by Emma T.
Question: I absolutely love websites like www.figment.com but I fear if I share any of my writing on those websites for critique that someone might steal my work and compromise my chances of getting published. The advice I get on those websites tremendously help me but I am confused on how to deal with copyright and publishing. What is your advice on that?
Two sides to this issue.
First, writing a novel is not like inventing the telephone. You have far less need to worry about anyone stealing it. From the publisher's point of view, there's very little incentive for theft.
The odds of a crook making a fortune by stealing a manuscript are incredibly remote. They'd have much higher chances of success if they robbed jewelery stores or dealt drugs (and they know it). Most writers spend years of effort and some expense trying to get a publisher or agent interested in their first book. It's a lot of work with low odds of success. Most keep at it only because they have a personal stake in their work. Who would do that with a book they stole? Thieves with any brains want a quick buck and will only steal things they know they can sell right away for a large profit.
Plus, if you have shared your writing online, that gives you some proof that you wrote it, which actually makes it harder for someone to pass it off as their own. Remember too that
you cannot copyright ideas, only the actual expression of ideas.
Here's a great article discussing this issue and why writers don't need to fear their work being stolen...
Publishing on a website probably will not discourage a publisher from buying your work. If anything, it might help you build a following. If you eventually get a contract, the publisher might ask you to withdraw your work from such sites, if you have published more than certain percentage of it. (Displaying an excerpt online might actually get some people to buy your book.)
That said, you do need to do your diligence. Check out the reputation of any site before you post your work. Make sure you retain all rights to your work, that you are only giving them permission to display it, and that you can withdraw your work from the site when you choose. Find out where the site has its offices and who runs it.
I don't know figment well, but I would be wary of any site that charges a fee. There are a number of free sites where writers help writers, as well as non-profit writing organizations that offer critique groups. It doesn't hurt to shop around. You might also start your own writer's circle or critique group comprised of people you respect, trust, and meet face to face.
With all critique groups, you have to know what advice to take and what to leave. Both of those points are very and equally important.