The Skinny on “Idea Theft”

Today I was perusing my usual websites and came across a question regarding the safety of children’s book author’s manuscript “ideas”. The writer was worried that when submitting to publishers, his idea for the story might be stolen, revised/improved upon, and published without giving him the proper recognition (if any) and compensation due. I hear this concern a lot, so I thought I would give you my take on the situation, hoping that it will calm your fears.

Let’s walk through a typical day at one of “the big boy” editor’s offices. (You shouldn’t be pitching your ideas to anyone else anyway.)

Editor, Purely Wornout, finally arrives at her office after fighting her way through yet another awful morning of NYC traffic. In desperate need of the coffee her secretary has been too busy to fetch, she plops down behind her desk, piled high with unread manuscripts that have been pouring in over the past week.

Bleary eyed, she stares at the pile (about to topple over) of wanna-be authors manuscripts that her over-worked associate editor believes might be suitable for consideration.

Purely wonders if she’ll ever again find the time to write manuscripts of her own, hoping it happens BEFORE the company is taken over or folds altogether. Dismissing the notion so that she can focus on the task at hand, she checks the multitude of notes left in front of her, listing all the calls that came in while she’d been arguing with the parking attendant. A few must be addressed immediately, so the manuscripts must wait. She’s not feeling too optimistic about her chances to get to them before this afternoon’s meeting, but she knows that it’ll have to happen soon. The boss is breathing down her neck.

After the a.m. meeting and her fourth cup of coffee, Purely settles down to attack the dreaded stack of manuscripts. It grew while she was gone and threatens to take on a life of it’s own. After throwing out the first twenty-three, she comes across one that peaks her interest, and reads on past the first paragraph, into the second..third..fourth…

“This is pretty good” she says, as if someone could hear her among the wringing phones, office chatter, and general mayhem that her office windows can’t seem to squelch. She places it on her “maybe” pile, and moves on…hoping that before the day is out, lightening will strike, bringing with it a story that needs no revision because it’s undeniably the best she’s ever read.

Most editors receive so many manuscripts that they don’t have time to think about developing on the ideas of others. They push through at alarming rates, giving most submissions about 30 seconds to “Wow” them before moving on to the next. It’s all the time that they can afford.

Their job is to find the gem among the stones, and their continued employment with the company depends on that little gem being worth the cost that it takes to get it to the marketplace (about one-hundred thousand dollars per picture book).

There isn’t time for underhanded efforts if they have any hope of making it through the constant influx of new manuscripts. Thousands pour into large publishing companies every year, and that number grows with each company merger or closing.

Every possible story idea presents itself, but most are just repeated efforts at an old story line. I’ve heard many an editor state, “Spare me the agony of reading yet another book about dogs or teddy bears!”

The bottom line is, if you have a great idea, write a great book! Polish it until it sparkles so brightly that a submissions editor will be blinded by it’s perfection, dazzled by your brilliance, and compelled to pick up the phone to congratulate his associate editor for having forwarded to him/her the companies next acquisition!

A New Chapter Begins

Lisa J. Michaels:Reading Fairies

Welcome to my new blog!

I’ve recently been to a wonderful two-day conference with the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, at the beautiful Daytona Beach Resort Hotel.  During the many informative sessions, we were lectured on the art of blogging. One of the things that really stuck with me was when it was mentioned that ownership of your blog content is at risk if you use a “free” hosting site. I had never heard this before and it immediately set off alarms in my head!

Now I don’t know about you, but there are some risks I’m not willing to take. As an illustrator of children’s books, owning the rights to my own images is REALLY important. As an author, I want to be sure I’m getting paid for the use of my words!  This led me to seek out and switch over to a web hosting site that did not lay claim to my work, stating that I retained “complete ownership”.

You should only be granting your host the right to publish the content on your blog, or use the content to promote YOUR blog only. If you’re not sure about this, I suggest you do a little research. Make sure that you’re not giving up the rights to your cleverly written words or your beautifully illustrated images. They’re both worth something, and if someone else uses them, you should be well compensated.


So, here I am at I’ve paid them to host my content, just as I expect to be paid for the services I provide to my clients, such as professional critiques, illustrations that make manuscripts shine, and well-written, perfectly edited stories.

I decided it was time to get real and start practicing what I preach…professionalism.  

If you are just getting to know me, please know that my purpose for this blog is to help children’s book authors and illustrators, like myself, to find work and get published.  I’ve been at this since 2003, and I have a lot to share with you.

  • Although you may not always like what I have to say, I can guarantee you that I will give you my honest opinion.
  • Although I may not always be right, you can be sure that there is a valid reason for what I’ve shared, and I will do my best to make it clear.
  • Although it may not always seem so, everything I say will be intended in the spirit of kindness.

In the weeks to come, I will share with new authors and illustrators as much as I possibly can about getting started in children’s publishing and navigating the often shark-infested waters. I’ve fallen prey to several deviants along the way, and I hope to help you avoid the same fate. I’ve also had the delight and privilege of working with many fine people in the industry, and I look forward to passing along their sage advice and wisdom.

It is my sincere wish that this blog will help you along in your journey and give you the courage you need to be successful. A career in children’s publishing is difficult, but with the right tools, a great deal of stubborn persistence, the right attitude, and the ability to control your ego,…

you can rise to the top and stay there.

Reproduction of any content on this website is strictly prohibited. All text, photos, art & illustrations are the sole property of Lisa J. Michaels. Permission for use of materials must be obtained from Lisa J. Michaels.