The Art of The Steal


There is absolutely nothing worse than striking upon the most brilliant idea, working it, honing it, shaping it, then opening Publisher's Marketplace or Variety and seeing your perfect idea, one that you've never even discussed with anyone, SOLD for a ton of money. 

It happens so often that you have to wonder if all artists' brains are wired together. I've had it happen many times. It happens to my friends. It happens to all of us. It's frustrating, and annoying, and demoralizing, especially when your concept is either done really, really well and makes millions, or it's butchered into pieces. Either way, your brilliant idea is done.

Or is it?



It's all in the treatment, that's what sets the seven stories apart. We're all so wildly different: different life experiences, different living arrangements, different parts of the country with different local news stories that capture our attention. While ideas may germinate and look similar on the surface, it's rare that they're actually stolen. It happens, though. Check out this story from my friend Doug Richardson, screenwriter extraordinaire. It's our nightmare.

There's another side to this problem. When you've pitched an idea, it doesn't sell, and then, a year later, someone comes out of the blue with an idea eerily similar to yours and it's snapped up.

Timing? Or stealing?

Hey, plagiarism happens, we see it in the news all the time. The stealing of concepts, though, that's a much more amorphous area. Do we own our ideas? Hollywood screenwriters register their concepts; we fiction writers don't have that mechanism in our world. We should. We really should. 

This is why new writers often refuse to submit, because they're afraid their idea will be stolen. I tell them again and again - that would never happen. Publishing is a place of integrity, they aren't in the business of stealing people's ideas and giving them to others.

And yet, and yet, and yet... a conversation overhead plants a seed, more conversations are had, and the next thing you know, a deal's been struck. It's just the way the world works.

Happily, since we are all so very different, an original concept will rarely, if ever, mimic your story. 

Think about it this way. Every house is built using the same tools - wood, nails, hammers - yet look at the variety of styles and colors and shapes. Story is similar. The basic premise might be there, but the finished product will vary wildly from page to page.

The best thing you can do when you have a brilliant idea is write it, and submit it. Keep it to yourself until you're ready to share. And if the unthinkable happens, and another writer scores a deal on a book that is so close to your own you're gnashing your teeth? Well, I'll leave that up to you, but there are always ways to get your sweet revenge.