Tag Archives: can someone steal an idea

Can Someone Steal Your Book Idea?

21 Apr

Can someone steal your book idea?

I tend to find there are two responses to this question:

  1. Absolutely! YES! Someone did that to meeee!
  2. NO WAY. Never happens. It’s impossible, because your idea can only be written by you.

To be honest, I think both of these answers are a little too black and white. If I had to share my opinion—which, obvs, I am—I believe “stealing an idea” lands somewhere in the middle of these two responses.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I agree with both of them. Because, yes, someone can steal your idea. If you hand them your pitch or outline or character sheet, those people can take it and do something with it. Granted, now siding with the second answer, no matter what that person does with your idea, it will never be exactly how you would’ve done it, so one way or another, they will make it their own.

Publishing crimes 101

So is it stealing?

I DON’T KNOW.

I think this is one of those gray, really uncomfortable areas of publishing that many people tiptoe around because they are afraid of looking paranoid or offending others or causing an uproar, but why can’t we talk about it? Why can’t we talk about the fact that this does happen sometimes?

When I was younger, lots of writers were on Wattpad; many of which did blatantly “borrow” premises or literal lines from one another’s work without permission. In fact, sometimes I think this happens a lot when writers transition from writing fan fiction to writing something independent of other works. Fan fiction can be a fantastic place to learn about the craft of writing, but it is one of those blurry places. So is “inspiration.” For instance, we can be inspired by another tale, and recreate it into something new.

We never call a fairytale retelling stealing for a reason. That’s because those writers are making that tale their own. It’s unique in the way they reconstruct the story and how they tell the story throughout the piece. But what if someone took Harry Potter and retold it? Would everyone be okay with that? I think it would depend on how similar the two pieces were and what was changed. And to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see something like that happen sooner rather than later.

So let’s talk about those blurred lines. You know, the ones that happen when #PitMad tweets suddenly seem the same, or how similar novels get sold to different editors at the same time, or how novelists will use current best-sellers as influences when writing a piece. We could get into trends and talk about how publishing is still a business and la la la. But I could go on forever about that, so I thought I’d share a story of my own.

I’ve had something like idea stealing happen to me before.

About two years ago, when MSWL was first taking off, I had my first manuscript I felt was ready to query to agents, and I found a new agent on that hashtag that I thought was a good fit. I sent her my work. She loved the sample pages and requested more, and then she asked for an R&R, outlining what parts she liked and didn’t like. I rewrote, but it still didn’t work out. Not a big deal, right? Right. I totally agree that we weren’t a good fit for one another with that manuscript. However, to my surprise (and a bit of horror), when I logged into Twitter that evening, she had tweeted out a near-replica of my manuscript’s pitch to MSWL. Long story short, another author out in the Twitter verse responded to that sort-of-mine-pitch (seriously, I wish I could explain how close it was, but just trust me, it was unbearably close), and she signed that author who later went on to get a three-figure deal in less than six months. Granted, the book releases later this year, so I have no clue just how similar it is. I doubt it’s that similar. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that I felt like there was a direct violation of author-agent trust. She shared my pitch without asking me, end of story.

So did that agent steal my idea? No, not really. Because she didn’t go and shop my story pretending she had written it. She simply reached out to others who happened to have a similar idea to mine already written. But was it shady as hell? Yes, I think so. To this day, I have anxiety around MSWL because of it, even though it was one instance that I doubt would happen again. In fact, I still sent my next manuscript to this agent, because she asked me to send her my next piece. Her response? Form rejection. But did she tweet out my new idea on MSWL? No. How do I feel now? Still a little weird about the whole thing, I won’t lie, but I don’t think any of it was that personal either, even if it feels that way some days.

Sometimes many of us have similar ideas at the same time. Why wouldn’t we? We all live at the same time in this weird world, often influenced by the same constructs (whether it be celebrities or politics or social scandals). So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when a dozen, if not hundreds, of writers are writing similar stories. To be honest, I think this is what happens most of the time. We share our idea, someone already has a similar idea, and we automatically think they stole it rather than thought of it themselves. But there’s truly no way to prove it. And that’s why this topic is such a sensitive, slippery slope.

The masses in publishing have deemed this sort of claim as immature rubbish, but I think that’s super harsh. After my experience with having my pitch shared without permission, I felt a little violated. I actually stopped participating in many Twitter events for most of last year because of it. But then, I realized that I let this one shady experience ruin all the fun times I was having with other writers. So, I started to share again, and I am having a blast.

If someone “steals” my idea, fine. I have plenty more, and so do most writers. In fact, I think writers really need to keep that in mind when considering if someone “stole” their idea or not. Most of us already have too many ideas in our own heads to have time to consider other people’s ideas. Also, most writers need to feel passionate about something in order to write 80,000 words or more, and then rewrite it over and over and over again. “Stealing” an idea is probably the last way to become successful. Why? Well, A) It’s not your story, and B) You will eventually burnout, or C) The publishing gods will sick writing-idea demons on you, and you will forever be on the ominous blacklist.

Okay. So maybe not that last one. But you get what I mean.

Someone “stealing” ideas is probably very rare, but if you’re feeling that way, take a few breaths and reflect on if it’s truly stolen, and if so, don’t let it get you down. You thought it up. You planned it out. You can still write it. At the end of the day, your story will always be your story. 

Besides, your voice will be how you tell your story. And no one can steal that.

~SAT

 

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