Writers should know that most editors wouldn’t even think of stealing your ideas for an article, but it has happened. An editor will receive a query from a freelancer, realize that it’s a great idea for a story, then reject the author’s query and assign the story to an in-house writer. Unfortunately, the theft of ideas isn’t illegal. If you are worried about a great story getting shifted to another writer, here are a few tips to protect yourself from editorial theft.
How to Protect Yourself from Editorial Theft: Check Editorial Policy
Some magazines and other publications have editorial theft policies which allow the editor to pay a freelancer a finder’s fee for an idea for a story, then assign the story to another writer. This is “Ethical Editorial Theft”, even though it seems to be cheating writers out of money. It might be a good idea to stay away from these types of publications, especially since a finder’s fee is usually around 10% of what you would be paid for the full article. If there aren’t any editorial policies listed, feel free to write the publication for a response.
How to Protect Yourself from Editorial Theft: Write Careful Queries
If you don’t give away enough information in a query letter for an editor to steal the idea, then you’re pretty safe when it comes to your career. You do need to tell the editor what your article is about and whether or not you have sources to quote, but you don’t need to disclose the names of the sources or go into great detail on your main points. This protects you from editorial theft and it also leaves the editor wanting to know more about your article, which can work in your favor.
How to Protect Yourself from Editorial Theft: Include a Confidentiality Clause
This might be considered a turn-off to prospective editors, but if you are concerned about protecting yourself from editorial theft, you can include a confidentiality clause in your query letter. Simple state something to the effect of, “Reading this query constitutes a agreement by both parties to nondisclosure of the information herein”. Although a clever editor can get around this clause for the purpose of defending him- or herself in court, it does afford you a reasonable expectation of confidentiality.
How to Protect Yourself from Editorial Theft: Head for the Competition
Just because one publication has told you that it will use your idea and assign it to another writer doesn’t mean you can’t sell your story to the publication’s competition. You can even give the competition a heads-up by saying in your query letter that another publication is going to run a similar story, but that they can run it first. This shows the original publication that you aren’t going to back down to their economical interests.
How to Protect Yourself from Editorial Theft: Use Word of Mouth
Other writers deserve to know about your experience with this publication, so go ahead and start talking about it. As long as everything you state is true (as you know it), you can’t be sued for libel and you’ll feel better about yourself for warning other writers. The more negative publicity the publication receives, the better off future generations of freelancers will be.