Should you send your whole manuscript to a prospective editor?

You just clicked Save on your manuscript file in preparation for sending it off for a sample edit. The thing is, the prospective editor has asked you to send the entire manuscript. All you need is a tiny sample edit. Why would an editor ask to see your whole manuscript? Could this unknown editor be planning to steal your idea?

Some authors try to circumvent these anxieties by stamping copyright notices all over their manuscripts or demanding NDA clauses and confidentiality agreements for even opening the files. There are plenty of things to stress over in relation to getting your work published, but this isn’t one of them. There’s no need to be hypervigilant. Here’s why this sort of zealousness is unnecessary:

  1. Your creative work is automatically copyrighted the moment you commit it to print. That’s the way the law works. Putting the little © symbol on an unpublished manuscript contributes nothing to the security of your legal rights; it just makes you seem a bit paranoid.
  2. While your particular interpretation and execution of your book is legally yours and yours alone, the idea itself cannot be copyrighted. It’s your interpretation of the idea that’s copyright—and as point #1 notes, you’re already covered.

They’ve seen it all

Padlock_248Publishers, acquiring editors, and independent book editors see a constant influx of ideas and stories every single day of their working lives. It’s safe to say they’ve probably seen multiples of stories very similar to yours. Reputable professionals have few reasons to steal your work and many reasons to remain honest.  If they did something illegal with your manuscript, they’d risk collapsing their reputations and facing legal consequences.

Meanwhile, your reluctance to let others see your work may be sabotaging your own progress. If you refuse to workshop or critique your book in case other authors are tempted to steal your ideas, you’re missing out on valuable feedback. The ideas themselves aren’t copyright, anyway; copyright’s about the execution of a project, not the concept.

Playing it too close the vest could cost you a publishing deal if you seem difficult to represent or publish. With so many other authors clamoring for attention, why wouldn’t an agent or acquiring editor simply toss your manuscript aside and move on to the next submission?

It can be hard to come to grips with the idea that nobody’s very interested in stealing your work. If you’re still worried, read more about idea theft.

A time for trust

Forcing prospective editors to quote your project without a good look at the material will handicap your efforts to hire a qualified editor. You might get some bites from editors who are desperate for work, but are those really the editors you want to hire?

When an editor asks you to send your entire manuscript for review, understand that they plan to flip through the entire thing.

In order to evaluate what sort of editing your book might need, an editor needs to be able to look for its strengths and weaknesses from beginning to end. What good is seeing that hilarious passage of dialogue between the protagonist and her romantic interest if your editor can’t see that the rest of the book has no narrative spine to speak of? If you’re only willing to part with a thousand treasured words, your editor has no chance to see what kind of attention the rest of your book might need—and you’re left with no sense of how your prospective editor might handle those needs.

When an editor asks you to send your entire manuscript for review, understand that they plan to flip through the entire thing. They’re looking for energetic beginnings and rousing conclusions. They’re searching for energetic middles that don’t collapse in a mushy mess. They’re staking out persistent problems like clunky dialogue, head-hopping that latches onto the accelerating pace toward the climax, and narrative arcs that amble past key turning points with nary a conflict in sight.

If you ask an editor to evaluate what sort of work your manuscript needs but prevent them from seeing the full scope of your work, you’re putting both sides at a significant disadvantage. When that happens, you might get a quote for $800 and an editing date next month, only to find out a few days into the edit that it actually needs $3,000+ of editing plus extensive author revisions and it no longer fits into the editor’s schedule. That kind of surprise isn’t the editor’s fault; that’s on you.

When your book is ready for editing, it’s time to relinquish your hold on your creative effort and take the first steps toward sending it out into the world. That first step can and most certainly should start with your editor. We’re here to help.


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