New author, should I be afraid of sharing my book ideas? Will people steal them?

J.D.Rajotte

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I've been writing for about 11 months and during this whole time I've been working on a science fiction novel. It's probably the most meaningful hobby I feel I've ever undertaken and I'm extremely excited just to think about writing when I'm doing other things, it's great! I like to talk about my story with friends and family, and I'm just curious as to what the general consensus is about sharing your unfinished work. Should you worry that someone might steal your concepts/ideas?
 

sule

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Welcome to the Chrons! I hope you find--as I did--that this is an incredibly cool and inclusive writing community filled with plenty of smart people and brilliant writers.

As to your question, my two cents are that I would not be worried about someone stealing my ideas. The true essence of a story is in its execution, not the base concept. How you write a story from an idea is completely different from how someone else would, even if you both started from the same idea. I would personally feel hesitant sharing an unfinished work with others, solely because their feedback may distract me from finishing it or change how it plays out.
 

J.D.Rajotte

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Welcome to the Chrons! I hope you find--as I did--that this is an incredibly cool and inclusive writing community filled with plenty of smart people and brilliant writers.

As to your question, my two cents are that I would not be worried about someone stealing my ideas. The true essence of a story is in its execution, not the base concept. How you write a story from an idea is completely different from how someone else would, even if you both started from the same idea. I would personally feel hesitant sharing an unfinished work with others, solely because their feedback may distract me from finishing it or change how it plays out.

Thank you I really appreciate the feedback!
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Most writers have so many ideas of their own, they aren't nearly so interested in stealing anyone else's ideas as beginning writers tend to fear.

Also, I agree with what sule said about execution. And while I do believe feedback can be immensely helpful, I always caution against seeking it too early. You need to wait until you are confident of your direction, otherwise, it is possible that you may be too easily influenced.

Much of what we learn as beginning writers comes through the process of trial-and-error, and until we have put in a certain amount of that kind of work, we may not be qualified to tell the difference between good advice and bad, between people who (well-meaning as they may be) are projecting their own ideas onto your story instead of responding to yours, and those who can see where you are going and comment on whether what you are doing is likely to get you there or not.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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I confess this has been one of my own worries in the past and yes even now.

Now if you have a completely finished book and all that's needed is some tidying and editing there's less of a problem, but if you are at the concept stage then a good idea is a good idea. If you're sending the finnished manuscript to agents you should be OK because copyright should be easily provable. I sent it to an agent "Sleasy Joe Rip U Off" and look, ten days later it's published word for word under the name of "Write Able". Would be an easy fight if you have the money to win.

As an established writer you would probably be safe but I note not many established writers announce the plot outline of their next book before they're holding a copy on the breakfast shows. Other than "My next novel - weeeell I'm really here to promote this one, but I'm thinking of a series about an far distant future civilisation." In fact I suspect their publishers have a clause to that effect in their contract.

In the business world you would never tell anyone what your new invention is. Once it's on the market you never say this version is great, but the next one will have bells and whistles. You just don't do it. Someone will rip you off. Writers are not the paragons of virtue, they are drawn from the rest of society. Would you let your daughter/(son) marry one?

It also seems to me that film ideas are sold with elevator pitches so :-

"It's like Kingo Congo but with lasers" (Get my drift) would be enough to be told to go away and bring back the script. So twenty practised script writers start the ball rolling.

Now there you are writing a novel which you do in your spare time in the wee small hours. You're half way through the scene where the laser blinds the monkey's left eye and you see the film advertised on the Boo Hoo channel.

Place my two cents in the piggy bank.

I suspect I'm going to be challenged.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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I note not many established writers announce the plot outline of their next book before they're holding a copy on the breakfast shows. Other than "My next novel - weeeell I'm really here to promote this one, but I'm thinking of a series about an far distant future civilisation." In fact I suspect their publishers have a clause to that effect in their contract.

