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 Putting the little © symbol on an unpublished manuscript contributes nothing to the security of your legal rights; it just makes you seem a bit paranoid.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 and acquiring editors as well as independent content and copy 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.

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’ll be missing out on valuable feedback—and of course the ideas themselves aren’t copyright anyway. If you seem reluctant to allow an agent or acquiring editor to look over your work, with so many other authors clamoring for attention, why wouldn’t they simply toss your manuscript aside and move to the next submission?

I know it can be hard to come to grips with the idea that someone wouldn’t be tempted to steal your work. But editors and other book professionals are just that—professionals. If they wanted to do something illegal with your manuscript, they would risk collapsing their reputations and facing legal consequences. Still worried? Read more about idea theft.

A time for trust

Holding your manuscript too close to the vest will handicap your efforts to hire an editor to edit your book. 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 comb 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 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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