Monday, October 22, 2012

Wait- That Can Happen??

Maybe I’m naive. But I never really thought about the dangers of sharing one of my book ideas on the internet. To be honest, I don’t usually share ideas for my work-in-progresses. -Not because I’m wary, but because I never know if the idea will actually turn into a real book until the book is completely written. 

I do, however, often share pitches, queries and blurbs for my full manuscripts. Because, what are the chances that someone takes that information and writes a whole new book using the same premise? Or actually pitches that book? And gets an agent with that book before I do? Or an actual BOOK DEAL before I do, using that premise? After all, I’ve got a head start and have put my blood, sweat and tears into that book. No way could someone just come along and write a book from scratch using my premise and get to the finish line before me. Right?

I didn’t think the chances were that high. But apparently, it can happen!

I read this post over the weekend that had many writing bloggers shocked and appalled at a situation that arose when the author discussed a premise, outline, and partial manuscript with an online friend. The friend then cut off contact for awhile and when she re-appeared, it was with an agent and book deal in hand...using the original author’s premise and pitch! 

Holy Crap!

I mean, of course I’ve experienced idea envy. There were a few queries up for WriteOnCon that had me salivating at their premise, thinking ‘OH! Why couldn’t I have thought of that!’. But to then go on and write a whole new book using their premise and pitch it to agents would be theft, really.

In the situation above, it wasn’t a full manuscript in question but a pitch, unfinished partial, and discussion of the premise. Writers will write, and sometimes, especially if you’ve been in a rut, it can be tempting to jump on someone else’s idea if it finally gets you writing again. I think, though, if  you find yourself really really really inspired by someone else’s idea (like, it keeps you up at night and has characters talking to each other in your head) then you should, at least, approach the original author. 

Be Honest.

There’s no shame in asking.  Or just letting the author know with a ‘Hey! Your book idea really has my creative juices flowing and is keeping me up at night and is basically writing itself in my mind beyond all control. I may or may not write a book using the same idea, but in any case- I just wanted to be honest and let you know.’

Or

‘If you ever decide not to go through with writing the book about _____, or are moving on with something else, or putting it on the back burner, please let me know because the idea has really taken hold in my mind and I’d like to write about it.’

There’s no need to put on your sneaky, devious, guilty pants and go behind a fellow author’s back. We are all in the same boat and struggling with the same things. This community is about support and even though we all want to climb out of the pit and into the light, stepping on a fellow writer in order to get closer to the top isn’t the way to do it.

What would you do if you found yourself with an all-consuming desire to write using someone else’s premise? Ignore the impulses and try to move on? Write the book as long as the creativity lasts but never pitch it? Would you tell the original author or just keep it to yourself?  Are you guys wary of sharing your book ideas on the internet before they’re written? What about after you have a full manuscript in hand?

41 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I don't seem to want to write any else's ideas but my own. I enjoy the creative process. But this isn't the first time I've heard of this happening. A couple friends I know had it happen to them.

Gina said...

I read that post this weekend, too, and I was appalled. I'm a paranoid person by nature, so I've never talked about my WiP's online (except in e-mail to my CP's) until they are finished, or at least query-ready.

I've had people people tell me that's silly. Maybe it is - after all, 2 authors with the same idea could still never write the EXACT same book - but I still wouldn't want someone helping themselves to MY inspiration and running with it. It's disrespectful at the least and theft at the most. And I'd like to think that if I was ever that "inspired" by someone else's concept, I'd find a way to give it a different spin and make it my own.

Sarah said...

Wow. I just read her post and it sounds like her project was pretty far along, too, like way past the idea phase. What a terrible feeling that would be. I don't talk a lot about my specific ideas because I've got an agent who constantly advises me to keep things close to the vest, which I appreciate.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I hadn't read the post. Thanks for informing us. That's terrible that an author would steal someone else's idea like that.

shelly said...

I've had something like that happen to me. So I'm more careful now.

Hugs and chocolate,
Shelly

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't share my specific ideas with anyone (with the exception of a few people, but even then I'm pretty vague). I don't post my wip pitches until the book is nearly finished or is finished. While the chances aren't great the two books will be the same, I'd hate to have my book idea be the source of inspiration for someone else. Let them get their own original idea.

Michelle S. said...

The fact that people actually do this boggles my mind. As a writer, it's terrifying. I'm fairly open about what I'm working on, my ideas, etc. I definitely see that changing, and it makes me sad that we even have to worry about things like this.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I follow A LOT of writers online. It has never even crossed my mind to steal someone's idea for a novel. I have enough good ideas of my own that I'll never have time to write. Of course I'm jealous of other people's fantastic ideas once in a while, but mostly I lament the fact that I barely have enough time to write my own stories! How horrible to think that this actually happens!

