The number of writers I see on the internet who think people are out there to steal their ideas is staggering. I have had authors try and force me to sign NDA’s (for mediocre books) and contracts in big, bold print saying I’m not going to steal their ideas.
Reputable publishers and editors aren’t going to steal your idea. A publisher receiving a manuscript doesn’t mean they have rights to it nor would they try. At that point the manuscript is likely unpolished, so they will have to invest thousands of dollars of work and time into it in order to publish it. At that point, if they would have stolen it, the author would sue them and they would lose everything.
A publisher also wouldn’t steal your idea. They do not have stables of paid writers they keep on hand for this purpose; it would cost them thousands of dollars to have the manuscript written and then more thousands to have it edited and so on. It just wouldn’t make business sense.
While I can’t speak for the integrity of all editors out there, I can say that any halfway decent editor isn’t going to want to steal your idea or book. Chances are we have our own that we’ve been working on and polishing; why would we need to steal yours? And, the same as assuming a publisher is going to steal your manuscript, it would be nonsensical and disastrous. There’s no point to doing it.
Instead, if a publisher really likes your novel they will send you a contract that both parties sign, and everyone goes home happy. They can publish the book, you have your book published, and everyone succeeds. Even better, they will (hopefully) receive more books from you and make even more money for everyone involved.
I am not going to tell you idea theft doesn’t happen in the industry. However, the culprits are not likely to be business entities because they have too much to lose by engaging in such tactics. Even the most inept business owner would know that theft – and this would have to be blatant theft – is going to end poorly. A key principal in theft is the ability to sell or dispose of the “hot” item in a way that isn’t going to attract attention. Publishing it and trying to sell it would attract a lot of attention, violating this rule.
Think of it this way: If someone stole the Mona Lisa they would not put it up for sale on Amazon. The piece is far too recognizable and well known to be sold without being caught. “But I’m a nobody writer!” you say, and that may be true, but the same principal applies. You don’t sell stolen goods in public to thousands of people.
I hope this puts some of these fears to rest about whether or not an industry professional is going to hijack your idea and fly off to Mexico City with it. While there are some sharks out there, most of the don’t try and pull this kind of nonsense for the reasons I stated above.
Don’t believe me? Moira Allen, the editor for Writing-World.com has an article on the same topic: http://www.writing-world.com/rights/theft.shtml