Sharing your writing can be difficult for any writer, particularly for a new writer. You are filled with all sorts of concerns, including the concern can an editor steal your book that stops you from taking that all-important step to give it to someone.
An editor will not steal your book as they have too much to lose if they do. They are professionals in their job, and publishing is their career. They will not risk that for a short-term risk that is unlikely to make them much in return.
Reason an Editor Will Not Steal Your Book
The short answer to the question can an editor steal your book is quite simply no. While we can’t say that it has never happened in publishing history, there is no documented case of this occurring.
High Risk, Low Reward
No real editor is going to steal a book for the simple fact is that the risk is very high, and the rewards are not guaranteed and generally low anyway. In the rest of this article, we will discuss exactly why this is just not something you hear about.
As an author, there are generally three places you will try to send your unpublished book: to an editor, an agent or a publisher. The concern is that someone will take the opportunity to steal it rather than work with you to publish it.
All three of those will have the same opportunity, but the most common concern seems to be the editor. This is likely because the editor is seen as the one who spends the most time with a book, sees the most from new authors with no agent to represent them, and gives the best access to pick the best of the bunch.
They have far more to lose than gain from theft, as we will discuss. So, what drives this concern?
It is typically only brought up as a fundamental question by a newbie or want-to-be author. The real reason behind this seems to be fear. New authors are held back by fear of negative feedback and, possibly only subconsciously, come up with many reasons why they cannot let others see it. Potential theft is just one of many reasons they give themselves.
Take a few minutes to search, and you will not find any documented real case in a recent decade where this happened. Did you find any? I am guessing not.
Editors know that turning a manuscript into a book that actually sells takes a lot of work beyond writing and editing. Even after the whole publishing process, there is self-promotion, author marketing efforts for the book, reader outreach, and many more tasks that may pay nothing.
If that all works and they have a hit, what now? Let’s assume for a moment that the theft was a success. How do they follow it up? Steal another? They did not write the first book, so they are unlikely to produce a second to the same standard, written in the same style as the original author. They are pretty much stuck at one, so not much of a forward-looking income plan.
But let’s get a little more specific to make you feel more confident, starting with the reasons an editor is unlikely to steal.
The Editors Job and Why It Means They Know Better
OK, so what is an editor’s job? The perception is that they just read and edit manuscripts to improve them ready for publication. They certainly do that vital part, but in addition, they also work to acquire them, work with the author and other staff to schedule and manage the whole process, work with marketing and lots more.
Many editors are in the job because they have a passion for it, not just to make a quick few dollars. You can make a reasonably good income, but you are not getting rich, so a passion for the job is essential for many. They are unlikely to risk a whole career for a single opportunity to publish a book for themselves.
So, to get away with this kind of theft, the only reasonable place to target is the pile of manuscripts from first-time authors. Someone already published is likely to have an agent and at least some relationship with a publisher, making them harder to steal from without much greater risk. It is simply not worth it.
So as mentioned above, although an editor has the best access to the unpublished pile, even this pile is not worth the risk for slightly different reasons. The first is that most of them are bad, and finding the good ones take time.
Do you really want to go through all that just for a single book to steal and then must do it again for a follow-up? Not a good use of time.
Second is that almost any qualified editor who has some experience in the job most likely has the skills to write a book of their own if they wanted to get published. The amount of time spent searching through all the low-quality manuscripts for one good one would be far better spent on writing their own book. Their experience also means it is far more likely to be closer to a publishable book than the average submission.
Can They Write Their Own Version of Your Story?
Next, we can briefly look at a related idea that maybe an editor does not directly steal your book, but they like it so much that they basically write their own version of it.
This is also very unlikely. Most obviously, most ideas have already been done somehow, so are you sure your book is so good and original that someone will go to so much effort to copy it?
The basic story idea is not copyrightable, so anyone can create their own book with the same idea. Detective novels are basically the same plot at their most superficial level. Your specific writing is protected under copyright, so they would have to change it so much they are basically writing a new book.
With their skills, they could just do that in the first place, and it probably is more straightforward with their own plot anyway.
The Financial Argument Against Stealing
The main argument against this is really the financial one. To make the risk worth it, the income from a book really needs to be sufficiently worth it. The reality of most books is that they make a few thousand dollars for the author, which is especially true for first-time authors.
There are, of course, mega-hits for first-time authors, but this is also such a long shot the typical income on a book just does not make the risks worth it.
Many very well-known and very profitable authors are in that position because they have written many books over many years, released new books regularly and gathered a growing audience over that time. The real money is made from these authors.
With that in mind, is it better to execute a theft of a single manuscript or enter what will hopefully be a long-term relationship with lots of books from an author? I think long-term profit is the easy choice here.
As a bonus, while working on their next book, the editor can repeat the process with other authors to develop the subsequent multiyear publishing success.
The risk of being found out is substantial compared to the potential reward we have already discussed. Getting caught for copyright infringement can cost huge fines that could more than offset a lifetime of earnings.
Combine that with the risk of a plagiarism charge, and the argument gets stronger against anyone taking a book. Plagiarism would be the end of a career in the field that holds originality as one of if not the most critical expectations.
What Can You Do to Overcome This Issue?
So how do you overcome this concern? First, ask yourself if you are overconfident? Do you think that your manuscript really is so good that it will be almost impossible for anyone not to want to steal it for themselves?
There is nothing wrong with confidence; it is vital to have confidence in yourself but do be realistic and check to ensure you are not reaching the arrogance level of confidence. That can kill your career before it has started.
It is possible that maybe you actually have the opposite problem, a lack of confidence in your skills and what you have written. This can be just as bad and just as effectively stop you from taking any steps to get yourself published.
It is essential for both of these issues to take a small step to get some open, honest, but significantly helpful feedback on your writing. If you have a trusted friend or family member, you can ask them to be your first reader and reviewer.
The catch is that someone close to you may not be honest with you, and if your writing is not good, they may not want to offend you and give falsely positive feedback. Be careful if you go with someone close to you that you are not just essentially getting reinforcement for your own opinion rather than good feedback to help you improve.
The best option is to find a local writer’s group, or at least an online group, and start getting involved. They are filled with like-minded people who will give and want to receive constructive feedback to improve.
So, get feedback on short pieces, listen to the constructive ideas and then incorporate them. Use this to improve your work until you are confident that you have something worth submitting, and then do it. At some point, it must be done, so go and get ready.
If you want a more concrete action to protect yourself than taking steps to ease what is most likely just related to your own fear, you can register your work before you send it out. In the US, head over to the copyright.gov portal and you can submit and register for copyright for a fee. Ensure you have something that you are sure at least has a chance of publication before you do this.
You may also see it mentioned on forums or articles that you can post yourself a copy as a protection step. Unfortunately, this does not work, so don’t rely on this one.
Have you thought about self-publishing?
If you really don’t want to take the risk and think your book is ready for the world to see, you could do what an increasing number of people are doing and going the self-publishing route. Many have found this to be a perfect alternative and if you really cannot get past the risk of theft, maybe becoming your own publisher is the path for you.
The steps are too long to cover in this article, but we will be covering this in detail in a separate article to help guide you to success.
So yes, while there is always a chance it could happen, it is such a slight chance, it is not worth the stress of worrying about it. Spend this time working on improving your manuscript, reaching out to more contacts and potential leads or, better yet, work on your next project.