Last year at a conference, I pitched an idea for a non-fiction book to two people from a Big Publisher. I was convinced my idea would be a perfect fit for BP. I gave them a synopsis, a list of chapters and my contact details.
For months, I heard nothing.
Recently, I learnt that the very same publisher has an Already Established Writer working on the book I pitched. This is definitely not a coincidence. The subject and approach are exactly what I pitched to them. They are a bit too specific to be a matter of chance.
I know that an idea in itself is not legally protected. But this seems a bit unfair.
When does an idea stop and the execution of an idea start? Is there anything I can do about this? Can I ask for a credit for example?
I sure wish I had really, really, really sharp teeth now too.
Thank you in advance for your time and advice!
Where does the idea stop and execution begin? In the writing. The actual words. Not the approach and certainly not the idea.
I'm sure you are convinced your idea was stolen but it probably was not. Here's why:
1. The people you met at the conference from Big Ass Publisher are two of THOUSANDS of BAP employees, and two among hundreds of editors. Unless those two specific people are the editors of the book similar to yours, the chances they told someone who then ran with the idea is very very low.
2. Non-fiction is often years in the making. If you've heard about a book similar to yours it's entirely possible that book was under contract long before you pitched your idea.
3. You'd be surprised at how many people have the same kinds of ideas. Just recently a client of mine and I were tossing around ideas for her next book, and we were pretty excited about the topic we hit on. A couple weeks later, that topic was a deal announced in Publishers Marketplace. If my author had mentioned that book to a publisher at a conference, it would look very much like what you described.
But it wasn't. Two authors had the same idea. It happens, PARTICULARLY IN NON-FICTION all the damn time. Nobody's stealing ideas, but we're all looking at bookshelves to see what's not there. We all see gaps, then propose books. It's not beyond belief that two people would have the same idea.
Now, where you are headed for real trouble is contacting Big Ass Publisher, or author, or author's editor/agent and asking for credit.
This will get you flagged as a crackpot, and honestly, it would get you noted as someone I'd never work with or communicate with again. There is nothing you're going to do about this, other than write to me and believe what I tell you.
Never discuss this with anyone or mention it again. Don't let it fester. Don't hope the other book fails.
You're going to come up with another idea, or a different approach to your first idea, and you're going to write a proposal and query again.
If you had one publishable idea, you'll have others. Time to dust yourself off, count this as an experience you don't want to repeat (don't pitch editors at conferences) and get back to work.