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, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers

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Beta Readers Aren’t Editors; Editors Aren’t Beta Readers

If you have spent any time in the writing community over the past five to ten years, you’ve probably heard about beta readers. These are unpaid people who read your manuscript and give you feedback. The type, quality, and extent of feedback you receive depends on the readers you have enlisted to help you. Editors, of course, are professionally trained and educated to correct a wide range of problems in a manuscript to get it ready for publication. Although beta readers can greatly enhance the revision process, they do not replace editors. Similarly, an editor should not be thought of as a paid beta reader.

Beta Readers Are Not Beta BitsEditors

The feedback you get from your beta readers can be hugely helpful for identifying and resolving problems with plot, characterization, pacing, or a weak argument. These readers give you the opportunity to share your work and find out how it strikes the average reader. They do not usually make the corrections the way an editor will, but rather offer suggestions for you to implement. When you choose your readers, I recommend finding a range of people with differing skills and backgrounds so that you get a well-rounded view of your manuscript.

There are a number of sources for finding beta readers — critique groups, colleagues, writing partners, people you connect with via Goodreads or a Facebook group, among other places. Each will have something different to offer, and you will need to assess and evaluate their critiques individually to determine what feedback to accept and what to reject. These people are not professionals; they are simply giving you their opinions as to how you can improve your writing.

Some authors think that if they get enough beta readers, they can skip editing. This is generally not true. In the case of really good readers and a talented writer, the beta-reading stage can lessen or eliminate the need for a developmental editor. As mentioned, beta readers may uncover big-picture issues such as an inconsistent timeline, poor pacing, poor organization, or unrelateable characters, and the author may be able to address and resolve these problems on their own.

However, unless one of your readers is a professional editor who has done a complete line edit on your manuscript, you will still need a copyeditor at some point. If you find a publisher, the publisher may take care of the copyediting; if you self-publish, you will need to arrange the editing yourself. (For guidance on how to do this without getting taken, see my series of posts How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps.)

Employing beta readers in your writing journey is an excellent idea that can save you time and money. It is essential, however, that you know the limits of what such readers can do for your manuscript.

red penEditors Are Not Beta Readers

One major benefit beta readers do offer is a fresh set of eyes when a  writer feels she has taken the manuscript as far as she can on her own. Perhaps this is why some authors seem to think of their editor as a paid beta reader. Again, that is incorrect and may lead to problems.

In most cases, an editor should not be the first person you share your work with. You can go that route, but you can likely save yourself some money — potentially, a lot of money — if you get the outside, free opinion of beta readers first. Find out what average readers think and get the manuscript nailed down as much as possible on your own before investing in editing. Editing is expensive, and the more refinement you do on your own, the less you will have to pay someone else to do. (Read this article for more thoughts on this topic.)

Beyond that, working with an editor is different from working with beta readers. For instance, editors need a certain level of understanding about what it is you are trying to achieve with your book so that they can help you achieve it. Whereas you may want your beta readers to approach the manuscript with no preconceived notions, editing is more efficient — and better — when there aren’t a lot of surprises. So if your book has a twist at the end and you aren’t sure it’s working, you will get to the solution faster if you tell your editor what you suspect. It means revealing the twist, but that’s OK. If you aren’t sure it’s working, your editor can keep that in mind while she reads. If she agrees, she can then let you know why it isn’t working and how to improve it.

In addition, the corrections and suggested changes you receive from your editor deserve more weight than those of a traditional beta reader.  With both editors and beta readers, you as the author have to decide whether the changes further your vision for the book. However, professional editors have years of experience and training in their field, and if they see a problem, it’s likely other readers will too. If they have changed your grammar, punctuation, and syntax, it likely was incorrect. If they have suggested ways to strengthen your argument, you likely need to address that problem.

That does not mean you need to take every suggested change from your editor, but you should make an educated decision. If you don’t know why a change was made, ask for an explanation before overriding your editor. Assuming you have vetted your editor (see step 2 of How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps), you know you have chosen someone with the credentials to help you make your book the best it can be. Avoid negating that expertise by ignoring your editor’s feedback.

Beta readers aren’t editors. They don’t have the training, the experience, or the expertise. And editors aren’t beta readers. They want to get to the solution as fast as possible, and that means revealing aspects of the manuscript you may be hesitant to reveal to a general reader. Beta readers offer opinions; editors offer a professional’s perspective. Each of these roles has something to offer writers on their journey. For best results, do not confuse the two.

 

Like 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, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.