Protecting Your Copyright: How to Keep an Editor (or Anyone Else) from Stealing Your Work

copyright symbolMany authors are concerned that someone, anyone, will learn of their book idea and try to pass it off as their own. Although this is rare, the worry is understandable. Ideas do get stolen, copyrights are infringed, and the originator of the idea may end up with nothing.

The trouble for the author is, if you want to create a really good book, you have to be willing to share it with others before you publish it. You need feedback from friends, family, beta readers, industry experts, professional editors, agents, and publishers.  You also need to be able to share it with reviewers and anyone you might ask for a foreword or a blurb. You have to be confident enough in the system to send your work out into the world and let other people reflect on your ideas.

So how do you get that confidence? As an editor, I often have potential clients ask what they can do to protect themselves from having their work stolen (“by you or anyone else” being the unspoken implication). Well, my first thought is always, “I have no interest in writing or publishing your book. Do you know how much work that would be for me?” But for those who are truly worried, I suggest a few precautions they could take. These protections apply to anyone you may share your work with:

  • Research your editors, agents, publishers, or other publishing professional. Your first responsibility is to ensure you are working with someone who is above board, whom you can trust. Ask for references, ask about their work history, and talk to other writers to find out if they have any experience with this person. Look online for warnings, and listen to your gut. If you don’t trust the person, don’t work with them. For in-depth advice on this topic, see How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps.
  • Ask the person to sign a nondisclosure/confidentiality agreement. I have signed a few of these in my career for both publishing houses and individuals. I have no plans for your book, so it’s no skin off my back. For you as the author it clarifies to the person that you don’t want your ideas spread around. You consider the work confidential and they should too.
  • Register your copyright. This is the most extreme step, but it also assures the most protection. Plus, it’s easy, it’s only $35 if you do it electronically, and no one has to know you did it. You have an inherent copyright in your work, but registration helps you to defend that copyright. Visit the US Copyright Office website or the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website for details. You can find a crib sheet on registering copyright in this blog post here.

As one blog reader pointed out, documentation is key in all of this. Periodically saving your files as PDFs or other nonalterable formats with date stamps will help you to prove what you wrote and when you wrote it.

Of course, none of these steps will prevent someone from taking your work. Once the document leaves your computer, some malicious person could find it and try to make it their own. But by taking these simple steps, you can minimize the chances of that happening, and you can maximize your ability to fight any legal battles that may come up as a result.

PerfectBound by Katherine PickettLike this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers


Save Your Reputation: Edit Your Writing and Hire Pros When Needed

It might not be clear to all aspiring authors that their reputation is at stake with everything they put out into the world. A typo in a cover letter, a small factual error in a novel, a few misspelled words in a short story — who will notice? Who will care?

The truth is, although many people won’t be bothered by little errors here and there, enough people will be, and it is often these people who are the most vocal or are in a position of power.

The repercussions can include having your query to an agent dismissed, your short story rejected from a literary mag, or your novel blasted on Amazon and Goodreads. Unfortunately, you won’t get a second chance with an agent, and those online reviews never go away. Furthermore, once your reputation is tainted, it can be a major feat to get it back.

The ease with which a writer can become published via an e-book has magnified this problem. With an e-book, you can bypass every other kind of publishing professional, upload your first draft to Smashwords, KDP, or any number of other e-book sites, and — voila — in 24 hours you have an e-book. There are no gatekeepers and no one to save you from yourself. You can put out a low-quality product and ruin your reputation as a writer with the click of a button.

Don’t let this happen to you. Take matters into your own hands and shore up your reputation by producing the highest-quality writing you can. Here’s how:

  1. Perform thorough self-editing. There are lots of tricks to this. You can read my take on it here.
  2. Work with beta readers. Belinda Pollard has a nice article cleverly titled “How to Find a Beta Reader” with some helpful tips.
  3. Hire a professional editor. Editors abound. Find a good one to help you with whatever kind of writing you do.
  4. If you are self-publishing, hire a professional designer to help with layout or, at the very least, buy a template from Joel Friedlander.

While the professional design won’t help with textual errors, it will help your reputation. When you are self-publishing, anything you can do  to improve the appearance of your book will also improve your perceived professionalism and, therefore, your reputation.

Given how difficult it is to get noticed as a writer, the one thing you have to rely on is your reputation. Respect, integrity, professionalism, follow-through — no kidding, good editing can help you demonstrate all of these important characteristics through your writing. Mind your reputation from the beginning so that you do not have to fight to get it back.

Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.

Cutting Ties with a Publisher

Courtesy of douceurs d’etre.

Because nonfiction books are often acquired before the manuscript is complete, sometimes it happens that the manuscript turned in to the publisher is not fit for publication.

Although it is rare, I have twice copyedited projects that were later canceled because the manuscript was submitted in such a state that it was deemed unacceptable.

In one case, the sentences simply did not make sense when put together in a paragraph. There’s no other way to describe it. I alerted the publisher of the problem, the managing editor reviewed the manuscript, and when it was determined that the book was not salvageable, it was canceled outright.

In another case, I was tasked with cutting 30,000 words—a quarter of the manuscript—in order to weed out the tangents and uncover the true narrative of the book. This author was then faced with an ultimatum: accept these changes or cut ties. The author chose the latter.

