Friday, September 19, 2014

Query question: submission guidelines that are off-putting

During the query process I stumbled across that clause I thought was really off putting and it is as follows:

"I understand that Z has access to materials and ideas that may be similar to my Material in theme, idea, plot or format. I understand that I will not be entitled to compensation because of the use of any such similar or identical material if such material is created independently by Z or its clients."

Is this a typical clause for agencies? I don't recall seeing it on any other agency site and it definitely stopped my submission in its track.

"X may already have (or may in the future) independently develop a project based upon an idea or theme that is identical or similar to your material, and you acknowledge that you will have no interest or claim therein."

I can understand why you'd look at this and think "Whoa! They're saying it's ok to steal my stuff."

That is not the case.

What this clause recognizes is that ideas are more common than you think, and it's the execution of the ideas that differentiates projects.

It's not unheard of for less-than-savvy writers to think their ideas are one of a kind. We can identify these writers pretty easily: they'll often actually say they have an idea no one has heard of;  they'll express concern about who sees their manuscript pages; or (my favorite so far) how we dispose of manuscript pages.

These big companies are protecting themselves from lawsuits and my guess is that they're doing this because someone sued saying "hey I sent you a query about a menage a huit and you just produced the EXACT same thing only you called it Snow White and the Seven Samurai."

There are a lot of people stealing work out there these days but it's generally not an agent or agency.  We're pretty busy trying to find writers who have ideas AND execution. The folks stealing work are the ones downloading pirated ebooks or the ones taking your work, slapping on a new cover and selling it on Amazon.  Or just outright plagiarizing.  It's a big problem, but it's not a problem on this side of the query line.

If it really bothers you though, don't submit your work there. Peace of mind is not always rational. If it's going to make you fretful, query elsewhere.  You should trust your agent to do right by you from the very start of the relationship.


french sojourn said...


My 1800 page m/s "Hey Zeus" just came back from my Alpha and Beta readers.

One comment in general stated it was a knock off on a popular fictitious work; "The Bible".

I've never read the book or seen the movie...seems like a lot of work for nothing.

Thanks for the post, I guess I'll trunk it until I can begat my sequel "Hey Zeus returns" is finished.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

So..."Snow White and the Seven Samurai" that, like, taken?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I am offended.
Ya know, just because I’m a pretty chick with a propensity for Benadryl, and just because I have seven short guys who show up to brush my hair, refill my IV and change my sheets, and just because my nightgown, with Hillary’s picture on it is my favorite, does not mean you have a right to exploit my unique situation on your blog.
What about Goldilocks and the three musketeers or Little Red Riding Hoody from the hood. You could have mentioned Jack and the Bean Stalker, (he and the Green Giant finally married, former Mayor Blumberg officiated). I don’t sleep with a pea under my mattress and my house is not made of sticks, bricks or straw. So, shark-woman, go huff and puff down somebody else’s door and leave me alone. You need a bigger boat babe. You’re just jealous ‘cause I got seven guys who serve my every need and all you got is a bucket of paint and slippery skin.
Have a nice day.

DAY said...

It ain't the recipe, it's the cookin'. . .

France Rants said...

I know the agency the writer is referring to and had the same reaction.

While I immediately figured the agency probably added that statement because they got sued, the clause still caused me to pause.

(Yeah you're all welcome for the Seuss portion of the above sentence.)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Carolynn with 2Ns: hah, great imagination, thank you for giving me this morning's chuckle.

french sojourner: The Bible? popular fictitious work? I'm offended. However, it'd be interesting to see you "begat" a sequel book-- whether Bible or Zeus.

mizreid: a sorry state of affairs our post-modern culture is in when we worry about people stealing the unstealable. I'm off to copyright me a unique and grand idea about this before I submit a quickie ms.

ok, I might need some more caffeine to make more sense.

Julie said...

Completely unrelated, but Critically Unimportant...

It's talk like a pirate day.

(You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia," but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!") -- ARRR!

- The Dread Pirate Julie

Julie said...

Wait... a... minute. Someone already published Snow White and the Seven... Samurai?

french sojourn said...

Walt Kurosawa....1964

Melissa said...

Just to give all the writers out there a heads up. An author is battling what Janet mentions. Someone took her Christian romance ebook and edited it a bit, spliced in some sex scenes, and sold it under a different title. Once the author started asking questions, the woman who stole it created several aliases attacking the author's books online.

