One question authors often ask me is, ‘how do I know you won’t steal my ideas or my words?’ There is no ironclad guarantee that a publisher won’t steal your concept or your manuscript. However, even on a pragmatic level a reputable publisher would never steal from an author, because it would mean that if word got out (as it inevitably would, because publishing is a pretty tight-knit industry), no one would submit manuscripts to that publisher – and that would be the death knell to their business.
Most publishers are looking for good ideas written by people who know their subject and their market and who can write well. If they get such a manuscript, they’re not about to turn round and ask someone else to replicate it or pass it off as their own. If you have a great concept and you have written it well, and you are the best author for the book (well respected in your area, promotable etc), then I’d be wasting my time trying to steal the idea or the manuscript.
If you haven’t yet written the manuscript but you have a concept that you want to pitch to publishers, a similar principle applies: if you truly are the best person to write this book, then I’ll be looking to sign you up rather than rip you off.
As a publisher, I’m looking for authors as much as for ideas. There are many great ideas in the world but relatively few authors capable of bringing them to fruition and taking them to market with authority, passion and flair.
If you want to get published, you have to put your work out there. The best safeguard is to ensure that you’re dealing with a reputable publisher. Don’t expect a publisher to sign a non-disclosure agreement: most will refuse because it is too restrictive of work that they might already have in development in a similar area. Most also would rather spend their time and energy finding the Next Big Thing rather than hassling the contractual details of a book concept they might not even want.
I’ve worked in book publishing for 20-plus years, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never exploited someone else’s ideas. As a writer myself, I’ve also never knowingly had my ideas exploited.
- Make sure you’re dealing with a well-respected publisher.
- Make sure you send in a fleshed-out proposal that includes a clear description, an outline, and a summary of your background and abilities. Sell yourself and your work as a package.