satire, fiction and humor, writing

How to Tell if an Editor is About to Steal Your Book

One of the most common questions I see new or aspiring writers ask is “How do I show my manuscript to an editor/publisher while also preventing them from stealing it?”

The conventional answer to this question–the one you’ll hear from most writers–is “Don’t be silly; no editor is going to steal your book.” To convince you their answer is realistic, these writers will cite all sorts of silly facts, like “A publisher that gets known for stealing manuscripts will never receive another submission” or “It would be far too easy for you to prove you actually wrote the book” or even “Editing pays far better than writing books does.”

But what if all those writers are just throwing you off the scent? What if they’re lying to you in order to cut down on the competition, so their own books can get stolen–I mean, sold–more efficiently?

Some editors, like mine, are the nicest people in the world. Some editors, also like mine, are dastardly supervillains just waiting for heroes like me to slip up so they can steal my book and pretend to have written it themselves, in my notebooks, in my handwriting, in my house three thousand miles from their office. *shakes fist* I’ll get you for this, Dr. Nick!

Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer the same fate. There are several “tells” that can clue you in as to whether the editor really wants to help you, or just wants to steal your book.

Image: Blog post title image with title, URL and stacks of books.

When you first talk to an editor, ask yourself the following questions. If the answers to one or more of these questions is “Yes,” don’t trust that editor!

  • When you ask to meet, does the editor turn down normal locations like coffee shops and insist on meeting someplace out of the way, like a Lair of Book Thievery?
  • Is the editor’s conversation filled with sinister puns and innuendo, like “I’d love to steal your manuscript, if you know what I mean”?
  • Does the editor wear a cape or twirl their mustache a lot?
  • Do they have a maniacal laugh?
  • Does the editor insist on calling you “Mr. Bond” even though you have repeatedly asked them to stop?
  • Instead of accepting your manuscript via email, cloud storage or thumb drive, does the editor insist on a convoluted scheme involving costumed henchmen and a large machine of mysterious origins and unfathomable purpose?
  • During negotiations, does your favorite author burst through the door and shout “Evil Editor, unhand that manuscript!”?
  • Does the editor ever say “Curses, foiled again!” or “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling bloggers explaining copyright law!”?
  • Did you find this editor on EditorsWhoDoDastardlyDeedsofManuscriptThievery.com?

If any of these red flags sound familiar, start looking for a new editor right away — preferably before your current editor brings out the Giant Book-Stealing Laser.


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Reasons Your Novel Manuscript Got Rejected by a Publisher (Even When You Got the Basics Right)

Your novel manuscript is formatted correctly. It doesn’t contain a single typo (okay, maybe one). It’s a coherent, interesting story that’s appropriate for the age range and interests of your intended audience. And you submitted it to a publisher or imprint based on detailed research that targeted this publisher/imprint as the ideal place for a book like yours. You even spelled the editor’s name right.

….And you’re still staring at a rejection.

Often, an editor who rejects an otherwise publishable and appropriate novel will tell you why they’ve kicked it to the curb. Whether or not you’re looking at this feedback, here are some “beyond the basics” reasons your novel may have been rejected:

rjection

1.  It’s too long (or too short).

Every genre has a conventional word count. This isn’t The Man trying to keep you down; it’s a function of (a) the audience’s expectations (and attention span), (b) the conventions of certain genres, and (c) printing costs.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix could be a YA novel and still clock in north of 250,000 words because, by the time it came out, the publisher knew that Harry Potter fans would read a novel of any length and pay just about anything to get it. If Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had been that long, it’d still be sitting in Rowling’s unheated flat: Sorcerer’s Stone contains about 76,000 words, a respectable length for a YA novel.

Know the conventions for novel lengths in your genre and stick to them – at least until you’re an international household name.

2. It’s too similar to another book that’s already on the market (which may or may not have come from this publisher).

About 350,000 books are published in the United States each year. While the Big Five account for most of those, scores of smaller presses put out books too – as do intrepid self-publishers.

Given that half of U.S. adults read fewer than five books a year, every book is broadly in competition with every other. The “real” competition, however, is between books in particular genres or on particular subjects – which means that small presses in particular are keenly aware of which books like your books have been published in the past five years, which are currently “frontlisted” in other publishers’ catalogs, and which are the subject of the most aggressive marketing campaigns.

Very few publishers will publish a book that is substantially similar to another book that’s already out there, whether or not they were the press to publish the first book. Marketing books is already a tough game: If your book is “just like [insert other book here],” that tough game becomes one neither you nor your publisher can win.

3. The book is great, but its author is a pill.

You don’t just need to find the right publisher. You also need to find the right editor.

If you’re going to harass your editor every other week about the status of your book, demand proprietary details as to the publishing process, or nitpick every detail of the contract, you need an editor with the patience to deal with that. Most editors do not have that patience.

It’s not always easy to know which questions are and are not reasonable to ask, especially if you’re new to book publishing. When in doubt, hedge the question: “I don’t know if this is a reasonable question, but….” Admitting your limits rather than demanding answers may (may) improve your editor’s patience, especially if you really are new to publishing.

Like your doctor, lawyer, or babysitter, your editor needs to be someone you can communicate with and trust. Pay attention to how your editor communicates. If you’re getting terse answers, no answers, or being told to sit down, your editor might be ready to cut you loose – or they might be so busy and/or bad at communicating that your best course of action is to choose another publisher.


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