If you are a writer, then what you write belongs to you as your intellectual property. Be careful of critique groups and the people with whom you share your work. You must have an iron-clad agreement that your work is your work, and no one else is allowed to use it.
This is a sad story.
I had a writer friend, sort of a mentor in the beginning, with whom I shared everything. We belonged to two critique groups together, and we also carpooled everywhere together. She was older than me by two decades, and she was already a well-established writer when I broke into being published.
Fast forward a few years. During a dry period for her, she commandeered one of my manuscripts and made it her own. I never would’ve known except that she had given me the name of her editor at a trade publishing house on the East Coast. I sent my story to this editor and received a scathing letter in return.
The editor accused me of stealing my friend’s work, about traveling insects that saw the world. I called mine Travel Bugs. Get it? I had read the manuscript out loud the month before at one of our critique group meetings.
As it turns out, my friend, who had attended that meeting, lifted some of my rhymes from the children’s book manuscript and dropped them into her story (we both wrote in rhyme). The only proof I had of this was the accusatory letter from her editor.
I was mortified. The woman who acted as a best friend to me stole my IP. It turned my world upside-down. I grew up in a confrontational childhood and became a conflict-averse adult (another blog post). I did not call out my friend.
Instead, I wrote back to the East Coast editor, explaining that I had stolen nothing, and how the other author (my friend) had attended the meeting where I read my story out loud. I also stated that I had never seen or heard my friend’s story. I wanted to set the record straight and let the chips fall where they may.
It never occurred to me that I was ending my friend’s publishing days with that particular imprint. It didn’t matter. I was new to the business and needed to prove that I was a legitimate author, not a thief.
The editor did not write back to me. I have since sold twenty-nine manuscripts to other East Coast houses. I have never sold anything to that particular editor because I never submitted anything to her ever again.
As far as I know, the friend never sold anything to her, ever again. She lost the editor’s trust when she pilfered a few of my lines.
Was it worth it? I don’t think so.
I have told no one, until now.
Sadly, many authors have this same story. Be careful who you trust with your unpublished manuscripts. If you make copies to share, number them and make sure you get them all back at the end of the meeting. Don’t let anyone take home a copy to think about.
Don’t fall for that.