Quite often in the forums I frequent someone will ask, "Is it safe to post work online for feedback? How do I know someone won't steal my story?" Recently, I received the same question from a potential client of CROSSxCHECKING.
It was easy enough to back up my own assurances. If an editing service were to steal clients' work and try to pass it off as their own, word would spread over the Internet like wildfire, and that service would soon go out of business. But what about all those online writer's groups and forums and classes where writers post for feedback? Unlike the old days when a handful of people would meet each week around someone's dining room table, these days literally thousands of people can view unpublished work in forums. Yet I belong to several large online writing communities, and I have never heard one person complain about posted work being stolen from them or anyone else. Why isn't it more prevalent?
It's funny when you think about it. Cyber-theft would be so easy. These people come along and view your work using aliases. They can drop out, disappear. You've never seen them, couldn't pick them out in a lineup. You wouldn't even know they'd read your work and then, months later you'd find it in print or online under another name. Yet it never happens.
I'd like to say it's due largely to ethics, but, in fact, I think it is more to do with conceit. While we may support our friends who are writers, root for them, even share the joy when they succeed, in workshops, online classes, or feedback forums, we generally convince ourselves that we're a cut above the rabble. Why steal something with so little chance of ever getting published?
Even in those rare cases when we can't deny a certain writer in the group is a standout, we'll decide they don't do dialogue as well as we do or that one particular character is a little flat. Why would we want to pass someone's work off as our own when, good as it might be, it lacks our distinctive voice and style? Why cheat our way in, when we are perfectly certain we can get there on our own and, when we do, our public will demand more of the same, not the schlock other people write.
New writers, I assure you, it is perfectly safe to post your work for feedback in online forums. No one will even think of stealing it––probably not even your idea. Not because it isn't good, but because every writer will see hers as better.