the idiots and just replying to the posters who have something real to say. It's great practice for life - ignoring the inconsequential things and putting my energy into what's important.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my. Really?

Steal ideas?

Honey, no one even wants my finished book and I've been previously published. And you know, it has the idea, the dialogue, the character arcs, the prose, and a beginning, middle, and end.

150 said...

I always say: Agents won't steal your idea because they can make more money by representing it. Editors won't steal your idea because they can make more money editing it. Other authors won't steal your idea because they all think they're better than you.

Mike Schaaf said...

eat my shorts

Liska Life said...

I really enjoyed reading this Post and yes, I did stumble across it via "Blogs of Note".
Editorial Anonymous, I know you don't like the fact that all it is achieving is getting you comments, but at least it is increasing your online readership and audience. Plus it is the first Google Blog I have enjoyed reading, but I have only been a member since September.
Thank you for sharing.

Space_Gopher said...

Sounds like Inventor's Disease.

Ella said...

Just send in an cover letter, your pitch, and two to three chapters only.

You can copyright it even the old fashion way by mailing it to yourself.

But it's happening more and more where people ideas are stolen. If you have the money see a communications attorney.

Does anyone here have the Writers Guide that answers these questions very easily? That's the basics 101 for any writer that answers these questions in detail. It's updated each year depending on what you write.

Even seasoned writers have those on hand as the industry changes and the AP guide if it's for a newspaper.

Everyone should own one and join a writer's group too. My thoughts only.

Space_Gopher said...

I have a great idea for a novel about a guy who has a great idea for a novel but he's too paranoid to tell anyone about it and too disorganized to actually turn it into a finished book so he asks someone on a weblog what she thinks but he leaves all of the important stuff out because he's afraid she'll steal it from him, make lots of money, and thumb her nose at him from the Bahamas while he languishes day in and day out at his old dead end job.

You're not thinking of stealing my idea are you?

danceluvr said...

I wonder if this fear about stealing ideas came from those publishers that think up a book, or accept an idea for a book, and hire a writer to write it.

Poetry Tag Basics : said...

There's a woman who writes with our poetry group who considers herself a professional writer. Each time I read one of her creations, I’m dumbfounded. This woman does not know how to spell simple words, has no grasp of grammar, no idea of how and when to use a pronoun, or a contraction, or an adverb verses an adjective. Her writing shows no sense of meter, and there is no use of form. Her writing is monotone, monotonous and mindless, and aspires to a fourth grade level, at best. Yet, she swears she has been published, and is paid weekly for her submissions to a magazine. I’ve seen the links, and the credits. I realize it may still be untrue but- why would she make this up?
Considering this scenario -why worry about ideas? Seems to me all you need do is find the right forum. If this woman could find one, it would seem, anyone could. :::rolls eyes::: Of course, it may be all about one intangible blessing : LUCK! ( and perhaps….perseverance?).
Great post Anonymous , I found your blog through “Blogs of Note” and will be back to read more!

M said...

I;m sorry I'm a complete jerk. But Harry Potter the Philosopher's Stone was published in 1997.

but if someone did come up with that idea in 1998, and wrote it differently, would it still count as plagiarism?