The story grew even more bizarre as the woman, using different identities, contacted various book reviewers with all sorts of lies about how she got the book. From she's the author's niece to a now-dead guy gave it to her. The author is now suing. There are more accusations of plagiarism, one from an Iraqi vet who wrote his story for therapy.

She poses as a book reviewer and goes around asking romance authors for arcs to review.

You can read about it here.

Andrea said...

I've come across this agency, or another agency with a similar statement on their website. I understand where they're coming from, but I wonder about the usefulness of such a statement because anyone who decides to sue an agency for stealing their ideas most likely won't go through the trouble of reading their website properly.

I've come across another agency which I decided not to query after reading this on their website:

"We need a good covering letter that is typed, properly constructed and checked for errors in spelling and grammar. If you cannot even take the trouble over your short letter, it will not say much for the rest of your writing."

I thought that was quite insulting to possible future clients. I know there are weirdos out there, but most of us writers are actually hard-working, nice, reasonable, intelligent people. I personally wouldn't want to work with an agency with such a negative attitude.

Julie said...

@Andrea - I agree. I am a highly sarcastic, snide person (though I do have my warm, fuzzy side as well). But when it comes to writing (or treating patients or teaching students), these are professional commitments, and I treat them as such; I expect no less from Agents whom I approach for representation. If they are treating me in this fashion, how are they going to treat publishers and editors? What are they saying about me behind my back?

This is a profession, and when we are talking idly in friendly discourse, that is one thing - but posting something insulting on what is a clearly professional site is not only degrading to possible clients... it's purely stupid. It's bad business, and it advertises that the Agent is likely to conduct bad business on your behalf.


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

IP theft is a big business. Scientists, illustrators, inventors artists are also targets.

I had two short stories pinched at two different critique groups. Surely there are so called "agents" to shy from and I don't know yet because I'm not there yet...

But the more I read, the clearer I see the publishing industry machine. It's monstrously big. Kind of like a city. Evolves so fast.

What amazes me are the agencies with their saavy staff who are there to protect the writers, and to promote them. To bad artists don't have agents like writers do.

Ho hum.

Sure Snow White's had a few takes since the story came out and before it was published, who knows how many versions there were. Disney didn't write it, you know.

Question: How to write a new take on an old dig?

Maybe we could have contest based on Snow White.

LynnRodz said...

Janet, I swear, you should have been a comedian! LOL! I will say, when you've got a ménage à huit, you've got yourself a full blown orgy!

Hmm, I forgot what I was going to say. Oh yeah, I've seen those words before, but I figured the agencies were just protecting themselves.

Julie said...

What if Snow White were a middle aged guy of mediocre charisma and middling height surrounded by seven beautiful women? S'no Height and the Seven Whorves?

Oh, good grief.

I so need to get away from this bloody computer.

Mister Furkles said...


I’m ready to send my completed manuscript but am concerned about who will review it and how it will be disposed of.

I know for a fact that New York City has thousands of homeless people searching through others’ trash. They’re all looking for the next great literary idea. Once they find it, they’ll become hectomillionaires.

We all know that is how J. K. Rowling did it. I insist that you send the FBI the names of everyone who is exposed to the manuscript. [Maybe the CDC would be better.]

And when all are finished, you must torch the pages and pour sulfuric acid on the ashes. Naturally, I assume this is your standard practice.

- The Next Hectomillionaire Literary Lion.

Anastasia Stratu said...

I think there is a guy... Species: Bleeping Bucketoid. On some sci-fi movie, I think... Sorry, methinks mehas poor memory.

Ah. Right. Futurama.

To make a story short, three words: Brick. Excrement. Expulsion.

If seriously, when we come across a rare whangdoodle like a respectable professional = charitable sharkoid who wastes time=money to help us poor graphomaniacs and unrecognized geniuses, we should be attentive and grateful. Nothing else. Except writing, of course.

Well, there is a law of economics that dictates: we all get what we pay for. Excuse this sentence ending with a P, please.

(P = preposition)

Dear Ms. Reid, I hope you will have an enjoyable weekend. Your servant, ma'am.


Anastasia Stratu said...

Mr. Hectomill... something,

Excuse my curiosity, but do you worship Hekate?

Also, please stand corrected. In dumpsters, Homeless People are looking for food and cigarette butts, not inspiration.

Reusable dishes, too, methinks.

Another Economics 101 lecture coming through! Oops. I think I'll just shut up. Sharks have very little use for bricks.

Did you ever pause to wonder what a shark's home looks like? I did.

I guess there is no such thing in the cold dark depths where no mere mortals have access...

Cordially yours,