Thursday, April 7, 2011

To Share, or Not To Share

You've spent not only hours, but months, possibly years, perfecting your manuscript to the point you deem it ready to approach agents, and/or publishing houses directly.  But before you do, as writers we face the issue of whether to share our work with others, or hold onto it tightly.

Of course, as the saying iron by iron is sharpened, there are benefits to sharing your work with fellow writers.  If they're experienced, and serious about the craft, they know what the industry is looking for more than necessarily an average reader.

This isn't going to be a discussion on the importance of beta readers, or critique partners.  Nor is this post going to be cautionary tale that reminds you to know these people well before you forward your work.  In this post, I want to focus on a couple other areas.

Online
How much of your work do you share online?  I mean, obviously, this varies from author to author.  Remember this, though, everything you put online has the potential to be seen by the world.  Dramatic statement?  Possibly.  But are you willing to take a chance with what you've worked so hard to create - the complex plot line, the unique characters?  I know I'm not.  That's why on my Novels page of this blog, I only share the titles and genre of my books.

Maybe you think I've over-analyzed this, or taken the issue to an extreme?  I don't think so.  Well, it may be that plagiarism is rare, it still happens.  Another thing to always remember, you can't copyright an idea.  Ideas are everywhere and can't be pinned down.  It's how the idea is put to work that makes a book.

You might say isn't my work copyright protected the moment I write it?  Now, this is true, but still, think of it this way, what would you do if you found out someone took your work?  Maybe it isn't even all of it, big chunks of it, but maybe just a few sentences.   What are you going to do about it?  Dwell on that question.

Can you prove you wrote that before they did?  Do you have enough money (and time) to pursue the matter legally?  Do you even know the person's true identity in order to hunt them down for legal charges?

In my opinion, it is better to be cautious than have regrets.

Readers
As writers, we need readers.  Some of us may be very private when it comes to our work, but I believe most of us want someone to read it, to take part in the world we've created, and meet the characters we've worked hard to development.  I mean, if we didn't want readers, we'd be writing for our closet and the dust bunnies.

Personally, I have less than a hand-full of people who I entrust with my finished work.  But, I didn't get to this the easy way.  With my first novel, Life Sentence, I probably had about ten people read it.  Fortunately for me, nothing unfortunate came of this (that I know of).  However, with my next novel Ties that Bind, I got a little burnt.

Where I work, we have people who work in production, and people who work in the office.  Myself, I'm from the office.  Now, I lent a guy from production a copy of Life Sentence and Ties that Bind to read (one at a time), and I let him take it to his mother, and wife, giving them permission to read it.  This situation resulted in me going to his house to get my copy of Ties that Bind back.  He "kept forgetting" to bring it in.  Now, I don't believe he intentions of stealing it, but it is my book, and I have the right to know where it is.

But there was a time, I wasn't so fortunate.  And man, did that suck.  It still ticks me off to this day, not that there's anything I can really do about it.  Another guy from production had heard rave reviews from the first one.  He seemed like a respectable person, and heck, he approached me eager to read it.  Sigh.  I was naive.

I lent him a copy.  He started the book, and was excited about the main character - off to a good start - too bad that's where it ended.  He lost the copy of the book I gave him.  Maybe you're feeling for me?  I was deeply effected by this, hurt that someone could be so careless, especially when I had entrusted them with my hard work.  Now, do I think he stole it, or has intentions to?  I don't believe so.  A lot of work, and dedication goes into refining a novel - non-writers wouldn't know the first thing to do.  However, this leads me to the next issue with this.

Do you know where it goes from them?  What's to say the person you lend your novel to isn't sharing it with other people - strangers to you?  And it doesn't even have to be them literally passing your book on.

I'll give you an example here.  My mother-in-law reads my novels, and she was reading Life Sentence at the time.  Her maid found it, and started reading it.  If it wasn't for the confession on the part of the woman, my mother-in-law might not have even known.  And, although I take the fact, the maid stayed at her house, and read the entire book in a few hours, an extreme ego-booster, it still emphasizes the point.   Once your work is out of your hands, you lose control over it.

Point of this?  Not only trust those you allow to read your work, know them well.