Writing: Should you fear theft before publishing?

I’ve once seen a thread about writer(s) fearing having their manuscript stolen in the early stages – be it by a beta, editor, publisher… today, I’ll share my thoughts on why it’s all extremely unlikely.

Beta stage

Some might think this is the riskiest stage. After all, if someone stole your story before you publish it, you have no way to prove it is (or was) yours, right?

Well, let me ask you a question: try to think about the state of your story. If you had someone’s else story, in the same state, in your hands, and had the chance to steal it… would you do it, considering what mess it was? Before you leave beta stage, chances are the story is just not ready for being published – and anyone who’d potentially steal it would get nothing from it without investing a lot of time to bring it to publishable quality.

And if it’s just one book of a series… even better for you, because they’d have only a part of unfinished and unpolished story.

And if you want to feel extra safe, try to go for swaps. Worst case you can think it a mexican standoff, both holding the other one’s book at a gunpoint.

Freelance editors

Some people decide to invest into their story by hiring an editor. To cut the cost, they might use the service of a student of a language- or literature-based field instead of a trained professional.

And if they have it as a side income or a part-time job, someone might think: why not get more money from it by stealing and publishing the story as well? After all, it’s more polished than the previous stage and they have the skills to top it off.

Well, let’s point something out: in today’s world, writing is so unsure source of income that if I had the choice between taking a (let’s say) $500 for the editing or do the same job for nothing, then invest into a cover design, and hope the story will do well… I’d take the $500 job. Publishing a book and letting the world know about it take a lot of time and money… it’s a long way to just breaking even.

Traditional publishers

Hell no. In the wake of ‘digital revolution’ and the existence of print-on-demand, they already have it hard to guess what might be good enough story to break even with the costs – keep in mind that getting a paperback to a bookstore’s shelf takes 40-50% of it’s price and setting up a launch costs thousands of $.

One might think that they’d pay for the editing regardless (from sales profit) so there’s no loss of money by stealing the work.

Nope. Even though they have editors, it’s still the author who makes the edits, based on what the editors point out. If they stole a story, someone of their people would have to do it – and be paid for it (plus it’d take the only resource more valuable than money: time, which would otherwise be spend by the author).

Also, the last thing a traditional publisher would want in these days is to face accusation of theft – because it could be the last thing they’d do.

Writer ‘services’

There are companies who sell services to writers, often an extremely inflated prices to the point some consider them scammers. So, one might think, when they have no issue to rob people blind with their prices, why not steal the story as well?

Because then there would be no writer to sell those services to, simple as that. Stealing a story would mean one less potential buyer of a $1000+ marketing package – which might make them more profit than the book’s sales.

Closing thoughts

Outright stealing a story is extremely unlikely. There are higher risks once the story is published – plagiarism and piracy. However, both are more likely to happen to well-known stories (because you can’t steal something you don’t know it exists). In a world where maybe thousands of books are published each month, it’s always easier to aim for what’s in plain sight.

I am not saying there’s no risk at all. I am merely saying one should keep it in perspective. To keep in mind what a writer probably knows the best: the most valuable resource is time, and it takes a lot of it to make a story ready. Stealing something when there’s no guarantee it’ll lead to some profit is a waste of time.

And if you fear piracy… the pirates need to get some money to run their servers as well, most likely via ads on those sites. And an unknown book will not generate much traffic (and thus ad views) while a popular movie/game will.

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