I am currently proofreading a book for an author and he is pondering the thought of having a couple people read his work to gain opinions prior to sending his work to a publisher. One of his concerns is how to protect his work from being shared or copied prior to copyright or Digital Rights Management. Should he send a letter of confidentiality or what do you recomend?
That’s an interesting question and it’s even more interesting that you’re asking it, not him. Why? Because you’re not the author of the book yet you’re reading it and acting upon the content you’ve read. That’s exactly the challenge the author faces as he tries to spread the word and gain visibility — and sales — for the title once published: do you want to hold it all close to your chest and have it show up in the marketplace without any advance buzz, or do you want to risk having someone rip off the content but gain some (hopefully!) good advance reviews and be able to use that to help with sales?
My suggestion is the latter. In fact, it’s really hard to imagine a situation where someone would receive a book and then claim that it’s their original work, not that of the author. What would they gain? Even if they took the material and tweaked it for their own gain, how would that be any different once the title is formally published and available in electronic form?
Further, I have to say that if you do a good job choosing whom you’d like to have review the unpublished manuscript, there should be no worries of this nature. What kind of industry voice would steal someone else’s work when it’s easy to prove they weren’t the originator of the material?
Which leads to something that the author can do: file a copy of the manuscript as is with US Copyright Office. That filing not only protects the work, it also gets a date associated with its filing, so if they can’t prove they had the manuscript prior to when the author filed with the copyright office, they’ll be out of luck.
Caveat: as with anything legal, the laws don’t protect you if you don’t go after a violator yourself, so this is only going to be useful protection if you’re also prepared to sue a scofflaw for copyright infringement.
Otherwise, I would council against any sort of Draconian cover letter that warns them twenty different ways what they can and cannot do with the manuscript. I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of pre-publication books — heck, I’m reading one right now on my Kindle — and they just say “Unpublished Manuscript” in the title and have a standard “© 2013 by AUTHOR NAME” on the bottom of each page. That’s it.
I’d also avoid any digital rights management because if you make it a hassle for a potential reviewer to read your book, they’re simply going to skip reading it and that’ll be that. No review, no early buzz, no sales.
Hope that helps. My belief is that the benefit of getting people to talk about your book far, far outweighs the potential risk that a tiny percentage of potential reviewers might hold in terms of ripping off your content.