Not many fiction writers, established or not, actually appear on the breakfast shows. For genre writers the number is even less; probably somewhere very close to zero. But you are right that they don't make a practice of announcing the outline for their next book until the book is very close to being released. The reason, I suppose is that they are more interested in writing their books than in talking about them. People who talk too much about their books seldom, I find, get much writing done. But it has nothing to do with their contracts, I can promise you that. Not unless contracts with UK publishers are very different than those with US publishers, that is. For I have signed my fair share of contracts, with publishers large and small, and never saw any such clause as that.
 

tobl

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look, how many vampire stories are there? zombies? alien invasions? i doubt there's really anything new. there are new perspectives however. And if you finish your story just regist it and secure your rights
 

Toby Frost

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I agree with the view that it's very likely that nobody is going to steal your ideas - and that if anyone did, their book would probably be very different and/or much worse. And, as has been said, there aren't many totally new ideas. It's often sufficient to change one aspect of an otherwise fairly traditional story for it to seem fresh.

There are some areas where, I suspect, people want stories to be pretty familiar anyway. There will always be a market for, say, the US Marines in space, or vampires hanging out in a big city. Not all SF is cutting-edge stuff. But by and large, it's the execution that matters more than the concept.
 

The Big Peat

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No, I wouldn't worry. I've pretty much never heard of this happening and most people are writers because they love their own ideas. Even if they really love your ideas as well, the likelihood of them using them just is is very miniscule.

It's a common mistake to think that writing is about ideas. It's all about the telling and the words.

I will disagree with this though.

Partly it's because the ideas that sustain our writing. But there are plenty of well-written, well-told novels that simply don't have an interesting enough idea to become great... and plenty of books that are, frankly, dubiously told (or by now dubious to being outdated) but that live on due to their ideas resonating.

The telling and the words matter a lot, but it's not *all*.


I would also add a significant caveat to the "no totally new ideas" by pointing out that an assembly of old ideas can form a new idea. The new idea will seem familiar because of it's construction but it will nevertheless have enough new for it to matter. Concentrating too heavily on the idea that it's not new because of all the old in it is a good way to fool yourself into thinking that some surge of "Wow! This combination of ideas!" isn't a really good thing.

And yes, some people spend too much time worrying about originality and need to be reminded that true originality isn't really a thing. But there's a balance on this spectrum.
 

tinkerdan

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Anecdotally:

Back in the early 70's I wrote two full novels about clones and a biologically engineered space craft used to jump through space.
Never got anywhere with it other than to keep lugging them around in a briefcase.
Come the 90's and I'm tuning into this thing called FarScape and going sh**.

Then I realized that it wasn't anything like what I was writing anyway.
Because my story was about a young clone girl trying to navigate the universe of prejudice against clones.

Work with your idea, whatever it may be, and get it done and out there before someone else comes up with a similar idea.
And to echo many others; is this really an original idea or is it a variation on a theme?

I have this other problem somewhat opposite.
Now that I have two --or more--books published people I know come up and say, hey I have this great idea for a story...if I told you about it--would you write it for me? I listen patiently and then try to encourage them to start writing; because, really, it is their story and they are the ones who should be writing it. Never once tempted to steal the idea; I'm still working on mine.

However, that's not to say you don't need to be cautious. Should be most free with people you know. Careful with those you don't.

For my writing the idea is important; however the story is usually about the people dealing with the circumstance and that is an entirely personal thing that will put your stamp on the story.
 

The Judge

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I like to talk about my story with friends and family, and I'm just curious as to what the general consensus is about sharing your unfinished work. Should you worry that someone might steal your concepts/ideas?
It rather depends on what you mean by "sharing" your work.

By all means talk about all the intricacies of your plot to your nearest and dearest -- they probably don't have any ambitions of writing themselves, plus they're unlikely to talk about all your ideas to other people, and if they did they'll doubtless get things wrong. Spreading the full details around people who don't know you is another matter. While the vast majority of other writers will smile, nod and pass on, because they have their own ideas to keep them busy, there is always a residual risk that something you write hits a nerve with someone who realises how it fits in with his own work, or how he can take it and improve upon it. I agree with everything said above that there are no new stories and it's the execution of a story which is important, but if you have genuinely got a brilliant and unique concept then giving that away isn't a good plan. There is no copyright in ideas, so it doesn't matter how long you've been writing something, if someone else gets to press with it first, it's going to be you who looks like the person who copied the other. That's going to be galling even if it doesn't affect sales.

