PUBLISHERS AND PLAGIARISM
Dear Author Enabler,
Here is my concern: If I send a novel I wrote (something I spent a lot of time writing) around to some publishing houses for consideration, how do I know that no one at these publishing houses will take the barrow load of my ideas, run with them and claim them as their own? I mean, even if someone were to change character names, time periods, scenes, etc.—just enough to make the setup a little different than mine and, thus, their “own”—this still seems like a form of plagiarism.
What is your opinion of this concerning publishing houses? Do you feel that there is a high risk of something similar happening? Would it not be better to simply self-publish a book?
The best safeguard against the theft of your novel—which I consider to be highly unlikely—is to deal with a reputable publisher. Publishers, editors and agents wouldn’t be in business long if they stole other people’s work. And people in the publishing business don’t have the time or inclination to steal; most books don’t make money, and the amount of money involved (blockbusters aside) in advances and royalties is far too low to justify the risks of theft.
The fear of idea or story theft is very common for unpublished writers, but the truth of the matter is that the idea or plot is not really as important as you might think. Far more important is your skill as a writer, as well as your ability to reach an audience. Books get published because they are timely and well written; the importance of uniqueness is overestimated.
Publishers are looking for talented, promotable authors with appealing writing styles as much as they are good manuscripts. If a publisher (or agent) has that combination in hand, they’re not going to waste time and risk possible damage to their reputation trying to pass off your writing as someone else’s; they are going to consider representing or buying and publishing your book.
Self-publishing is a legitimate option, and if you choose that path then the question of theft is moot. But successful self-publishing is not easy. As the publisher of the book, you are responsible for everything: editing and designing the book, inside and out; distribution; getting blurbs and seeking reviews; marketing; and publicity. Even if you hire professionals to handle these tasks, which costs a lot of money, you are still the one who must manage the process and make final decisions. Are you good at all of that? I’m not. Tens of thousands of books are published in the United States each year; given the option, I would rather my book enter that fray with an established team than do it all myself.
TO PUBLISH OR NOT?
Dear Author Enabler,
I have been writing my memoirs for several years—primarily for my son, as my mother is elderly and has memory loss—and I have lived a rather blessed life, so to speak. Some of it is funny, some sad, some is the family tree and some is about the years I have lived through. My primary goal is to leave my memories of my life. My question is, do you think it is saleable, and do you have any suggestions that would make it appealing to more readers other than family and acquaintances?
Leaving aside memoirs written by celebrities or established writers, the memoirs that sell usually have two qualities: a fascinating story and compelling writing.
I think you should focus on getting your whole story down on paper, and then spend as much or more time editing it and making it as good as it can be. Once you have a solid manuscript, you can decide whether you want to attempt to publish it, or just take it to a local printer and get enough copies bound for it to be a family memento. I think the latter is just as valid a reason to write it as the former.
Send your questions about writing and publishing to firstname.lastname@example.org.