One of the things that comes up a lot when I talk about pitching, especially with new freelancers, is the fear of story ideas being stolen.
I won’t lie. It happens.
The thing, though, is that (1) it happens a lot less than you would think, and (2) it impacts you a lot less than you think.
One of my most popular anecdotes is about how an ex-boyfriend stole a couple of my story ideas and sold them to The New York Times. I’d wanted to break into the Times and I believe I always would have, but his doing that gave me renewed confidence in my ideas (if the Times will publish my story ideas, then I should be pitching them!) and it also made me more proactive about doing so.
It wasn’t the only time I’ve had ideas swiped either. I’ve had a reader of my blog basically take a story I published in TIME magazine and sell it—same structure, even the same interview subjects—to an online women’s publication. Two people who have taken the 30 Days, 30 Queries course swiped a pitch that I share in one of the lessons about an environmentalist and sold it to different publications. This guy, now a good friend of mine, has done dozens, if not hundreds of new things, but because these writers have no imagination or research ability, they swipe the one thing I reported on a decade ago! There have been writers who’ve cut-and-pasted my About page with their own details thrown in and those who’ve created courses just like mine. Ask me how many freelance writing gurus have taken 30 Days, 30 Queries and now teach a half-arsed version of it.
It used to annoy me, and I must admit, I’d wonder how quickly the next thing I would create would get copied and impact my income, but the thing is, it never did have any impact on my business.
Because people like that can’t survive in business long term. It’s a tough industry and you need imagination and skill to actually survive. All three writers who blatantly copied my work are struggling, wondering out loud on the many freelancing Facebook groups why they can’t seem to catch a break.
Copycats never succeed because to be a writer, it takes immense amounts of initiative and imagination. To be a businessperson, you need to have the ability to keep coming up with good ideas, keep pushing them out, and keep honing that ability to stay standing when things get difficult.
Copycats don’t have this skill. They flit from one thing to the other trying to find easy answers, never even giving themselves the chance to discover their own voice because they’re so busy copying someone else’s.
So when someone steals an idea, don’t fret. This life, this business, this work isn’t about one idea or one story. It’s about the ability to keep coming up with more, the ability to keep practicing and improving your skill set, the ability to keep going when things look hard, to keep taking risks and telling the stories only you can, and to keep learning new ways to be creative and adventurous with your work.
Your path, as an original artist, is sometimes harder but also longer lasting.
And so, sure, it’s annoying and sometimes frustrating when someone takes work you’ve done and tries to take credit for it, but that sort of thing doesn’t last.
What lasts is a body of work.
Something that you’re building.
In ten years, when you look around, you’ll see that you’re still standing while the copycats have fallen away, swiping someone else’s work now, possibly in an entirely new industry. What’s important is not that they left, but that you’re still here.
That you got to create a long-term career that lasts. That you have grown in your skill and talent. That despite the annoyance of having your work stolen, it’s still a compliment to have that kind of influence.
Remember that the next time you experience content theft. Because you will. And it will suck. And you will know that you still come out ahead.
P.S. If you want to learn how to write original pitches that sell and that are easy and fun to write, then check out my Pitch Critiques program here. (7 spots left.)