Whether you actually have got a brilliant and unique concept is a different question, though -- one great advantage of spilling the beans here is that you'll find out if the idea has been used elsewhere and if so how it was done.

However, it might be best if you analysed why you were thinking of sharing your work.
  • if it's just because you're in love with it and you want to tell everyone how wonderful your beloved is... ;) well, with the best will in the world strangers aren't going to be that interested, so perhaps best keep the adulation within your family.
  • if you want help with some plot points arising out of it, because you're stuck, then yes, tell us what the problem is and let us help you.
  • if you want feedback on the idea eg whether it's scientifically feasible, again telling us will mean we can help you.
  • if you want feedback on your writing generally, we have a Critiques section where you could put up a few hundred words when you have 30 counted posts, but those words don't need to be about the concept unless it manifests itself within your very first scene. But I'd recommend that you don't go there until you've got at least the first draft written, as feedback can be harsh even when it's meant to be helpful, and it's all too easy to become despondent and give up on the work if it isn't finished.
In due course finding a Writing Group would also be helpful. With a few other people you meet regularly you could get both feedback/advice on plot and writing as well as cheerleaders who will listen to your hopes and dreams, but who would be very unlikely to take your concepts and use them on their own as they would be too close to you to do something sneaky.

In any event, welcome to writing and to the Chrons!
 

The Judge

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Yes, if you're worried about someone stealing your work, then such things as emailing the manuscript to yourself or a friend, or copying it to a memory stick which will note the date the copy is made, are good ways of proving what you've written when if there is a dispute about copyright.

Just to confirm again, though, there is no copyright in an idea or concept, so that can't be protected by copyright whether before or after publication.
 

tinkerdan

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I was giving this more thought and realized that when it comes to sharing in writing it's be less sharing ideas than it is the writing itself.

There are few reasons for sharing the idea--in my twisted reasoning--unless I'm inspired to brainstorming and bouncing off ideas with someone knowledgeable who can help validate certain aspects. Another less flattering reason would be to have them validate my genius for such an original idea.

It makes more sense to share some of the writing; sharing it in critiques where you can hone the skill until you can write well. No idea will survive until you learn to write well. You just can't do it justice.

Just to confirm again, though, there is no copyright in an idea or concept, so that can't be protected by copyright whether before or after publication.

The best thing that can happen to a poorly written original idea is that someone will come along and write something in the same theme and write it well.
 

Hyba

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I've been writing for about 11 months and during this whole time I've been working on a science fiction novel. It's probably the most meaningful hobby I feel I've ever undertaken and I'm extremely excited just to think about writing when I'm doing other things, it's great! I like to talk about my story with friends and family, and I'm just curious as to what the general consensus is about sharing your unfinished work. Should you worry that someone might steal your concepts/ideas?

I'm also a new author hoping to publish a fantasy series that I've been working on for a while now, along with some other projects. I worried about this a lot when I first started being active on social media platforms, blogs, and writing communities. The idea that my work could be stolen made me very hesitant to share it in the first place. But as time went on, I realized that it wasn't anything to be overly concerned about, especially since, as many of the responses here also state, sharing the general idea/concept of your book isn't the same as sharing an entire manuscript.

I would even go so far as to suggest that you could probably share excerpts and fun facts about your book with others as you're writing the book (though, if you're thinking of getting traditionally published, depending on the publisher's requirements, sharing excerpts might not be a good idea). In my experience it has helped keep readers engaged and interested in my stories! (But, at the same time, the writing circles in which I am active have proven themselves quite trustworthy, and I've never had issues with plagiarism or someone stealing my ideas.)

Alternatively, another way of sharing without really sharing is sharing excerpts from your book that are no longer viable (as in, you've changed that part of the book/plot and the excerpt you share is no longer relevant to your story, but it's fun thing to share with others).

But of course, as with anything to do with the internet, your primary concern should be your security, and you should be careful with your writing if you do intend to share it online. For example, one thing that I find myself doing is that if I have something special - a particular piece of worldbuilding, perhaps, or a juicy plot twist - that I don't want anyone to have the chance to steal, I simply won't share it. So really it's more of a balancing act, or it has been in my experience. At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what you feel comfortable sharing online.
 

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