Is It Safe To E-Mail Material?

This is a response to a recent post
(below) about copyright and
protecting your work.

Q: I am puzzled.  You state in your coverage of copyright that a writer should not put text of a manuscript online as it could lead to the lifting (paraphrasing here) of the material by another writer. These days, so many publishers and agents ask that writers do just that: send the first five pages or more in the body of an e-mail. This certainly can lead to this very thing, although I am not the suspicious type. It does happen, doesn’t it? Then why are writers asked to put their ideas in jeopardy of this is the case?
      – Sylvia

A: You sound suspicious for not being the suspicious type.
      Regarding my advice to not put portions of your work online, I’m not talking about e-mail.  I’m talking about placing chunks of text (chapters, usually) online on your Web site.  Sending your work in an e-mail, or as an attachment, to an agent or editor is quite safe.  Like I said before, agents and editors don’t steal work; writers steal work.
      Putting part of a novel or short story online for no one in particular to see is usually a mistake, because very little good can come from it.

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4 thoughts on “Is It Safe To E-Mail Material?

  1. Mary Ellen

    " Sending your work in an e-mail, or as an attachment, to an agent or editor is quite safe. Like I said before, agents and editors don’t steal work; writers steal work."

    Please don’t say editors don’t steal: Nova Science Press Managing Editor, Frank Columbus, makes a large percent of the company’s income stolen from the naive and struggling authors and illustrators of the Former Soviet Union. Like a vulture he asks for mss for consideration, working with his wife who is from the FSU, he then publishes it without contract, taking the copyright along the way.
    This happened to me. There is nothing one can do, as I understand. My dissertation work was stolen, copyrighted and not living in the US, we can do very very little about it.

  2. wendy

    What worries me is the email itself. My email was set up on Netscape (which got gobbled by AOL), and when I looked at the user agreement, it said something to the effect of ”anything transmitted through Netscape Mail becomes the property of Netscape.” So if I emailed the proverbial Great American Novel to my publisher, Netscape would own it lock, stock, and barrel. I don’t see this on AOL’s ToS, but I still wonder if something like it is hiding in the fine print somewhere.

  3. KF Zuzulo

    I appreciate the advice to be cautious because, unfortunately, you’re absolutely right — it’s the unscrupled writers who sometimes lift others’ work. However, I would say it’s necessary to post some part of your work (novel, short story) online these days to give people a glimpse of what the story is about. You have to market yourself. Amazon does just that. With internet placement of your work, people can’t lift the book off the shelf and thumb through it; they need to be able to do so virtually.
    I’ve posted the first several pages of my novel at my website so people can get a sense of the story and my writing. Caveat: COPYRIGHT your work. Used to be, writers were told not to copyright; wait for an agent to get a publisher to do it. No more. A writer shouldn’t wait that long. When you’ve finished the rewrite, copyright. Then post some of it. If you want people to read it, that is….


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