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Writing Books/Idea Protection


Good Day Susan-

I'm currently working on a unique non-fiction reference book.  I plan on querying various publishers and/or agents with a letter outlining the idea and what the contents would include.  My question to you is, how do I protect myself from having my idea stolen?  What measures can I take?  Thank you in advance for your time.  I will appreciate any help you can offer me. Have a wonderful weekend!

**What a strange coincidence- MY name is also Susan Rand-HONEST! I had to do a double-take when I saw your name. I think I may be just a bit younger than you though. I was born in '61 and it seems you sold your first book in '57.  


Hi Susie:

So we share the same name, that's wonderful. I wonder if you are related to my late husband. I am 68 years old.

All creative works are protected by copyright law, the minute you put them in "tangible" form. In other words, in a form that is moveable - even on a computer, for that can be moved, too. But if your computer goes down and you can no longer access the work, I believe (I am not a lawyer) that the copyright protection would end. So it's always best to backup your work to a floppy, and print it out and put it somewhere safe.

Generally, "ideas" can't be copyrighted, because the world is full of ideas floating around everywhere. Anyone can grab one whenever they want. Someone once came up with the idea for a dictionary, and look how many we have now. However, if you copied Webster's and tried to sell it under your own name, I believe that would be copyright infringement, and you can be assured you would be quickly contacted by the owner of the copyright. On the other hand, if you decided to produce a dictionary of your own (like Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary,") it would no doubt be different from any other dictionary, and thus copyright-available.

Non-fiction books are generally sold via a book proposal, which is a complex document designed to prove to the publisher that they can make money off your book. Before you start shipping your idea around, I would suggest you check to see if any other book like yours is currently in print, and what a book proposal consists of. Few publishers will consider a unfinished book by an unknown writer. They no longer accept manuscripts "over the transom," either, which means you must find an agent. Many agents will require that you at least have a first draft completed.

Go ahead and write your book without querying anyone. When you have something completed, that's the time to query agents.

I hope this has helped. If it has, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 1300+ questions.

And good luck with your writing!

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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