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The Aliens are Out to Get You!!

I must begin this post with a caveat: there are, indeed, some ideas/stories/manuscripts that have made semi-headlines with accusations of plagerism/theft/crappiness. But can you name the last serious manuscript theft story you read? I can't. But I can recall the handful of dingbats who've claimed Harry Potter/Twilight/Whatever Dan Brown's Books are Called were their ideas first and Rowling/Meyer/Brown stole the ideas from them and check, please!

But who actually takes those claims seriously?

I don't. Not at that superstar level and not at the plebian level of hard-working but as yet unpublished and unappreciated writers.

Are there unscrupulous folks who will attempt to filch your TOTALLY UNIQUE NEVER BEFORE SEEN IDEA EVER? Maybe, but not likely. Are there folks who, after reading your awesome take on angels feel inspired to write about angels, too? OMG, ANGELS! Maybe. But, so? Your idea isn't as unique as you think it is. Not only that, but ideas are in the public domain. Nobody owns them. Your manuscript? A different story. That you own, but serious (ahem. Important Word There) writers are NOT interested in stealing it! Or your ideas. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Writers are creative people with more ideas than they can shake a stick at. Today, I got excited by three potential novel ideas. THREE! In one day! It would take a year to write and revise three novels to my liking. In fact, here, have one of my ideas: I was reading Robert Schumann's biography today and was struck by his love affair with Clara. Go on, look it up. Tell me it wouldn't make an awesome novel. I mean, her dad took Schumann to court so Schumann couldn't marry his daughter!

2) Writing is HARD WORK. Ideas are easy peasy. Truly. So easy my dog comes up with them on a regular basis and paws them in in the mud when we go to the off-leash park just to amuse the other dogs who don't have writers for owners. I have had conversations with fellow writers who've written brilliant stories that I can't wait to read, only to discover that the same idea had been used ten years ago - by a well-known writer, even - and OH MY GOSH! HOW CAN THAT BE?!?! (I'm not making fun of you - you know who you are - promise!). So, yeah, ideas are a dime a dozen. But actually writing the novel? Hard freaking work. Harder than anyone who thinks they'll just sit down a throw something out there one day realize. And when you're putting that much work into something, you want it to be original, you want it to be YOU.

3) A trail. E-mail trails and blog post trails and old-fashioned paper trails, all proving how much of your story is yours and not that other guy's/gal's/dog's. Publishing houses, who vet their authors. And editors, who are extremely well-read and suspicious and looking for different, not more of the same. And no one wants a lawsuit, so plagerism is taken seriously.

4) A community of respect. Are there idea theives out there? Sure. A few. Should you worry? Not if you've built and fostered a writing community that respects its colleagues. It's hard to share work. I have a hard time with pressing the send button that first time. But not because I think my trusted beta readers or agent (LOL) or anyone is going to steal my manuscript. Take some time to get to know the writing community, whether online or in person, and you will find lots of people who want to write their own, original work and help you improve your work.

Every once in a while, a newbie on Absolute Write will start a post about whether or not it's safe to share work. Surely, someone out there wants to steal it! Stop. It's not likely to happen. The internet and our computers' advanced memory banks make it more difficult than ever to steal work. And if you don't share, you miss out on the invaluable insight of beta readers. Your work will never improve without betas as well as it could with betas.

So, stop being so afraid. They're not coming to get you. The aliens, or the manuscript theives.

/rant/hopefully useful, informative post
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. So true...I'm going really blank on the name, but wasn't there a movie out recently about a teenager who wrote a sci-fi novel that was stolen by a published writer desperate for a new bestseller?

    I think the best point you made is that ideas don't matter because it's all in the execution. How many books out there are about a girl falling for a vampire. A professor thrown into an Indiana Jones-style adventure. A woman who's marriage is threatened by an intriguing stranger. But how many of those really grab you with their voice, twist, etc?

    Awesome post!

  2. Interesting thoughts to consider. I have actually known an individual who got her idea stolen. I think that makes me a bit more paranoid. But I do have to say the majority of the writers I know, I trust. Just like they trust me to beta read their work.

  3. This is a definitely useful post.

    I used to be oh so nervous about sending my writing to others. And then I realized how very obvious it would be if someone plagiarized me.

    I trust and love my fellow writers now :)

  4. Great post! I was at a query workshop where a writer didn't want to let other writers read the query for a WIP because people might steal the idea and it spawned a discussion and we came up with the same points - essentially, it is all in the execution.

  5. Great post Kristin!

    I also wanted to weigh in with an experience of my own on the subject.


  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Suzie and John. Those are great stories that illustrate the ideas in this post. Like I said, it's difficult to share (at least, at first) but fear of having your ideas stolen should not be part of the equation. Fear of not getting better should. :)


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Item Reviewed: The Aliens are Out to Get You!! Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook