What if Someone Steals Your Idea?

top secretI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

Last week I wrote about two ways your work can be used without your permission: plagiarism and piracy. But questions have come up about another kind of problem that worries writers:

What if someone steals your idea, and writes a book on the same topic as you?

Angela Mills wrote:

I’m finishing up my first novel and I feel it’s a pretty timely, unique idea. I have scoured Christian fiction bookstores and catalogs and haven’t found any book with this kind of plot/setting. Should I keep the idea to myself until I find an agent and get it sold? I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to talk about what I’m writing anyway, but I’m trying to figure out how to answer when other writers ask what my book is about. 

The best way to deal with this particular situation is simply to be vague when discussing your book. Don’t give details about your plot or subject matter. “It’s a romance set against the backdrop of a modern day reality show,” or “It’s a story about life in Auschwitz during World War II.”

The bigger question on many writers’ minds seems to be, what if other authors are writing books on the same idea as mine?

My philosophy has always been that you can give 100 writers the same book idea, and you’d end up with 100 different books. While there are some really great ideas out there, and some ideas are better than others, the execution is what matters and determines whether readers enjoy the book. The “same idea” isn’t going to result in the “same book.” Additionally, many readers don’t mind reading multiple books with similar ideas, and may even seek them out. So it’s usually not a problem.

→ Click HERE to get to Books & Such to read the post, in which we touch on the collective consciousness and questionable disclaimers on publisher websites.



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  • Chapin Garner

    I realize this might be a controversial comment, but I want to make it all the same. I am a Christian preacher and writer and I also teach preaching at a university in Boston. My instruction to my students is always to refrain from taking the ideas of others. If you use another person’s ideas, reference them. Frankly, preachers or writers who steal ideas are missing out on the wonderfully generative work that arising from that task of writing. HOWEVER, as a person of faith myself, I have deep questions about the nature of ideas. Where do they come from? In my tradition [I apologize for preaching a bit], we believe that the Holy Spirit is an important actor in the creative process. Therefore, I never feel I can claim full credit for ideas I put down on paper or speak from the pulpit…they just don’t feel like they are fully mine. When I have seen or heard someone using ideas I suspect they first heard or read from me…I view it as the Holy Spirit re-gifting those thoughts through another person’s voice. Again, I apologize for overly spiritualizing this important question…but as a writer and preacher I am very reluctant to take credit for the ideas I share with the world.

  • Angela Brackeen

    I appreciate Chapin Garner’s comment, I also think that knowledge and insight flows through us onto the page, and it’s difficult to say where an idea came from when that happens. I also believe “that the Holy Spirit is an important actor in the creative process.” We can even read our own writing at those times and think, “Did I write that?” I agree with you too, Rachelle, that writers will generate
    a different product even if they start with the same idea. It can be
    worry-producing to think of another writer taking one’s idea, and I have worried about that myself, but I do believe
    that, if the idea came from a deeply creative place in the original author’s
    heart and mind, no one could develop the story in the same way or follow the themes
    through in the same way. I suppose it would help for an author to begin with a “high
    concept” idea and keep it close!

  • Gwen Tolios

    In a similar manner, I’ve always wondered about prompts. Taking an idea from a blog hop or podcast or workshop, writing a story you love thanks to it, and then trying to publish it. But I suppose it would be the same thing, difference in execution that makes a work unique and individualized, that wouldn’t make the where the idea came from matter as much.

  • Joye Johnson

    Reminds me of two TV shows that came out in the early 90′s – Ferris Bueller and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. Ferris was based on the movie, of course. Parker Lewis was a similar idea – smart aleck high school student puts one over on the principal.

    Ferris was canceled before it got halfway through season 1, but Parker Lewis stayed on for 3 seasons. I watched both, and Parker Lewis was much funnier and made the characters 3-dimensional. Since there are only so many ideas out there, it’s more about having faith in your ‘take’. Several authors around a similar idea can be helpful media buzz. Your story will inevitably go in a unique direction because you’re writing from your unique perspective.

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