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Hi,

A friend and I came up with (what I think is) a great book idea. It's a collection of personal stories on a certain topic. I'm just not sure how we can protect the idea from being stolen.. and also the legalities of collecting and publishing stories from people around North America. Would we have to pay them? or have them sign something? Would a lawyer be able to draw something like that up for us?

Thank for your time/help.
Sadiya

Answer
Dear Sadiya,
Thank you for your questions. When you collect stories from people, it would be a good idea to get them to sign a release. It could say something like, "I [name] give permission to [author's name] to use my story for a forthcoming book." [signature, date]
You can have an attorney draft it up, or you could probably find a legal form letter online or in a book. Check with the writers' organizations.
Do your best to present each person's story as they tell it and pay attention to the facts and spirit of the story. That is the most important legal precaution you can take. You probably don't have to pay anyone, since most people love to tell their stories and see their stories in print. Also, don't invest a lot of money in the book because in general books don't earn a lot of money. The main reason to write a book is to open doors for you.
Also, I encourage you to do a thorough literature review to see what similar books are already out there. To attract a good publisher, your book has to offer something new that hasn't been done before.
At my site I have posted an article on how to find a publisher.
http://steamboats.com/writing.html
re. protecting your idea. One way to do it is to write out your idea and mail it to yourself. Then keep the envelope unopened. If there's any question later on, you can show the envelope as proof of when you got the idea. You can also give the envelope to an attorney to hold. Another way to do it is to join a writer's group and register your idea with them.
However, in general, nobody will steal your idea, as long as you only show it to legitimate agents and publishers who welcome unsolicited inquiries. It's easier for them to buy your book than to go out and reinvent the wheel (and risk being sued).
I hope this helps,
Sincerely,
Nori

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