Editing Anxieties: Will my editor steal my manuscript?
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Many writers, especially new writers, are concerned about theft, whether that’s theft of ideas or of entire manuscripts. It’s scary to share your work in the first place, and then you see all these terrifying stories in writers forums about how somebody’s editor stole their book and published it themselves and became a bestselling author with the stolen idea and on and on.
I’m not here to tell you this never happens. It does, as evidenced by these stories. However, this is extremely rare, and it should not stop you from seeking out professional editing, especially if you are planning to self-publish.
Let’s see if I can ease your mind a bit.
But first, a reality check:
Every profession has bad eggs.
There are quack doctors, predatory lawyers, and underhanded bookkeepers out there. But that doesn’t stop us from using these services when we need them. The best we can do is our due diligence when choosing a professional to work with, and then put our trust in that person to treat us right.
Good writing does not happen in a vacuum.
You must share your writing in order to improve your writing. As writers, we get so trapped in our stories that we lose the ability to see them clearly. So whether you work with critique partners, beta readers, or an editorial professional, you’re going to need somebody’s outside perspective before publishing.
Now that's out of the way, let's move along!
Stealing a manuscript is not profitable for an editor.
If you’ve been to my service page, you’ll have seen my rates. Even though I’m in the lower mid-range when it comes to editorial pricing, this pricing range still puts me at a comfortable five figures per year if I’m doing steady work. Very, very few books bring in the same amount of money I could make by editing in a year. And in the traditional publishing world, advances of this size are becoming less and less common.
In other words, an editor making around the same income as me would have to steal several books a year—undetected—to make the same kind of money they would by just editing. And these would have to be good books that would sell well. The editor would also have to put in the time to make the books pass without anyone realizing they were plagiarized, plus continue finding more editing clients to steal from. That’s way more work than just editing in the first place.
Plus a lot of editors charge significantly higher rates than I do, so even in this hypothetical situation, they’d still come out with less money than if they just worked to begin with. And if they got caught? Fines for copyright infringement are astronomical, not to mention the time and money spent on lawyers and going to court.
Stealing books is not a good way to make a quick buck.
Stealing a manuscript is too risky for an editor.
Editorial professionals rely on our reputations to bring in business. We get new clients primarily through word of mouth from the authors we’ve worked with in the past. It would only take one proven case of plagiarism to ruin our reputations, drying up our income streams forever. And that’s not just with independent author clients, but with publishers as well.
Plagiarism is taken very seriously in the publishing industry, so an editor would be risking their entire career by plagiarizing just one book. And not just an editing career, either, but a writing career as well. Would you buy a book from someone who has a history of plagiarism? Probably not. Neither do publishers.
Besides that, plagiarism is fairly easy to catch, especially in today’s digital world. There’s always one keen reader out there who will spot that two books are just a bit too similar, and all it takes is a quick Google search to confirm.
Stealing a book is not worth the risk to an editor’s current and future career.
If you’ve made it this far and you’re still worried that your editor will steal your book, here are a couple of things you can do:
Take your time when searching for your editor. Don’t just work with the first person with a slot open or whoever has the lowest price. Look for someone who you feel you can truly trust, whether that’s because of their credentials, testimonials, experience, or knowledge. If you have a bad gut feeling about them, then move on to the next. There's no shortage of fiction editors. (For some red flags to look for when searching for editors, check out this blog post.)
Make sure you have a contract with your editor, and that the contract mentions ownership of the manuscript and confidentiality. (In other words, the editor acknowledges that the manuscript belongs to you and promises not to share it without your permission.) This can be an actual contract or just spelled out in an email thread. As long as it’s written down and preserved, it counts.
Sharing your work is a leap of faith, whether you’re working with beta readers or an editor. It’s always a little bit risky to put yourself out there, and there’s always a chance that something bad could happen. However, it’s hard to improve without outside feedback, so if you’re serious about publishing your books, it’s worth your time to look for an editor you feel you can trust.
Do you have any anxieties about working with an editor? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll try to include them on the blog!