They're Going to Steal Your Idea!

Updated: May 19

Is this line secure? Am I posting on an encrypted feed? Are you wearing a wire?!

Safeguarding your precious little idea is important as a rule of best practices, but sometimes authors, mainly first timers such as myself, can take it too far. I may or may not be wearing a mask and typing in gloves in case someone dusts for fingerprints. Protecting your intellectual property is a difficult task, a job that creators go to great lengths to ensure its success. Writing in panic rooms is the eventual next step after changing your email account passwords every five minutes, but at some point, we (I) must ask ourselves (myself) the burning question—


Who is trying to steal from me anyway?


What makes my concept for a story so unique and valuable that I must go to the extreme of hollowing out a tooth to keep an emergency cyanide pill in? Simply put, the answer is that it is mine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with believing in your work, but let’s be  real—getting published, finding a literary agent, promotion, and authoring at any level is a highly competitive field with an overabundance of products already cramming up both physical and virtual bookshelves alike. Besides, everything has already been done before. Literally, or I assume literally. Take my idea for example:

Ha! Nice try! You think I’d give it up so easily?! Okay, seriously, my novel is about a teenage boy who discovers he has superpowers. Consider the  wheel reinvented, right? My take and execution are what I’m banking on for anyone (literally) to consider it interesting enough to give it a download or a good skimming. So, if the overall genre or premise is something common, why do I still feel so apprehensive about sharing  even the slightest bit of additional information about it?

Such secrecy and subterfuge are pretty embarrassing, to be honest. Hiding even the smallest details of a character whiffs of rookie writer stank. I don’t pretend to be a pro, and this blog is meant for transparency, so I have no problems sharing this trepidation. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to feel comfortable in displaying so much as a logline just yet, though. Theft happens still, right?


In my time as a stand-up comedian (more like open miker; transparency, honesty, etc.), I would rarely post a joke online with the intention of it being something I’d perform on stage. This doesn’t mean that me or any other comic wouldn’t test the social media waters to gauge a bit’s reaction. Sometimes a humorous status update would receive a surprising amount of praise to the point where you get the confidence to test it in the field. Typically, though, stand-ups will post something they thought was funny for no other reason than they thought it was funny. Every comedian is a little different but withholding stage jokes is a widespread commonality.


It’s the same basic philosophy for writing—it’s your product you want to sell in one way or another therefore it’s illogical to give it away for free (assuming it’s something of value in the first place). Hubris aside, that’s a reasonable outlook. The question remains - how do you prevent piracy paranoia? Disclaimer: I freely admit to not being an expert on anything so if you follow any of my advice and some other jerk makes a mint off your idea that they stole from you then… my bad?

1) Don’t post anything. The simplest answer is often the best one, but you’re probably like me and a right pest when it comes to your desire to promote yourself. 2) Tease me, please me: Snippets and samples make sense. Tiny morsels, presumably in the form of a quotation, ought to be okay. 3) Social media campaigns – this can mean paid advertising or a hashtag promotion thing. Excerpts would be posted, but I got to think what you really want is a quote from a satisfied reader. Something like, “A novel so good I only checked my phone a little bit of the time while reading it.” 4) Word of mouth recommendation. All of these options kind of blend together but convincing your friends and family to chase the proverbial pavement for you is a feather in the cap of any DIYer, mainly because you, well, didn’t have to do anything yourself.

The real solution to cryptic promotion? Quit. Yep, don’t make any attempts; don’t try.

Fine, that’s a terrible tip, but I’m frustrated. I don’t know how to shout my idea from the rooftops when I won’t so much as climb the stairs to get to said roof. No ladder, no elevator, just a hushed, tepid request to a trustworthy colleague.


But who does this confidant know? Who have they told? I’m maybe two seconds away from writing my manuscript in a secret code that only I understand. My only hope is that centuries from now, after a few apocalyptic world wars, my manuscript is discovered under the rubble of what was once a Starbucks and scholars decipher it and develop a new religion. It’s every writer’s dream.


I wanted to suggest more answers to the anti-theft conundrum, but I’m afraid that even the most obvious solutions have eluded me. And it’s probably extremely obvious, but, hey, debut author here, so I’m admitting I don’t know squat. What would you do? Tell me so I can steal your idea!

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© 2020  Jon McBrine​​​

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