Sunday, September 8, 2013

Should writers share unpublished work?

Indecision & I-ll decision | MDI Executive PGPM (NMP) BlogHow many of you as authors allow others to see your work before it is published or in the pipelines for publication?  I figure the answer will span the whole spectrum.  I know many artists/authors who will not permit a peek of their work, not even to talk about their books before the publication date is set.  And then there are those who won’t stop talking about their WIP and you wish they would shut up and publish it already.

Not only is that done in the arts, but also in science.  I recall as a first year graduate student we had to write a mock grant on a particular research topic for Microbiology.  My partner and I chose a relatively rare infectious pathogen and were excited when the leading person researching that pathogen was the invited speaker at a seminar.  As you would expect we inundated him with questions.  However he looked at us with suspicion and asked who we were working for.  No matter how we explained that it was just a mock exercise, he would not answer any of the questions but referred us to his already published work. 
That was quite a surprise for me and my partner because both of our mentors were always willing to share their research with the world even before it was published.  In fact, once when I asked my mentor why he shared our research before it was published despite possibility of being scooped his response was that science is supposed to be shared with the world.  And yes the end result is that someone else published the same research before us—we were scooped.

That is why I’m having a little dilemma.  I have no problem sharing my unpublished work with others as long as it is not stolen.   Two years ago, my daughter and I wrote two books in a series of books that involves children on a journey into the cell.  The book was meant to help children understand the structure and function of the cell and its organelles in a fun and exciting manner.  My daughter is now learning about the cell at school.  I realize that both her and her classmates would benefit tremendously by reading the books, however, I haven’t published it as yet.  So after agonizing over it, I sat her down and asked her if she thinks it’s a good idea to offer her teacher access to the unpublished manuscript as a resource.  After careful thought (all of ten seconds) she says it’s up to me.  The ball is now in my court.

Should I do so?  Should I not?  I’m still undecided.  Why?  Well for one, will the teacher or one of the parents of the students take the story and publish it as theirs?  Would the teacher think I’m usurping his authority in the classroom?

I have about one or two weeks to decide, but as of now I am still between two minds.  What do you think?  Should I offer the unpublished manuscript as a resource or should I let sleeping jumbie rest?  And what are some of the downsides or upsides to this decision?


Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting question and something of a dilemma. I do share pieces of my unpublished work with people, sometimes whole stories with my writing group, but I know and trust them all.

twenty years ago I think you would certainly be completely safe to share something like this, but with the ease of people slapping things up on ebooks it is still more of a concern. However, my personal feeling in this instance is that you would probably be safe to share it, and that once it is published, you may potentially have made yourself a market for it.

William Doonan said...

I say offer it up! You own the copyright, and you might want to just pop it up on Kindle just as a DRAFT. Set the price at $8,000. Probably nobody will buy it, but if you ever get into any legal issues, you have proof that you wrote it first. On the other hand, if someone did buy it, you could have a hell of a great weekend.

Liane Spicer said...

In your position I'd err on the side of caution to avoid complications down the road.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Thanks for your insight Charles. The thought of someone taking my work, adding their name to it and "slapping" things up in an ebook is disconcerting to say the least.

But you are right, I can look on the bright side and think of it as a marketing strategy. Thinking of this like that I'm a little more inclined to share it.

Jewel Amethyst said...

William, great idea and yes, $8000 would let me have a smashing great weekend.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane, point well taken. I tend to be very cautious in these matters, but I realize sometimes being cautious has actually hindered my progress, and other times not being cautious has been detrimental. I am still wrestling with the idea.

William gave some suggestions to protect myself that I'm considering should I, like my mentor, decide that sharing knowledge supersedes personal gain.

bettye griffin said...

This is, like so many other decisions about publishing, a personal choice. My latest WIP, to be published this fall, has a few twists to its story. The excerpts I've shared are very carefully chosen...interesting (at least I think so) but not giving away any important plot points, more like vignettes.

Good luck!

G. B. Miller said...

I would say no, if only that if you tried to submit it to publishers later down the road, that pesky old term "no previously published work" might become a roadblock.

Plus, and this is a very distant possibility, your work could be hijacked/stolen by a larger government entity and you would be out of everything (true story as this happened to a publisher who had the US Forestry Service steal a book of his).

Jewel Amethyst said...

That's true, Bettye, but personal decisions are the hardest, aren't they? In the case of my book, it's not the plot but the educational value to those students. I would say if I didn't have a mentor who instilled in me that passing on knowledge was a more noble goal than a large number of publications I probably would not be agonizing over it.

Jewel Amethyst said...

GB, does "no previously published work" include sharing unpublished manuscript with others or are you referring to William's suggestion of putting it up on kindle?

Someone hijacking the book is actually a big concern. I didn't know government entities did that, but I have been scooped before in my scientific life. My mentor who was always open to sharing information, sharing reagents etc. shared a little too much information about my project. Before I was able to publish it, someone (with a bigger lab and greater manpower) published the very same thing. By the time we published it was nothing novel. When I complained about it he shrugged it off and said science was meant to be shared and not for proprietory gain.

However, I have taken some suggestions and have proceeded to copyright the work in the hope that that would offer some protection should (succumb to my mentor-instilled-conscience and...)I share it.

G. B. Miller said...

I originally meant the unpublished work, but after re-reading your post and comment, the first part of my comment would be better suited towards William's suggestion

Jewel Amethyst said...

thanks, GB.