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I have a large collection of poems which I've been meaning to submit for publication, but I need to know which format is used to send these babies. I don't want to send a word document because it seems like I'm just throwing all my work out there without any regard to the risk involved in a plain text document. Which format should I save and send my collection in?

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As far as my knowledge goes, publishers usually require a specific format (along with formatting guidelines) in which you can submit your manuscript. If not, you can always send in a secure pdf with restrictions on copying. – Pravesh Parekh May 7 '14 at 18:37
Unless it's a particularly disreputable publisher, I've not heard of one stealing work from an author. just send it. Send it as a bitmap if you're really paranoid. – Matt Ellen May 7 '14 at 18:46
Your work is automatically protected against unauthorized publication by international copyright laws. When someone publishs your work without your consent, you can sue them. The only hurdle is that you need to proof that you are indeed the original author. – Philipp Mar 4 at 13:26

6 Answers 6

Under no circumstances will you be able to protect textual works. From a technical standpoint. Not on Kindle, not on iBooks, not on Nook, not on your smartphone, not on the web, not in a Word document, not in an encrypted email, not via voice recording. Even if you send a bitmap or some other format, if a human can read it, they can OCR it. Period end of story.

Your protection consists of a) working with reputable publishers b) submitting to reputable sites c) understanding that textual content can be trivially stolen/harvested and d) realizing that if your stuff is good enough to BE stolen, that's actually not a bad problem for a starting author (especially a poet) to have!

Best of luck.

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Just to add to the answer, you can protect copying from pdf format and put a password so that OCR tools will ask for the password. However, it is not a fail proof method and I am sure there would be tools to get around this. Long story short, as James mentioned, you cannot absolutely guarantee that your work is secure. – Pravesh Parekh May 8 '14 at 7:58
While I agree (especially point d for poetry), OCR is not in the same category of ease as copy and paste (and humans are still better at CAPTCHAs than computers). Making the publisher's job more difficult or implying the publisher is untrustworthy is unlikely to encourage reading much less accepting a submission. "Slush piles" are generally deep enough that publishers do not have to bother with submissions that violate their guidelines. – Paul A. Clayton May 8 '14 at 16:02
@PraveshParekh: There are smartphone apps that OCR photos directly from the phone camera. Besides, there are PDF reader applications that allow to simply ignore the 'protection' mark and copy the text away. – SF. Mar 6 at 0:17
@PaulA.Clayton: True for a novel or the likes, but unless you write Epic Poetry like Illiad, most poems are maybe 1-2 pages long, so copying them is really easy. – SF. Mar 6 at 0:19
You have LEGAL protection. Anything you write is automatically protected by copyright, and if someone steals your work you can sue them. – Jay Jun 17 at 6:07

Send your work in the format which is preferred by the publisher. There is no technical method to protect your work against unauthorized copying. When they can read it, they can transcribe it.

But you don't need any protection like that, because your work is automatically protected against unauthorized publication by international copyright laws. When someone publishs your work without your consent, you can sue them. So no publisher will dare to publish something before they have a written contract with you.

Should push come to shoove and you actually do need to sue a copyright violator in court, the main hurdle is that you need to proof that you are indeed the original author. Publishing it somewhere else, like on a personal website, is a good way to do this, but could taint it for some publishers who have a policy not to publish any work which was published somewhere else. In some countries you can officially register a copyright for your works at some kind of official office. This usually isn't free, though.

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There is always the option to send the manuscript to several publishers at once, then at least it will be received by several separate entities at roughly the same time and well before any publications. – Tobias Wärre Mar 4 at 13:36

Truthfully, there's absolutely no incentive for a publisher to steal poems. Most imprints that do poetry do it as a labor of love, there's very little money in poetry.

For any genre --although many people when first starting out worry about work being stolen, I've never heard of it actually happening. The only time I would worry is if I was sending to a tiny blog or some other amateur venue that might not have high standards of professionalism.

Usually when work slips into the public domain, it's after publication, from ordinary people liking it and copying it without thinking about proper attribution --not much can be done about that either, given that people were doing that by hand long before electronic text.

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It's extremely difficult to get people motivated enough to even read poetry (or prose) let alone take all that time and energy to steal it. ;) I'm serious. – SaberWriter Mar 5 at 14:31

No. As others have stated there is no way you can "protect" from copying. But why would anyone bother? I hate to say this but if you're worried about your work being stolen then you are a newbie because only newbies worry about it. And if you're a newbie the chances are your work probably isn't great (sorry but it's true). And as also stated stealing poetry? Ain't gonna happen.

Try looking at it from the other side. Why would a publisher steal your work? Once it got out they did that sort of thing (apart from any legal issues) no one would use them.

So let's come at this from another direction. Let's suppose for one (so unlikely it's ridiculous) moment someone published your work without your name on it. And you found out? How do you protect it?

Well, how many people have already seen it? Have you shown your work to other people for evaluation? Beta-reading? Anything like that?

Because if you do that - by letting other people see it - you have independent witnesses who can say "well, yes, it was great, he showed me that three years ago." Bingo.

There are also registration services though personally I think they're a waste of money - all they prove is that you possessed a copy at a given moment in time. (They like to imply that they prove your copyright, not actually true.)

Also: did you actually work on these poems? I mean, did you write one, print it out, work it over with a pen, change words, develop it? Do you have earlier versions printed? This is all good stuff if you needed to prove you wrote something (IANAL). Someone who simply stole the work would not have any evidence of development.

You should have. (And if you haven't that's another indicator your poems probably won't be interesting enough to be stolen anyway ... not that anyone is going to.)

So bottom line? Have developmental proof. Have people who have seen them and commented on them. And, most important: QUIT WORRYING.

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Worrying that a publishing company is going to steal your poems is like worrying that the dry cleaner is going to steal your clothes, or that the shoe repair shop is going to steal your shoes. Could it happen? I suppose. But on the list of things that are worth worrying about, this is very, very low. As others have pointed out, if any publishing company was caught doing this, their reputation would be ruined and they would lose far more than the small amount they would gain by cheating you out of your royalties.

For a new author, the thing to worry about is writing something good enough and attention-getting enough that publishers and readers will be interested in it. Every hour you spend trying to devise some scheme to protect your work from being stolen is an hour that COULD have been spent editing or marketing your work. Don't waste time worrying about the one in a million chance that your work will be stolen. Worry about the 99 in a 100 chance that no publisher will be interested in your work.

By the way, the other paranoid fear I hear a lot from new writers is that a publisher will lie about how many copies they sold to short change you on your royalties. Same as above: If a publisher was doing this, sooner or later it would come out. A disgruntled employee would reveal it or an IRS auditor would discover it or something. IT's not worth the risk. Has it ever happened? Maybe. But it's not worth worrying about.

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That's a tough one to give a foolproof answer to. However, if I had to give my best possible idea of how one might accomplish this I would suggest checking out the options in Excel. Not sure if that's the answer to your question but it's what I would try. Good luck.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

How does Excel help? What options are you thinking of? We're looking for answers that explain their reasoning; this sounds pretty speculative and it's not very detailed. Can you edit to expand it? – Monica Cellio Mar 5 at 1:33

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