Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 12, 2018

ASK DIANNE

Q:  I have noticed a few major publishing house imprints that accept unsolicited manuscripts have a disclaimer in their submission guidelines, which alludes to them not being liable if they reject my story and then subsequently publish one similar? So how concerned should I be about submitting my work to such publishers?

A:  The short answer to your question is that, realistically speaking, you probably don’t need to be very concerned about submitting work to publishers with disclaimers about subsequently publishing a similar book to the one you’ve written and submitted and had rejected. This printed verbiage is likely a response to the truth that, since there are always so many books in various processes of publication:  creation, submission, layout and design, typesetting, cataloging, printing and warehousing, etc., at the same time, there’s always the thread of a chance something in their house might be similar to a submission they’ve just rejected. Publishers are keen to protect themselves from any thought that they would somehow plagiarize a submitting author’s work, or at least that’s how I am interpreting this.

If you are submitting to a reputable publisher, you have little to worry about in this regard. The key factor in book acquisition is the purchase of an author’s skill at handling a topic or theme, not the general subject of the book itself.  I’ve been in the publishing business for over twenty years, and have never had concern about my work being used without compensation or attribution.  As creators, our job is to make sure to submit a manuscript that is fully polished with a summary of professional background and writing credits.  In short:  sell yourself and your work as a package.

Still, the underlying issue, the question behind the question is bluntly: can a publisher or editor or agent steal my creative work?  For the hint of an answer to that, I did a little research.  Here are some of the bits of advice found:

To copyright or not copyright?  That is a very good question.  Copyright Pre-registration for pre-published work is expensive, and unnecessary in most cases. The US Copyright office itself does not recommend pre-registering your work. They say, “for the vast majority of works, pre-registration is not useful.” It is also expensive at $140 (four times the $35 cost to register a single work by a single author). Even if you pre-register, you still have to register (and pay the registration fee) once the work is published. And, of course, neither registering, nor pre-registering, prevents a person from copying your work. It just gives you the option of legal recourse. You can you can access and download a complete overview of the process to copyright your manuscripts as well as costs required, by clicking on this link to the government agency’s website:  https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf

An alternative to protect your work the US Copyright office is to use Creative Commons, an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public. Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright, but are based upon it. For more information about this option for the protection of your work, go to: https://creativecommons.org

For a very informative overview of the legal and business aspects of the creative life writers lead, I’d suggest checking out 5 Top Legal Issues for Authors and Self-Publishers by Sara Hawkins, an attorney  who understands the world of bloggers, online publishers, and authors: https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2013/03/5-top-legal-issues/

Another comprehensive overview of the topic is found on the website of co-writer, ghostwriter and publishing consultant, Sally Collings, titled The Book Thief – will a publisher steal my idea? Find it at:

http://sallycollings.com/2010/07/the-book-thief-–-will-a-publisher-steal-my-idea/#whoiam

Two interesting discussions about the protection of your written work are Someone Stole My Article! What To Do When It Happens To You and Will an editor Steal My Idea?  by Moira Allen.  Here are the links:

http://www.writing-world.com/rights/theft.shtml

http://www.writing-world.com/rights/plagiarism.shtml

One of the best and most comprehensive collection of advice is found in Jane Friedman’s blog entry titled, Are You Worried Your Ideas or Work Will Be Stolen?  Jane has had 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for F+W Media and the Virginia Quarterly Review. So, I really trust what she has to say about anything relating to the business side of writing. Here’s the link to her excellent discussion:

https://www.janefriedman.com/idea-theft/

Finally, please remember that I’m not an attorney nor do I have any special experience in intellectual property law. Do not consider any of this blog post as a substitute for professional legal advice.  If you have any continuing concern about the safety of your creative work within the submission process, you should ask your own lawyer for his or her views and if warranted, a referral to an attorney who specializes in the protection of intellectual properties.

As always, Happy Writing! Dianne

DIANNE’S BIO:

Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her books have appeared on numerous recommended reading lists, classroom desks and library shelves. Her bedtime book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, was a selected for the Dollywood Foundation’s childhood literacy initiative, Imagination Library in 2007. Her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! THE LEGEND OF MOLLY WILLIAMS AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE FIREFIGHTER, received the Florida Book Awards (FBA) Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012 and was chosen for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature for girls. Her picture book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, won the FBA Silver Medal in 2013. Her 2015 title, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY, was given the FBA Gold Medal/Gwen Reichert Award as well as the Gold Medal for Florida picture book from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. For more information about Dianne’s books, go to http://www.dianneochiltree.com.

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great article.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at)gmail.com. Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. This is a critically important topic, but I can say this—any time you put your work or ideas “out there” it is at risk, whether to people you know or publishers. People CAN have similar ideas, but there’s a different between that and really stealing your work. For the most part, I would say it doesn’t happen, but it can and does. Submit your work in the best ways you can and hope for the best.

    Liked by 1 person


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