Under these circumstances, the publishing house has the right to recoup the first portion of the advance. The author has the right to find another publisher. Both are examples of times when working with an agent may save an author considerable heartache and legal trouble. From an editor’s perspective, working with a critique group and employing some heavy self-editing may also have been in order.

If you are seeking a traditional publisher, be sure you know exactly what is expected of you before you sign. Open lines of communication with the acquisitions editor regarding how you are shaping your manuscript will also help head off problems. Enlisting the help of beta readers will further aid you in crafting a manuscript that is ready for production.

Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.

Is Money the New Gatekeeper?

In publishing, the gatekeeper is the person who keeps your book idea from becoming a reality. Traditionally that has been the publishing houses and the agents who say “No, thank you” to your proposal. But self-publishing has eliminated those forces. Authors can circumvent the whole agent-publishing house system and put out their own book, in a matter of hours if they so choose, and no one can stop them.

To create a book that people will actually purchase, however, you need to do more than just publish your first draft. You need a professional editor and a professional designer (the designer so people will open your book, the editor so they will continue to read it). And those things cost money. So I ask you, Is money the new gatekeeper?

I posed this question to some colleagues online and the response from some was that quality is and always has been the only gatekeeper. Having read some of the awful books that have been published, both traditionally and independently, and having read some of the terrific books that may never be published, I can’t say I agree. Quality, while not irrelevant, is only part of the issue. How will you achieve quality? All on your own? Not so for most of us.

Curiously, money has become a barrier for those looking for a traditional publisher as well. Particularly with fiction writers, who are expected to approach agents with a completed manuscript, the new expectation is that authors will turn in manuscripts that are publication ready. In fact, one agent I know said while she used to accept a manuscript if it was 99% ready, she now only accepts those that are 100% ready. That was demoralizing to me, and I don’t even write fiction. And for nonfiction writers? Even these authors, who often have their book ideas accepted before the writing is complete, may be asked to pay for editing before submitting the final manuscript to the publisher. If they don’t, the house is fully prepared to end the deal.

I have explained before why editing costs so much, and I would not argue that editors or designers should charge less than they are worth. But if you believe as I believe that everyone needs an editor (that is my company motto, by the way), you have to admit that money plays a significant role in whose books get read and whose don’t, whose books get published and whose don’t. In the past that investment came from the publishing house. Now more often than not it is laid at the foot of the author.

Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.

What a Copyeditor Is Not

Many writers are unclear about what a copyeditor can do for them, and that’s a long list. Copyeditors correct your grammar and punctuation, ensure consistency, and help eliminate repetition. They highlight plot holes, lapses in time line or characterization, and areas where your meaning is not clear. Most copyeditors will also offer input on your book’s organization and other content issues and are happy to answer your questions about the editing and publishing process. All of these varied tasks fall under the purview of a copyeditor.

However, there are some jobs you should not expect your copyeditor to perform. Consider these four things copyeditors are not:

  1. Copyeditors are not fact-checkers. Although your CE may do some fact-checking for you, especially if obvious factual errors are uncovered, you should not assume that your copyeditor is going to do a complete fact-check. There are people out there who hold the title of fact-checker or researcher, and if you do not want to do the fact-checking yourself, you are well advised to hire one of these angels. Most likely, your copyeditor does not have the time or the resources required to do the best, most efficient job. Both LinkedIn and MediaBistro give you access to qualified fact-checkers.
  2. Copyeditors are not book coaches. A book coach is someone who will see you through the entire publishing process. He or she will work with you from conception to completion with as much input as you request and require. Book coaches will help you determine your marketing niche and may assist you in researching your audience, helping you to write the best possible book. Copyeditors do none of these things. By the time you get to copyediting, the majority of this work should already be done. In general, CEs work with you for a limited amount of time, after your manuscript has been completed and before it has been sent to a typesetter or e-book company. If you are looking for a book coach, don’t be afraid to ask your copyeditor for a referral or find out if he or she also offers this service.
  3. Copyeditors are not agents. There is no need to send your copyeditor your proposal. You do not need to go into detail regarding your marketing plans or your author platform. Although a little bit of this information is helpful to let the CE know what your goals are for the book, there isn’t much more he or she will do with the information. Your CE also won’t be able to place your project with a publishing company or guarantee that someone will buy your book once the editing is complete. If you are looking for help contacting publishing houses, your best bet is to sign with an agent., Writer’s Market, Literary Market Place, and Publishers Marketplace are all excellent resources for finding an agent.
  4. Copyeditors are not publishers. Your copyeditor is most concerned with making your writing as clean and clear as possible. He or she is not in a position to publish your book. Some editors, like me, use “editorial services” in their company names. This refers specifically to editing, not publishing. You can turn to publishing services companies, traditional publishing houses, or agents to liaise with a publishing house to help you publish your book. Try Literary Market Place and Publishers Marketplace for lists of publishers and their submission requirements.

It’s important to know what you’re getting when you go to hire a copyeditor. Miscommunication and wrong expectations make for a bad editing experience. Bottom line: Always ask your vendor — of whatever stripe — what services are included. You are less likely to be disappointed.


Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other retailers