Debunking the myth of stolen book ideas

I recently had the honor of speaking at three different libraries for the First Pages series, made possible by Hennepin County Library and The Loft. This privilege was also a great opportunity to meet writers in one of my favorite environments – the library.

A question that popped up during two of the Q&A sessions regarded the possible theft of one’s book idea(s) during the agent and editor query process. After assuring the patrons that none of us (in publishing) operate under the premises of stealing a person’s book idea, I did come to realize why some individuals worry about such a thing.

Social media has become advantageous to a writer’s publicity and success, and this transparency can sometimes be intimidating. Worries of sharing “too much” of one’s idea and the possible repercussions of individuals stealing one’s book idea are definitely unsettling. However, no writer should work and worry under such a myth.

The Truth: Publishers, editors and agents running a legitimate publishing company have no desire to steal a writer’s book idea, For one thing, it’s a bad business practice on any level. For another, why would we want to risk putting ourselves in the illegal activity of copyright infringement?


Reason #1, TIME IS SHORT – For Red Sofa, it takes three of us to answer all the incoming queries. We’re talking about basic responses. Answering book queries is a major time investment. Even if a publishing entity (publisher, agent or editor) wanted to be dishonest and steal an author’s idea, it would a huge investment of non-existent time. In short, we’re already busy trying to do our jobs correctly and honestly.


Reason #2, MANY FOLKS HAVE SIMILAR IDEAS (no joke) – Ever heard of the book EAT, PRAY, LOVE? If you were an agent/editor after the popularity of that book (and the release of the movie), there were innumerable queries about others’ experiences of a similar nature. This also happened with THE DAVINCI CODE and TWILIGHT. The world was witness to the hassles JK Rowling faced with HARRY POTTER. With social media, better outlets for communication and more opportunities to put books into the hands of readers, it’s expected to see similar ideas written by different writers at the same time.

Are any of these folks stealing the others’ ideas? No. It’s just a sign of the times; some ideas will occur simultaneously to many folks in locations all over the world. Here’s where it’s up to YOU, the writer, to fine-tune your writing voice, to find your niche, to make your book the best that it can be. This is the only way it will stand out better with editors/agents vs. blending in like a repeat of another book idea.


Reason #3, IT’S EXPENSIVE TO STEAL SOMEONE’S BOOK IDEA – Imagine being a publisher in today’s economic climate. Ensuring a book is profitable is absolutely essential. Each book that gets published will hopefully result in more books getting published. The goal is that the demand for books grows, no matter the format.

Now step back and consider what would happen if publishers, editors or agents regularly stole book ideas. We’d be tied up in the courts, spending time and money that could be better streamlined into new books. Our current authors would be unable to focus on their writing, and most importantly we’d all be unable to focus on new books. Who wants to operate on that type of business model? I know I don’t. And legitimate publishing entities feel the same way.


Stealing a book idea is reprehensible. Please keep in mind that all of us in publishing know this is a group effort; that it’s better to be unified in the continued future of books and publishing vs. participating in the theft of one’s creative work. Never forget, the primary reason for writing (and working) in this industry is our love of books.

What has your experience been? And how have you faced this concern with your book’s publishing path?

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  1. Phil Dwyer on May 2, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Good post. I know a lot of people worry about this. My wife once tried to stop me dumping the 3rd draft of my novel in the recycling bins in our condo, because she was worried someone would steal it. Knowing how much work needed still to be done on it I told her: “Good luck to them. If they can revise it and get it published they deserve it.” I might feel differently about the 14th draft, which is much more polished, and much closer to publishable, but I’ve never worried a book or a book idea (especially not when it’s fiction) will be stolen. There are a million great ideas swirling around out there, but with fiction it’s all in the execution.

  2. Tizzy on May 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I’m so glad I found your article, because I just encountered the opposite end of the issue you stated in #2. Namely, I’ve been working on (what felt like) an absolutely original story for several months.

    I mentally fine tuned ideas, and I outlined the plot weeks before I actually wrote anything. (I’m sure you can guess what’s coming). Well… I just began reading a series and I found FAR too many similarities between my story and those books! Weirdly, I never knew anything about that series until very recently.

    The most depressing thing is that a few of my key concepts are almost identical to the other author’s. I’m baffled. It’s like writing a song and then hearing a close copy of it on the radio months later…

  3. Jessica on December 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    So who do you contact when you know your idea was stolen? If the attorneys say Too bad So sad, then what’s next? Can anything be done?

    • redsofaliterary on December 18, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      I haven’t had to deal with this myself, but I do know that many similar book ideas come via query. Ex: I’ve already received three ideas that were almost identical one of my current client’s book ideas in the last month. Sometimes similar ideas occur, esp. in today’s highly communicative world – and if another book’s a blatant replication of another (chapter for chapter, and almost word for word), a lawyer should be able to see that – and handle accordingly.

      • Jessica on December 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

        Our problem is that the books are now a TV series that mirrors the story, characters, plot, even uses the title as the one of the episode titles. Lawyers say we’d have to spend half a million dollars just to take it to court and it could take 5-10 years. The producers knew this so they took the idea and ran. I really wish there was an attorney that would be willing to work on commission. Alas…

        • redsofaliterary on December 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm

          Wow. That’s a big decision. So was it a TV producer who took the idea? And has the series been successful?

          • Jessica on December 22, 2012 at 2:26 am

            Yes the series has been successful. I’m not sure if it was a producer that took the idea from the books.