You are here:

Writing Books/Compilation Book

Advertisement


Question
I have a great idea based on compiling stories from others. I am going into this blindly though. I know that once I chose the stories I want in the book I should get a release from the person who submitted it. However, how do I prevent my idea from being stolen when I reach out to people (on the Internet) to submit their stories. I mean, I have to explain why I requesting the stories, and in my profession "a lot" of people might say "hey that's a good idea" and steal it....YIKES!  And once I put the book together and try getting it published what do I do to prevent the publishing company from stealing it.  I know I sound paranoid, but I am in a profession that in the past has gone crazy stealing my ideas.  What legal forms? Do I go to a lawyer? Or just compile the book and send it to publishing companies. Please help me to get started. I am very excited about my idea and can't wait to go out there and get my compilations.
Thanking you in advance!   Sandy

Answer
Hi, Sandra,

I saw your question in the pool and thought I'd try to help out. It sounds like you're wanting to do what's called a "themed anthology" which is pretty common in the industry (think of the "Chicken Soup for the...Soul" series.) I've been an author in several themed anothologies and attempted to become an editor of one. I decided not to because of what I learned. I thought I'd share with you what I know about it to see if you're still interested once you read on.

Basically, what you bring to the table is the "theme" or the basis for the stories you're going to ask other authors to participate in. Whether it's a time, place, setting, or unique twist, you're going to choose stories that meet the guidelines or "bible" that you give to the authors to follow. It might be you've created a reality and want the authors to participate in the world--but only on a one time basis. That's called a "closed world." Things like Star Trek, Worlds of Warcraft and Dexter are closed worlds. The creator owns the world, and the writers write inside it. "Open realities" are those where the creator of the world throws it open for any and all to write it without payment or recognition. The H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu reality is an open reality.

In order to work with authors in a closed world, you'll need to purchase the stories outright or the authors can later remove themselves from the anthology--even after it's published. If you purchase the stories, you'll own them and can do with them what you want, like purchasing a sofa or a car. You'll need to have a contract that sets out what rights you want (purchasing would be "all rights") and what is expected of the authors and what their participation and payment will be. Whether you offer a flat fee (usually it's around $100-250 per story) or a share in the royalties, you'll want it in writing and signed. In submitting it to a publisher, you'll be the contact point. You'll be the editor and be responsible for getting the authors to make the changes the publisher wants. You'll be in charge of handling the money and getting it to the authors. You'll also be responsible for tax reporting to your state and the federal government and sending out 1099s and the like (that's sort of what stopped me. I like to write--I don't want to be a publisher, with all the attendant paperwork.)

The other kind of anthology is where you sell the concept of the anthology to a publisher and the publisher's own team of editors works with the individual authors. But not many publishers will take on that pain. They'd probably only want to work with 3-4 authors in that case and probably on those who are industry professionals. This type of structure also takes the world out of your hands and puts it into the publisher's. The resulting theme might be sacrificed for the good of the sales and sometimes that's okay.

You'll find a home with a publisher easier if you enlist existing authors in the genre--known bestsellers who will bring their own readers to the table. Most authors like to participate in anthologies because it allows them to reach out to readers of other authors who may not have heard of them before. But you'll have to get to know the authors first. If you're not already a member of a writer organization in the genre of the stories, you should consider doing to and find out how the book industry works before you go much further.

Now, as for "stealing" that's a tricky thing because it's not possible to steal an idea under U.S. copyright law. The only thing that's protected is the written word on the page. So themes and concepts have no protection. Fortunately, most people also don't want them. It's been said that ideas are a dime a dozen, it's what you do with the ideas that makes a profit.  Stephen King once told someone who asked him why he wrote what he did, that [paraphrasing here] if you took him, Louis L'Amour, Danielle Steele, and Agatha Christie and gave them all a setting near a lake in an open field and told them to write a story, Louis L'Amour would write about water rights and a range war, Danielle Steele would create a picnic near the shore and an emotional scene, while Agatha Christie would have a dead body in the water and detectives trying to solve the crime. Stephen King said he would create something dark and dreadful living under the water that rises to kill the feuding cowboys, the lovers and the detectives. It's just how he thinks. Same idea, different interpretations. See how it can work?

You'll want to read up on copyright regulations and there's a particularly good section of the U.S. Copyright website just for that. http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq is the link.

As for whether to get a lawyer, my answer is yes. Absolutely. You'll at least need the contract drawn up (and you'll need an entertainment or intellectual property lawyer for that). The release language will be in the contract. And you might want to organize a company to handle the negotiations with the publisher. That way you limit the liability to yourself as the organizer.

Hope that helps and good luck!  Feel free to ask any other questions you might have.

Cathy

Writing Books

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Cathy Clamp

Expertise

I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.

Experience

I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Organizations
Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Publications
Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

Education/Credentials
My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.