Publish date:

Do Literary Agents Steal Ideas? What About Editors and Publishers?

Do literary agents steal ideas? Do editors and publishers? Is there any way to protect yourself? Find the answers here.

Do literary agents steal ideas? Do editors and publishers? Is there any way to protect yourself? Find the answers here.

Over the years, few things have stayed the same in the writing and publishing business, but one constant is that there's always that one person at every writing event I attend who is extremely worried that agents, editors, and publishers will steal their ideas. In fact, that one person usually uses this possibility as a reason to avoid submitting their work at all.

Image placeholder title

(Should you copyright your writing before submitting to agents and editors?)

Since there's always at least one person who says something, I know it's a common worry for some writers. And that sets up a difficult situation, since most writers want to get published, which is usually done by submitting work to agents, editors, and publishers.

So let's look at whether writers need to worry about the possibility of their ideas being stolen by literary agents, editors, and publishers.

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

Image placeholder title

Click to continue.

Do Literary Agents Steal Ideas?

The quick answer to this question is no. I won't say it's impossible or that it hasn't been done, but I'm not aware of a specific case in the 20 years I've been in the publishing business. In that same time, there have been thousands upon thousands of original books published—many with the assistance of literary agents.

(20 literary agents actively looking for writers.)

What's more likely is that multiple writers have similar ideas. Let's say there are ten writers who write a novel about a school for witches and wizards. One gets published. Did that one author steal the other nine writers' ideas? Of course not.

In fact, a school for witches and wizards on its own isn't even the most original idea. Before the Harry Potter series, there were The Worst Witch series of books by Jill Murphy about Mildred Hubble. However, the Harry Potter books are so popular, because J.K. Rowling put a new spin on a familiar idea and executed her story to near perfection.

And that's the main idea about agents and editors stealing ideas. They don't need to steal ideas, because they see incredible ideas every day—even in projects they reject. What they desire are great ideas paired with magnificent execution.

A Final Thought on Stealing Ideas

Is it possible for someone to steal your incredible idea? Of course. But most writers find that doesn't happen until after they've been published and found success as authors. Then, everyone wants to write the next great magic novel, vampire romance, and/or YA dystopia.

(How to write a successful query letter—with 39 queries that worked.)

Spend less time worrying about idea theft and more time crafting a great novel or nonfiction book that will inspire a new trend in publishing. Because writers are more likely to become bestsellers than have their ideas stolen by a literary agent. That's not magic; it's just a reality.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 587

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an On Blank poem.

What to Say When Someone Wants to Kill You | Power of Words

What to Say When Someone Wants to Kill You

Author Gregory Galloway shares an intimate moment in his life that taught him the power of words and reveals why he became a writer.

Writing About Real People in Historical Fiction: What Is Factual and What Is Imagined

Writing About Real People in Historical Fiction: What Is Factual and What Is Imagined

When writing about real people in a real time, how do you distinguish between what is true and what is imaginary? Patti Callahan discuss how to write about real people in historical fiction.

the fisherman

The Fisherman

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, write about a fisherman.

Jenny Bayliss: On the Power of Second Chances

Jenny Bayliss: On the Power of Second Chances

Author Jenny Bayliss discusses the process of writing her new romance novel, A Season for Second Chances.

A Few Tips for Writing Personal Essays

A Few Tips for Writing Personal Essays

Here are a few tips for writing personal essays from the Publishing Insights column of the March/April 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Dispel vs. Expel (Grammar Rules)

Dispel vs. Expel (Grammar Rules)

Let's look at the differences between dispel and expel with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Laura Davis: On the Story That Begged To Be Told

Laura Davis: On the Story That Begged To Be Told

Author and writing instructor Laura Davis discusses the process of starting, stopping, and starting again with her new memoir, The Burning Light of Two Stars.

From Our Readers

Which Writer or Work Made You Think About Point of View in a Different Way and Why?: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers question: Which writer or work made you think about point of view in a different way and why? Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.