Dana said...

That's horrible! Going to read her post now.

Old Kitty said...

Oh my stars!! Please let's have some integrity peeps!! Come on!! Don't steal. Full stop. Tut-tut!
:-(

Take care
x

LTM said...

I've had the experience where I started writing a book and discovered there was something already out there that was eerily similar. And then I had the experience of *wanting* to write a book that smashed up some of my favorite stories, which I did in ROUGE. But in both cases, the result is always different b/c we're all different people with different experiences.

But what you're describing here is just plain wrong. And I hate it happened for that poor writer. :o( <3

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have heard of this in the art world as well, someone would jump onto small art stores, find a piece they liked, paint and resell them. Scary reality.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That person wasn't a real friend, that's for sure.
No one's idea has ever struck me that way. I'd still rather write my own.

Jay Noel said...

That's incredible - that takes real nerve to steal a "friend's" ideas like that.

I can understand being inspired by a great day, but then injecting your own personal creativity in there. But to blatantly rip off somebody...

Angela Brown said...

I've chatted/communicated with other writers who were wary of sharing their story ideas and this is the reason why. They feared someone taking off with their shiny idea and making it their own. I feel bad because I can say that I wouldn't want that done to me so I wouldn't do it to another writer...but there are people who do, so I can't fault a writer for being guarded.

If a writer bud told me of a story idea that really had my juices flowing, I would reach out to them and see if they would like to co-venture together. Otherwise, if I can not come up with something that is different than their exact premise, I would leave that to them. That was their intellectual property and I don't want to steal that from them. I'd rather see them flourish with it.

Johanna Garth said...

That's so crazy terrible. I've always felt safe from that kind of thing because your voice and perspective are what you bring to the story and those are unique to you alone.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, man--I would be SO UPSET! That friendship certainly wouldn't survive and it would be VERY hard not to shout the story to the world. I have experienced that mind meld thing--where I talk to someone and realize we've stumbled onto the same theme. That sucks enough, but the reality is, if you haven't shared actual writing, then two authors are going to come up with really different things from the same premise. For instance I have a friend locally who writes erotica and owns a microbrewery... I have a microbrewery history and thought it would be a great Cozy Mystery premise... we were both at the same time writing microbrew mysteries, but HERS is relationship oriented and very beer-industry heavy. Mine is a murder where the sleuth happens to own a microbrewery, so much less beer and more mystery than hers. Totally different flavor (and market)

Marsha Sigman said...

I don't like to ever share too many details but I never thought this really happened.

Although, I came up with this awesome idea a while back with a perfect title, and Googled it just to see if there was anything out there similar...and found my entire idea had already been written like 10 years ago.

Which is just weird.

jaybird said...

That's one of the worst things I can think of to do to a writing friend who placed their trust in you! And, yes, I'd like to think it doesn't happen. But apparently, there are some writers out there without any remorse or morals :(

Donna Hosie said...

I knew this could happen because it has happened to me, albeit on a smaller scale. A friend used my writing, word for word - TWICE!

Because of it, I couldn't even use betas for years, only trusting a select few with writing I am epublishing.

I feel for anyone who is plagiarised.

prerna pickett said...

that really upsets me. For me, coming out of my writing shell and sharing my work with others online was a huge step and took a lot of time. We all run that risk of finding that one person who doesn't share the same kind of respect we do for the whole experience. It's sad and will scare off others from finding great CPs and betas.

Connie Keller said...

Wow--talk about heinous! I can only hope that the author (who's obviously very creative) comes up with an even better idea and gets a great deal.

Matthew MacNish said...

There are certain things people with self respect just don't do. Cheat in romantic relationships. Manipulate people under your authority for personal gain. Steal another creative person's ideas.

That being said, there will always be thieves in the world, so you should just be careful about what you share, and with whom. As far as putting a query up somewhere public? I would never do it unless the book was completely done. And even then, if someone wrote a cool book based on my query alone? I might be more flattered than angry.

The partial MS is another story altogether though.

lbdiamond said...

If I see a great idea, I think "damn why didn't I think of that" and leave it. I need to develop my own ideas in order for me to feel like I'm creating something.

Scary, though, what other people will do.

Jennifer said...

wow! I hopped over and read that post and I feel so terrible for her. I would be so upset if someone stole my idea. Your writing...your characters are like your children and to have someone swoop in and snatch one of them up would just me awful. I don't share my writing ideas because I am, what I thought at least, is very paranoid but now I think it's probably for the best.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

What a terrible story! Sadly, I don't think she has any recourse even if she wanted to take action. If she just Tweeted the premise, it's hard to prove who had the idea first. If she'd given the other writer her unfinished manuscript to read ... it might be a different story.

