Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dear New Novelist: No One's Going to Steal Your WIP

Dear New Novelist,

Congratulations! You've hit your 50k on NaNoWriMo, or maybe you've put THE END on your novel. Either way, you've got a lot of words. You've worked hard on them, through easy bursts and head-bangingly difficult blocks. They're all yours. Now what? Well, you have a few options: if you're doing NaNoWriMo or Camp, it's time to validate; you can send it to some beta readers; or if you've done your editing already, time to submit it to publishers or agents.

"But wait!" you say, clutching your novel to your chest. "How can I possibly do that? What if someone tries to steal it?!"

Dear New Novelist, no one is going to steal your unedited, unpublished work.

Every year during NaNo, numerous newbies panic over validation or using the official word counter. "Who's doing the counting? Where is my novel stored so that it can be counted? What's stopping anyone from stealing my hard work?"

Answers: Absolutely no one, absolutely no where, and so many reasons.

The counting is done by a word counter not unlike your own word processing program's. It doesn't need to save anything anywhere. It just counts the words and dumps it, as if it never existed. Imagine if it saved a copy of every novel submitted every year. In 2015, there were 40,423 winners of NaNoWriMo according to WikiWriMo. Since 2010, there have been 254,342 winning novels. The site slows down enough on November 30th just trying to count everyone's requests without storage. If it were trying to pop it into a server somewhere and save it, the whole site would likely be rendered nonfunctional.

And not a single one of those novels was edited when it was submitted for validation. That's 254,000 messy chunks of coal with the potential to become diamonds, mixed in with people who submitted Lorem Ipsum because they handwrote their novels or used a typewriter, or people who scrambled their text out of the concerns listed above. Even if they saved a copy of everyone's novel, if someone at the NaNoWriMo Office wanted to steal your validated work for publication, they would have to read completely through every single submission to find the ones that are not fanfiction, that are complete (because 50k doesn't mean done), and that aren't filled with "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" 5000 times. Then, once they've isolated those that qualify, they'd have to edit it, because who has time for a deep cleaning edit during NaNo?

Plagiarists steal because they don't want to do the work, and editing is, to most writers, the least fun work of all in writing. What plagiarists would rather do, what they do, in fact, do, is take someone's published work and change a few words to pass it off as their own.

This is the same reason a beta reader isn't going to steal your novel, or an editor or agent. Because most likely, they all need work that a plagiarist is not going to want to do. Even if they did, there's no guarantee whatever the end result is will sell. Working with something already published, they know it's something that someone will buy.

Now, this isn't a reason not to thoroughly vet your beta readers, agents, editors, and publishers. Do your homework. For beta readers, use people you trust, not just the first stranger who offers. For editors, publishers, and agents, get reviews from other people, check Absolute Write's Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum and scour the internet for them. Be sure you're not sending your novel off to a vanity publisher who will publish your unedited book for thousands of dollars, or to an agent that will "absolutely get you published but first you have to pay this editor who just happens to be [their] husband." There are lots of scams and scary things to be concerned about out there in the publishing world. Someone stealing your incomplete or unedited novel shouldn't even be in the top 10.


  1. It's like waiting in the doctor's office wearing the little paper gown and nothing else. A feeling of utter vulnerability! Good advice, though, and good pep talk on moving ahead and remembering that a WIP needs A LOT of work & folks're looking for an easy scam, not a hard one! :)

  2. Hey,
    Ich habe gerade deinen Blog entdeckt und er gefällt mir richtig gut. Ich habe deinen Blog auch gleich mal abonniert. :D Vielleicht hast du ja lust auch bei mir mal vorbeizuschauen. Darüber würde ich mich sehr freuen. :)
    LG Benedikt von

  3. I hear a lot of writers worry about other writers stealing their work. I always wonder about it for the same reasons you say, the first of all being: if it is unpublished, how do they know it's going to sell, even if they're willing to put in the job?

    I know writers who claim their work has been stolen and published by someone else. Personally, I don't have any evidence of this.
    I know a fellow writer stole a couple of my ideas after I discuss them with them. It is annoying (especially because I trusted that writer), but honestly I'm not too worried about it. Ideas are just that, anyone can have them. The hard part is turning them into good stories. We should all be haugthy enough to think that only we can turn that idea into that particular story ;-)
    That author wrote the story and published it. I'm still working on mine... and they don't sound alike in the least.