I had an author write me last week asking about the possibilities of an agent or editor stealing her book. I assured her that we have far better things to do than rip someone off. For one thing, it’s insanely stupid because the original author’s work is copyrighted the minute her dainty fingers hit the keyboard.
But what about an idea? You can’t copyright an idea, so you’re open to all kinds of legalities that may not end in your favor. That being the case, I was especially happy to see that author Lisa Skye prevailed in her case against her former agent, Jayne Rockmill, for ripping off her book idea.
The gist is that Lisa shared her cookbook proposal with her agent, Jayne, with the idea of selling it. A publishing deal was brought to the table. However, Lisa and Jayne’s relationship soured, and the project, I Love Bacon, was shelved. So it was a huge surprise to Lisa that Andrews McMeel Publishing came out with a book under the same title. With Jayne Rockmill as the author. Beagle, cue the lawsuit music, please.
So while this article is the stuff that gives authors pause about theft, I still maintain that this shouldn’t be utmost in authors’ minds. True, the agent in question has beagle banhammer for brains because, even though you can’t copyright an idea, she had a signed agreement with her author, and it’s obvious the agent stole, capitalized, and profited on her author’s work after they went their separate ways.
I’m gobsmacked. Did Jayne, the “agent,” really believe she’d be able to pull this off without some sort of backlash? Did she think Lisa, the rightful author, would blend in with the wallpaper? Puhleez. How many of you would allow this sort of thing to happen with your idea and be willing to sit by and eat daisies? Is it worth the risk? Well, it seems that Jayne found out the hard way just how territorial authors are about their work.
And let’s not mitigate the giant headache Andrews McMeel Publishing must have been feeling. The fallout from this PR disaster does nothing to enhance their reputation, and they wisely offered Lisa a book contract in exchange for dropping her lawsuit against Jayne – their erstwhile, sticky-fingered author. It’s the fastest way to make the whole disgusting affair disappear. And in their defense, it’s probable they had no clue – initially – about the genesis of the manuscript.
And just between you and me, I’d have a hard time signing with a publisher who produced MY stolen book. So I hope the deal was much sweeter than what was being reported because that stolen book is still very much for sale. I mean…how would you feel going to Amazon and seeing YOUR BOOK with someone else’s name as the author. My brain fails to process the indignity.
This is a situation no one wants to experience. I’m not familiar with Jayne Rockmill or her success as a literary agent, but it seems apparent she had little regard for her own reputation and is equally unburdened with the douchebaggery of stealing someone’s work. These are people for whom bedbugs and lice were created, and it wouldn’t bother me to see this agent-cum-ripoff artist “author” suffer the plight of both. Forever.
I hate, hate, hate it when these things happen because it puts suspicion on all of us. I’ve seen plenty submissions where I wished I’d thought of that idea, or that turn of a phrase. But I have scruples, a moral code, that says my position must be one of trust. For some, it’s all about the hollow victory – no matter how it’s won. But for most of us – nearly all of us – the idea of stealing someone’s work is akin to abandoning a dog on the side of the freeway.
So please, dear authors, don’t feel that one rotten apple ruins the bunch. BUT…know who you’re dealing with. Research those you query. Make sure that they have solid reputations…and make damned sure you have excellent backup of your book ideas. And, while I’m at it, I’d recommend that you slap out three chapters. That way, it’s no longer just an idea that can’t be copyrighted, but a book in the making. A book, which if stolen, could have far dire consequences for the thief – as in removing the book from the bookshelves.
As for the Jayne Rockmills of the world, karma is a biotch and the Cosmic Muffin is always watching…