10 Expert Tips To Protect Your Unpublished Drafts From Thieves

Believe it or not, this is a very common worry with authors regardless of whether it’s their first time writing a book or whether they are veteran writers.

The truth of the matter is that there are so many nefarious characters out there in the world and as an author, you have every right to be worried about how to share your drafts and prevent them from being stolen.

Doing what you can to keep your work safe is very important because it can be very painful to find out your work has been stolen and even worse, published under another name. 

So in this post, I have listed 10 very effective ways you can protect your draft from being stolen before it is published. 

1. Research and choose trusted beta readers and editors with a proven track record

To make sure your work is the best it can be, you may need to work with beta readers and editors and it’s totally understandable if you are worried that they might steal your work.

Now, the thing is that a beta reader or an editor would probably not steal your work and that’s because businesses like ours are built on mutual trust and referrals so it’s highly unlikely that any person would want to jeopardise their entire business on one score.

To be frank, though, some thieves masquerade as beta readers and once your manuscript gets into their hands, they can do all kinds of things with it so you want to be able to make sure you are working with a reputable beta reader or editor.

Top of the top ways you can make sure you’re working with an actual legitimate editor or beta reader is to ask for their referrals, testimonials, social media accounts, and an email address. 

Even better if any potential editor is officially subscribed to an international editor association or a freelancer network where you can see proven work history. 

2. Sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) before sharing your manuscript

A non-disclosure agreement is a legal document that restricts the unauthorised distribution of your manuscript or any document that comes from your end by any receiver.

When you sign a non-disclosure agreement with your editor or your beta reader, you are essentially binding and legally restricting them from sharing that manuscript in any format.

The thing is that laws differ from state to state, but generally, copyright is conferred the moment a creative work comes into existence.

As such, even if you haven’t actually registered or filed for copyright over the manuscript, you are regarded in law as the owner who has exclusive rights over it and thus you can be protected no matter what comes up.

I usually send a standard form non-disclosure agreement to authors I work with so that they know that they can trust me because I would never share an author’s manuscript without their permission and you can get your copy here – Remember that you still need to edit it to fit the particulars of your contract with your editor or your beta reader.

3. Provide limited access by sending only portions of your manuscript at a time

This is another way you can protect your manuscript when working with a second party but remember that it is up to you and your editor or your beta reader.

Personally, I’d rather not receive a manuscript on a chapter-by-chapter basis because I don’t read that way. When I work, I like to go back and reference and all that so it could become a little tiresome if I have to reach out time and time again. 

But as I said, it all boils down to your agreement with your beta reader. So, remember to ask them if this is okay with them and perhaps share your concerns and I’m sure you will be able to work out something that serves the both of you. 

4. Watermark your manuscript with your name or copyright information and encrypt it, if possible 

You can also protect your manuscript from being stolen by adding your copyright information in the front matter so that any potentially nefarious character knows that they could be liable on both civil and criminal grounds if they go ahead and steal your manuscript.

You could do this by putting a large emblem or your name on every page of the manuscript or perhaps in the header or even by hiding codes in the text itself that restrict anybody from being able to copy or lift blocks of text from the manuscript. 

I once had an author share a manuscript which I could only access by typing in a password and I feel that this is a genius way of protecting your manuscript especially if you will be posting links to the actual documents online. 

And as with anything that has a password you want to make sure that you change this password from time to time to prevent any hackers from gaining access to your documents. 

Related: Top 40+ Essential Questions For Beta Readers About Character Development In A Story

5. Keep track of who has access to your manuscript and when it was shared

This is a no-brainer and really it should be obvious to many, but authors, in their rush to get as many eyes on their manuscript as possible, often distribute it to several people at the same time so tracking down the source of any illegal distribution might be a hassle.

My advice on this end is that you limit distribution to at most two people at the same time. This way, in the event of any unwanted circumstances, your investigation is narrowed down to two individuals.

6. Request feedback through secure platforms rather than sharing physical copies

I have not had the privilege of working on a physical draft before since everything is done online, but I can definitely see how this could pan out, especially if your draft falls into the wrong hands. 

So, you might want to avoid sharing any physical copies of your manuscript and rather work through secure platforms that are specifically engineered to prevent theft. 

