2.06.2006

Where is Miss Snark's tinfoil when she needs it?

Ms. Snark-

I have developed a new children's book concept - technical/educational/literary, new to the international market. I am in the process of applying for a patent in the United States.

How can one get through to an agent or a publisher when one cannot send a query letter which
is specific enough to allow someone to copy the idea? The idea of sending out prototypes to random agents and publishers frightens me.

I have tried to set up appointments with potential publishers on a confidential basis to no avail (thus also learning the term nitwit).


Where should a foreigner unaccustomed to wading in alphabet soup begin?


When exactly are you planning to reveal your new concept? In confidential meetings at publishers? Are you planning on frisking the attendees? Making them surrender all pens and pencils at the doorway? Undergo Vulcan mind meld to make sure they don't even think about stealing your idea?

You're quite right to be wary of agents and publishers trying to steal your ideas and concepts. We live for that. It's why most of those letters with SASE's don't get returned. We steal the ideas, copyright them (cause of course we tell you you don't need to do that, remember) and then publish them as our very own. John Grisham, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, not to mention Encyclopedia Brown don't actually exist. In fact the only mistake about the James Frey affair was the casting....we should have picked a guy to play the author who didn't snivel quite so much. But water under the bridge and all that.

When the patent office gives you your patent, and dog knows the way things are headed there, they just very well might, then go knocking on doors. Make sure you take an SASE with you. I have the patent on those.

39 comments:

December Quinn said...

I feel this person's pain! The thought of sending out a prototype to agents and editors scares me too.

So I usually send a manuscript instead.

December Quinn said...

(Oh, sorry. I meant a query, of course.)

SAND STORM said...

"You're quite right to be wary of agents and publishers trying to steal your ideas and concepts. We live for that."

I Knew It!

Encyclopedia Brown - man I haven't thought about those books in years!

Coyote said...

They should employ Knight and Associates. Even though they're trying to do plot patents and not book concepts, it sounds right up their alley.

Christa M. Miller said...

My question is, did Miss Snark write this, or Agent C? I want to know more about Agent C... is this the real idea thief? ;)

Anonymous said...

You need to speak w/a patent attorney as to whether you can even get a patent for a "concept."

Elektra said...

This is a joke...has to be.

Anonymous said...

OMG! educational children's books? Brilliant! Here's how you keep people from stealing your ideas: Tell NO ONE. EVER. I already think you've said too much.

Lisa S. said...

Ms Snark,

For the best in fashionable anti-alien wear may I politely suggest Madame Fifi LeEtrange's Chapeaux de Clinquant de Bidon on the corner of Xenu and 7th Avenue?

Mark said...

What are the chances of this idea being unique? Patentable? Is it an invention? Worrying about this sort of thing is a sign of an absolute beginner.

Eileen said...

I heard the whole George Bush spying on Americans thing isn't really about terrorism. It's his plan to take over the children's book market. He's most likely already down loaded this email. If we aren't careful Killer Yapp is going to end up in Guantanamo- and he would look terrible in stripes.

Another Trekkie said...

undergo Vulcan mind meld

Another reason to love Miss Snark--she's a Trekkie!!!

*turns up the worship factor another notch*

amspeaker said...

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around how new and original this person's idea could be that they think they need or can get a patent on it? My kids have several books in their home library that would fall under the description 'technical/educational/literary'.

Elektra said...

Maybe it's like those LeapFrog books--technology you read

Elektra said...

In which case he wouldn't need a publisher so much as a grant

Toni McGee Causey said...

I really don't think there is enough tin foil when dealing with people like this. Of course, what Miss Snark didn't mention was that agents and edtiors are completely able to read the minds of anyone who's sent an e-mail and so Miss Snark is probably happily skipping to the copyright office as we speak, gin pail in one hand, instant invention in the other (agents have handy instant invention machines) so that she will get rich overnight and retire to a nice island somewhere. This guy should know he shouldn't even think anything in the general direction of an agent or editor because they can steal it. ;)

KaguraShinra said...

Yes, I no longer have to sit at home and think up new genres. I can just steal yours, which doesn't intrest me in the least, but because somebody else came up with it, I'm taking it. Hahahaha.

Karenee said...

Word verification: soxrkl
n. A secret society of people who creep into laundry rooms and sneak individual socks out of the dryer.

Honestly! How could anyone think that an IDEA was patentable?

Oh, oh! Ya know, I have fifteen original ideas just from this one post! *Grabs a tinfoil hat just in case the publishing aliens come around to steal ideas.*

Lizzy said...

