Why You Shouldn't Worry about Creative Theft

Some writers live in fear of plagiarism. They worry they’ll put heart and soul into developing a book concept, and then some thief will come along and run away with it. For some writers, this fear is so powerful, they won’t even tell you what their book is about, much less let you actually read it.

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day (from Seanwes, hosted by creative entrepreneurs Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson). It was titled “Nailing Your Product Launch the First Time,” and they address this very topic. Sean recommends marketing your product (in our case, books) six months to a year ahead of release. Some authors would balk at this, thinking, “But if I tell people what I’m doing BEFORE the book is launched, someone could steal my idea and get the book out ahead of me!”

Yes, this would be terrible. Creative theft is real. Plagiarists are definitely out there.

But as Sean says in his podcast (and I paraphrase here): You shouldn’t worry about people stealing your work. You should worry about getting them to care at all.

I know. It’s harsh.

But the truth is, early on in your career as an author, no one cares about your book as much as you do. No matter how great your idea is, your prospective readers are overwhelmed and overstimulated; it takes consistent effort to be heard above the racket. That’s why your prospective readers need multiple marketing “touches.” It takes time to get people to even notice what you’re doing, and even more time to get them to understand it, be excited about it, and then be willing to lay down money for it. This has nothing to do with the quality of your book. It’s just the natural progression of the sales funnel:

So, the way this plays out in the mind of your prospective reader:

Awareness: "Oh, so-and-so published a book."

Interest: "Huh, that actually looks kinda interesting."

Desire: "Man, I really want to read that!"

Action: "Okay, I just bought it." (And then, of course, they read it cover-to-cover.)

Advocacy: "Oh my God, I need to tell everyone how awesome this book is!"

This funneling can take minutes, or it can take years. Think about yourself—I’m sure you’ve made a spontaneous purchase of something the moment you discovered it; and I’m sure you’ve circled around a purchase for months or even years before you bit the bullet and did it. It has little to do with the quality of the product and more to do with the buyer’s perceptions and decision-making process.

However, if you’re so fearful of having your idea stolen that you refuse to engage in any marketing or audience-building prior to publication, you’ll find yourself in the disappointing position of having your gorgeous book ready to go on publication day—aaaand . . . your prospective readers are totally unaware of it, or are just barely aware. Maybe they’ll eventually be ready to commit to buying and reading it, but . . . just not yet. This creates a disappointing mismatch: you’re excited (and probably exhausted) because it’s FINALLY publication day, and then your announcements are met with the sound of crickets. Nothing sinks an author’s motivation quicker than feeling like nobody cares about their work.

You’re in a Catch-22, my friends. If you keep your ideas close to your chest, they won’t be stolen. But at the same time, by keeping your ideas “safe,” you rob your readers of the opportunity to enjoy them.

Also, while you likely already know this, I think it bears repeating: an idea is not a book. You, me, and ten other people could write a book about the same idea, and yet the results would be wildly different. Your book isn’t just an idea. It’s the execution—the finished product that expresses your wholly unique, un-stealable perspective and voice.

[This post originally appeared at sheilaashdown.com.]


Sheila Ashdown is founder and managing editor at The Ne'er-Do-Well.