One such which I’ve worked with several times in the past year is Story Origin. This platform is awesome because your reader gets to see the manuscript chapter by chapter and completion of one chapter unlocks the next and once the reader moves to the next one, the previous chapter is locked immediately.

Also, text cannot be copied but you can leave comments on the manuscript and the author on their end sees the readers’ progress as they read. I can’t speak to the actual setting up of things, but I did hear that their customer service is always on hand to help customers. 

Google Docs also does wonders for protecting documents because you could add the editor or beta reader as a commenter or viewer of the manuscripts and they won’t be able to copy or download the manuscript to their system. 

I just want to quickly mention that this is in no way a paid promotion. In fact, I don’t run an affiliate program on this website for anything except Everand (my main reason being that this is my reading app), so you definitely want to just give it a try and see if you will like it. 

7. Avoid sharing sensitive plot twists or endings until necessary

If you want to share your manuscript with a group of people at the same time I would advise that you hold off on sharing any sensitive plot twists or the actual ending of the story until it is absolutely necessary. 

This way you minimise the chances of a thief stealing the entire manuscript at once and it will also help you to be able to track down any potentially nefarious characters. 

8. Maintain communication and follow up with your beta readers or editors

Usually, a paid beta reader or an editor would check in from time to time to let you know their progress with a story. I do this whenever I work with an author in order to assuage any feelings of doubt or insecurity about their manuscript, but if it’s a free beta reader they might not be inclined to do so.

If you are feeling particularly pensive, remember that you can reach out to the beta reader to ask them how it’s going and let them know that you’re open to answering any questions they might have concerning your work. 

This works both ways, so already, in the preliminary stage, you should establish certain criteria with a beta reader and ask as many questions as possible that will make you feel more assured that you are making a good decision.

I have had some authors want to do a short video call with me or a short audio call with me or even request samples and personally, it doesn’t take the skin off my back because I understand what happens and I know that your worries are very valid. 

9. Be careful when you receive unsolicited offers to critique your manuscript

I learned of a scam that was being perpetuated by some scammers a few months ago and the primary way they sourced for manuscripts was by offering their beta reading services.

So, what they do is approach an author and ask if they could work with them as a beta reader in exchange for an honest review of their services. Once the author agrees and sends them their manuscript, they start threatening the author with posting the entire manuscript online and selling it under a different name if the author doesn’t remit a certain amount to them.

All this is just to say that whenever you receive an unsolicited offer to critique your story, you should also be careful. I talked earlier about paid editors and beta readers but you also have to be wary of the unpaid ones because you have no idea what is going through their heads. 

To stay safe on this account, you want me to make sure you check their social media account and their history on that platform. A big giveaway is if their posts are poorly written, their profile picture looks like a stock image or an AI-generated image, and if their entire history on that platform is them requesting manuscripts from other authors.

Related: How To Read 100+ Books & Articles A Month: 20 Valuable Tips To Get You Started

10. Trust your instincts and be cautious if anything feels off during the process

Finally, the best way to protect your manuscript is to simply trust your instinct and if at any point you feel that something is off and you are getting a little apprehensive, then you are at all liberty to call it off.

Perhaps the beta reader or editor has made some requests that sort of rub you the wrong way and then when you ask for an explanation they are being vague and rude. 

Protecting your manuscript is a very critical necessity since it essentially protects the fruit of your labour and it’s totally great that you want to take steps to make sure that you aren’t being cheated or scammed.

The methods listed above are just a few ways you can go about protecting your manuscript whenever you’re sharing it with an editor or a beta reader but at the end of the day, you need to trust your reader.

That trust is what will make them less conscious about giving feedback and it will help them work with you better so remember that even though you’re being cautious, you need to also respect them and their professional integrity.

I have so many other tips about working with beta readers and working as a beta reader so make sure to check out the rest of the blog and I’m sure you’re going to see something that will be helpful to you.

Preye http://therookiejurist.com

Hi! I'm Preye ("pre" as in "prepare" and "ye" as in "Kanye"), and I am a lifelong book lover who enjoys talking about books and sharing bits and pieces of all the fascinating things I come across. I love books so much that I decided to become a developmental editor, and right now, I work with authors to help them tell their stories better. On this blog, I share everything from book recommendations to book reviews and writing tips, so feel free to stop by anytime you like!

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