Category Archives: Writing Advise

3. Don’t fail to notify us when your story has been picked up elsewhere.

3. Don’t fail to notify us when your story has been picked up elsewhere.

Every publication has different rules about multiple submissions—but when we find out a story we really liked, talked about with our colleagues and maybe even got through a submissions committee is no longer available, it’s like the writer dangled a chocolate scone in front of us, and then clubbed us in the face with it when we tried to take a bite. It’s a nice professional courtesy to let us know up front if the story is a multiple submission and to then notify us if it gets contracted elsewhere. (Then, rather than wasting our time, we can convince ourselves there was something wrong with it, and our competitors who beat us to the punch are suckers and we’re the best and we win—but maybe you’d be perfect for that other article we had in mind. …)

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Can You Copyright an Idea?

Can You Copyright an Idea?

Q: I have a fantastic idea for a book. I’m unclear on copyright rules and I want to protect my idea from someone else copying it. What steps should a person take in order to protect an idea until it comes into print? -Brian

A: I hate to break the bad news, but you can’t copyright an idea. Nobody can. Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act specifically states: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated or embodied in such work.

“So if copyright law doesn’t protect an idea, what exactly does it protect?

Copyrights cover “original works of authorship” that the author fixes in a tangible form (written on paper, typed on computer, scribbled by crayon on a napkin, etc.). In other words, it protects the specifics of your book after it’s written. No one can steal, reprint or profit from your work without your consent. Though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t safeguard the idea behind your story.

Think about it like this: No one directly copied William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet word-for-word and slapped their name on it, but they have used his idea-a love story about two young people from rival families- over and over again. West Side Story fits the bill (two lovers from rival gangs). Even Disney’sHigh School Musical has the same plot (rival high school cliques).

Now before all you overachievers point out that Shakespeare’s work has out-lived its copyright protection and is now part of the public domain, remember this: both West Side Story and High School Musical are copyrighted, so no one can steal significant details from them. But, much like your idea, they can’t stop others from using the basic concept.

Q: I have a fantastic idea for a book. I’m unclear on copyright rules and I want to protect my idea from someone else copying it. What steps should a person take in order to protect an idea until it comes into print? -BrianA: I hate to break the bad news, but you can’t copyright an idea. Nobody can. Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act specifically states: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated or embodied in such work.

“So if copyright law doesn’t protect an idea, what exactly does it protect?

Copyrights cover “original works of authorship” that the author fixes in a tangible form (written on paper, typed on computer, scribbled by crayon on a napkin, etc.). In other words, it protects the specifics of your book after it’s written. No one can steal, reprint or profit from your work without your consent. Though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t safeguard the idea behind your story.

Think about it like this: No one directly copied William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet word-for-word and slapped their name on it, but they have used his idea-a love story about two young people from rival families- over and over again. West Side Story fits the bill (two lovers from rival gangs). Even Disney’sHigh School Musical has the same plot (rival high school cliques).

Now before all you overachievers point out that Shakespeare’s work has out-lived its copyright protection and is now part of the public domain, remember this: both West Side Story and High School Musical are copyrighted, so no one can steal significant details from them. But, much like your idea, they can’t stop others from using the basic concept.

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2. Don’t pitch more than one story at a time.

2. Don’t pitch more than one story at a time.

This is like shooting from the hip. In fact, it’s like shooting from the hip with a Gatling gun. Bullets go everywhere, but none of them hit their intended target because the writer didn’t aim. If you clutter a query with five different ideas, they tend to be watered down, and the mediocre ones only diminish the impact of any good one.

Be a writing sniper: Focus on one shot, one idea, at a time. Imbue it with everything you’ve got, and make it count.

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HOW NOT TO LOSE ASSIGNMENTS & INFURIATE EDITORS

HOW NOT TO LOSE ASSIGNMENTS & INFURIATE EDITORS

Editors? They’re divas. If we don’t find a two-liter of premium coffee, 10 fine-point red Sharpies and a bowl of 3,000 blue M&Ms waiting at our desks when we get to work in the morning, we pretty much lose it.

But, we’ve got the keys to the magazine castles and the ginormous salaries to prove it (well, one of the two, anyway)—so the best way to get a freelance gig and a place on our Go-To Writers list is to know what editorial sins keep us up at night.

Professional freelancing is about way more than just hitting a deadline and delivering what you promised in your query—it’s about building a relationship to the mutually beneficial point where we start pitching you ideas to write for us.

—by James Roland

With that in mind:

1. Don’t spell an editor’s name wrong.

I know, I know! I’ve already admitted we’re divas. It’s a simple oversight, but think about it: When you pitch an article and spell our names wrong, how are we supposed to trust you to execute that huge, wildly complex article you’re proposing? (After all, you question whether we gave your query serious consideration when we misspellyour name in our response, right?) Always double-, triple- and quadruple-check every proper noun—from our names to the names of your subjects and sources—regardless of whether you’re writing a pitch or an assigned piece.

Journalism is all about facts and details, and to sell us on your article in a competitive environment, you’ve got to present yourself as the most competent writer for the gig.

#2 – tomorrow!

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