I guess this is a cautionary tale for those bloggers who share too much about their WIP before it's complete and out in the world. I am slowly learning to keep my mouth shut a little more.

As for the writer who stole the idea, I doubt she will feel any pangs of conscience. If she had a conscience or ethics, she wouldn't have done this in the first place.

Saumya said...

Wow, I really feel for her and am going to visit her post after this. I've had my ideas stolen a couple times but the most devastating incident was when it was from a friend. I hope that the writer comes up with an even more clever idea and finishes her work. If someone has to steal to get ahead, they aren't going to get too far and I wonder if there's anything written in agent contracts about this?

Cheree Smith said...

I hadn't seen this post so thanks for sharing. It really is a sad thing. I'm very cautious with what I put online. When I mention WiPs I only mention the bare hook or summary. It's scary to think that there are people out there who are dishonest enough to steal someone's, especially a friend, ideas and pass it off as their own.

Kimberlee Turley said...

So sad. I try to keep my projects quiet because I write so slow. Someone really could write a whole novel and polish it before I finish my first draft, and then it'd be hard to prove I had the idea first.

~Sia McKye~ said...

This is why I don't share much of my writing online. The only piece I have is copyrighted. Same with a poem I have public. I have had things borrowed without asking--the idea being all's fair, yada yada. Right. Which is another reason I no longer belong to any critiquing groups. Yep. Thievery happens.

Have I heard an idea or read a premise and characters started chatting but in a different direction? Yep. Have I acted on it? nope. If I felt compelled, for sure, I'd approach the original a writer.

I read the post. While it made me sad and righteously indignant, it didn't surprise me. Unfortunately, I've seen it happen.

Karma's a bitch and what goes around comes around--in time.

Ricky Bush said...

Great blog post! Think I'll use it for my own.

Botanist said...

That's sad. The worst part is that, even if the premise and pitch are identical, the two stories would probably be entirely different reading experiences. The author's voice and way of telling the story would be so different. How many flavors of "Romeo and Juliet" are out there, for example? But it sounds in this case as though the idea itself was so new and fresh that it would be instantly recognizable as a "copy".

The writer this happened to has more courage than me. I would have been reduced to a gibbering wreck. My story ideas are so few and far between, I can't afford to have one of them nicked!

LD Masterson said...

I guess the first lesson here is know who your friends are.

I've been in a couple on line crit groups and the thought has crossed my mind how easy it would be for one person in the group to steal an idea, or even a complete story, from another. Especially with all the self-publishing options these days.

It stinks but it's reality.

Carrie-Anne said...

I'd be so livid if that happened to me, though I know I could prove I wrote something first by the dates on all my old disk files and the old notebooks. I've never had idea envy, and feel relatively safe with my own characters and storylines, since historical isn't a very popular genre at the moment.

Creepy Query Girl said...

LOL Ricky!

And oh gosh, I hadn't thought about when this happens between cp's. What a disaster. I only have a few select people who read my stuff and I trust them all implicitly.

Lexa Cain said...

I only reveal WIP ideas to the very trusted CPs in my group. But as far as "stealing" a premise goes, that happens all the time with successful books. That's what agents and publishers are looking for and why they want to know which book yours resembles in a query. Is yoursjust like HUNGER GAMES? Great! They want to see it!

Perhaps "twitter friends" and "facebook friends" don't really exist -- they're virtual.

Thanks for the post -- it really made me think. :-)

Talli Roland said...

Whoa. That's just crazy. I don't know how someone can do that and live with themselves!

D.G. Hudson said...

There's always a certain element of people who think stealing is OK. I tend to keep my work private. Why spread the word around when you have (what you think) is a good idea?

I'm not that trusting, as I've been burned a few times with people taking credit for work I had done or suggested to them. (at a previous job)

Thanks for letting us know about this Katie!

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'm usually coy about my ideas etc, but I thought I was just being overly cautious when everyone else was sharing. I never realised people would actually steal ideas like that! Very scary.

Lydia Kang said...

I only share my pitches with my closest writing buddies, but still, this is SO shocking. What a nightmare!

Kristin Rae said...

This is unreal!! WOW. And to know this person will have a book out and will be making money off of an idea that wasn't even theirs. This breaks my heart.

I'm paranoid, naturally, so I'm careful with what I share online, and in choosing my critique partners and betas. I may even rush to take my blurb down from my blog... you can never be too careful when it comes to your unpublished work.

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