Theft Control Packaging for Manuscripts

Today is  my Middle Son’s birthday.  Because DH would be gone this evening, we celebrated this morning by opening his presents and singing Happy Birthday. 

Then we spent the next forty minutes untying, untwisting and unbinding the toys from their Anti-Theft Packaging.  As if some small child who wanted the Automic Tommy 20 Air Blaster Dart Gun (yes, the toy is as big as the name) could slide it from the box and hide it under their shirts without being caught.

Have you bought a Barbie lately?  Thank goodness, I haven’t.  Because back when DD was still young enough to play with them they were strapped and stapled into the box in such a way it took a well-educated adult half an hour to free her.  I can’t imagine how bad it is now. 

We live in an untrustworthy society.  Too many Barbies and Automic Blasters have been pilfered for the toy industry to risk any more losses. 

Writers also fear the loss of their words.  Sometimes this fear is crippling and keeps them from sharing their work with beta readers or critique buddies.  It even hinders them from submitting. 

For the most part, this fear is unfounded.  Many writers are too busy trying to write, edit and sell their own works to steal someone else’s work.  After all, we believe our ideas are pretty awesome, so why would we spend time trying to write, edit and submit an idea we didn’t even come up with?

As to agents and editors?  Never fear.  If you do your homework and submit to reputable agencies and publishers, this shouldn’t be a problem.  The unscrupulous don’t last long in any business.

Like most things in writing, the best advice comes from those who have been there.  I’ll provide a few tips to safegaurd your work, while still allowing you to free your writing from the package and get the valuable feedback you need to grow as a writer. 

If anyone has anything to add based on their experiences, please comment and I will add them to the list for other writers to reference.

Theft Control Packaging for Manuscripts

  1. Know your critique buddies.  Personally or via online.  Converse with them, share ideas, talk shop, discuss your mutual interests and make sure you click.  If your gut says, “I don’t know,” get out.  If you feel good about the relationship, move forward and exchange writing samples.  When this works, you can move on to the next level.
  2. Join a writer’s group or community.  There are some outstanding online sites such as Agent Query and the SCBWI. 
  3. Attend workshops or conferences and learn the trade inside and out.  Knowing how the writing/publishing gig really works can go a long way in soothing fears.
  4. Before submitting to a professional, check out Preditors and Editors, a site designed to help aspiring writers navigate the industry waters.  They make recommendations based on company/agency sales and committment.
  5. Always, always, always directly check out your potential agent or editor via their website, blog or other publication appearances.  As writers, we are responsible for keeping ourselves out of trouble.  A good agent or editor will be accessible.  
  6. Be extremely cautious about communicating with “professionals” who solicit you.  Very rarely are aspiring writers worthy of being hunted down.  In all likelihood, the email you got inviting you to send your MS was in response to a mailing list some scam artist purchased.  If an agent can verify references, that is another story.
  7. Know that our words are copywrited the second we pen them.  While some authors do submit to the copywrite office for a nominal fee, this is not necessary.  Now-a-days, a time and date stamp on word docs and emails can do virtually the same thing.  If you are feeling realling cautious, you can email your completed manuscripts to a trusted friend or rellie and have them keep your date stamp safe as proof that you wrote the project.
  8. Or, make a hard copy of the original and file away your edits as you go.  This also shows that you have worked on the project and what you did.
  9. Don’t just throw your writing up on your blog or website or various writer’s forums if you ever desire to publish it.  While I have a few fiction pieces under Short Fiction Sundays, I fully understand that this work has now been published.  IE, people have read it and have access to it.  It is no longer virgin material.  A lot of publishing companies don’t buy reprint rights and some may consider a blog as first rights.  If in doubt, send long pieces as an attachment to your online groups. 
  10. If you take, give in return.  Nothing will turn a crit relationship sour faster than taking advice and never giving any in return.   Bad relationships can cause undue damage if left unchecked.  Just be a good boyscout. 
  11. And lastly, remember that we cannot copywrite an idea.  We can only copywrite the exact words we use to define those ideas.  Even if someone snicks your idea, it is your words that make the story yours.  Someone trying to steal another writer’s work will have a hard time finishing a piece or editing it into anything usable. 

In general, learn the trade, engage in relationships that feel comfortable and that you can check out on some level.  If you ever feel something isn’t right, know that it probably isn’t worth finding out the hard way.

Best luck in keeping your manuscripts safe while allowing them to circulate in certain circles.

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12 responses to “Theft Control Packaging for Manuscripts

  1. Great point, I’m generally too wrapped up in my own writing to ever think about making off with someone else’s. Happy Birthday to your son! Hope all is well.

    • Lisa,

      I hear you. I have more ideas falling out my ears than I could ever hope to develope. The last think I need is to steal someone else’s. Sheesh, there aren’t enough hours in the day for that!

      Middle got a car that can suction to the ceiling and drive above us while chasing a laser around. Fun for him. Super fun for us!

  2. Oh and I’d beta for you any time too! You’re a doll. 🙂

  3. I used to worry about this, too, when I was first submitting. Then I realized exactly what you said. Other writers are just too busy to worry about it.

    • Barbara,

      So true. And the ones with time are the ones with no original idea how to write. They would never be able to effectively flesh out somebody else’s work.

      Yet this doesn’t keep me from being overly cautious. Do as I say… : )

  4. Really great advice! I’m very careful about posting online. I’ve heard too many stories of strange things happening on the net.

    When my kids were younger, it seemed the packaging for toys got worse every year! So much waste – drives me crazy how bad it is for the environment.

    • Jemi,

      It hasn’t gotten any better, and I doubt it ever will. So sad, and yes, way wasteful.

      I worry about those who post whole novels online. Or get scammed by untrustworthy “professionals”. I remember once upon a time, my submission was accepted, but something just felt off to me. When I pushed for info in writing, all communication was terminated. It still makes me queasy.

      Thankfully, the manuscript was an early picture book of mine and one that I wouldn’t let my cat use in the litter box now-a-days. So, if the poor sap stole my manuscript, he definitely didn’t come out on the right end of that scam.

  5. Great list and tips, Catwoods. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Excellent post, Cat. I’m still amazed at the number of beginning writers I meet who are so totally paranoid about letting others see their work that they won’t join a critique group or trust a first reader.

    • Patricia,

      I agree. I think their unease comes from the few stories about scam agents or pubs. In reality, if you do a little research, you should be okay. Online makes it a little easier to meet people, but maybe a little harder to share. It’s one thing to look someone in the face when you hand over your baby. It’s something totally different to send off into cyber space where the person at the receiving end may be something other than advertised.

      ~cat

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