Aluminum foil will just improve the reception.

Sherry D said...

Re: a patent for a "concept."

Sorry, there is no such thing as a new concept, and if there were, you cannot get a patent for it.
Go camp out in Area 51 in a tin foil tent.

Anonymous said...

I had a friend with a similar concern about ideas getting stolen. Being polite (or a wimp), I didn't say what I really thought: "Honey, I don't think anybody would want it."

Stacy said...

Let us summarize the information we have here:

New concept, possibly a book, but we're not really sure - could be a better can opener (I need a better can opener!). Prototype - maybe a book that doubles as a can opener! And triples as a remote control that never gets lost (I could use one of those!). And if it does all that and manages to teach my son how to grow pumpkins in a jar - well, then, we might have a winner here.

I'd buy one of those.

Cheryll said...

Well, maybe this would be Snarkling needs the author's advance in order to do the patent application. Ours cost about $10,000 just for the lawyers, not to mention over a thou for the illustrator ('cause our drawings weren't good enough) and then it cost a few thousand more every couple of years or so for the 17 years you are allowed, even though that 17 starts with the application date...not the date the patent is granted, several years later!

Forget the whole patent idea and run with the project. Make some money before somebody else eats your lunch, or buys you out -- which is good because by that time you will be heartily sick of the whole process!

Johnwrt1 said...

It sounds like what this person needs to do is a little self education. I sugest that he visit www.uspto.gov and learn about patents etc. There are other sites about copyright law. You are protected by copyright law as soon as you write it and put your name on it. Patents are expensive and time consuming to get (I have 5). A single example of prior art makes a patent invalid. A truly new type of book binding could be patented but not the idea of a printed story.

As to trust; that's why you research agents isn't it?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Bill E Goat is skipping around like a kid. I wander over to see what's going on.

Bill E.: Look! Look! I made this! It's new! It's great. I want to patent it and sell a bazillion of them! Kids will love them. Look!

Me: Look at what? All I see is mud. Say, how'd you get water out here. You can't cary water...

Bill E.: Never mind that! I want to patent this! It's unique.

Me: Bill, those are just little piles of mud.

Bill E: They're not piles of mud. I squished them flat. See? round and flat! Kids will love them. They'll eat this stuff up. Call an attorney!

Me: Bill, first, neither your kids nor mine should eat mud. And mud pies aren't new. You can't patent a concept as old as .... well as old as dirt.

Bill E: You mean you've seen this before?

Me: Bill, I was making mud pies before you were a glint in your father's eye or a wag of your mother's tail. This isn't new.

Bill E: You wouldn't lie to me would you?

Me: Bill, you know me better than that! Now, exactly how did you make this mud without water?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, yes, Lizzy, he's an expert at making mud.

Lizzy said...

Pixie,

Are you sure the goat was referring to mud? :)

Lizzy said...

Pixie, oops, just read the last sentence. I see you wondered the same thing!

Dave Kuzminski said...

Miss Snark! How could you! You warned him. Now when it's my turn to intern next year and then become an agent the year after that, no one will send anything then cause they'll all know we take their ideas and I'll have to become a [choke, sob] fee-charger! ;)

By the way, the tinfoil works on the principle of the Faraday Cage. No, I'm not making that up. There's actually some real science behind that, not that tinfoil will actually always work, but that Faraday Cages are used in microwave ovens to protect you from the radio waves used for the actual cooking. They're also used in secure computers to protect against eavesdropping by radio.

Allie said...

As an author I agree that this post sounded ridiculous. But 25 years ago I came up with a very simple, easy to steal idea for a series of baby books that Gerber was interested in. If I could have found an artist and followed through, it might have been a huge money maker. The concept was so simple, any publisher could have ripped it off. So I do understand what this person is worried about.

Heidi said...

Now, now, you know how much we rely on Miss Snark for her expertise, her knowledge and her, well, Snarkiness...

I think it is rather cruel to taunt someone who has a potentially useful idea.

Can I watch?

P.S. I heart Miss Snark.

Kirsten said...

I dunno. Look what happened to Kramer when he invented The Beach perfume . . .

Torgo said...

I think possibly this person has invented some bit of paper engineering or other 'novelty-book'-type mechanism that might well be patentable and require showing a prototype.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he/she meant "new conception". There can be a lot lost in translation. This person could be pregnant!

Lisa Hunter said...

Okay, I expect some snark for saying this, but...

One of my work colleagues knew the heir to the "Pat the Bunny" fortune. Apparently, the idea of pasting cotton fluff between book pages was worth millions.

Neetveet foreigner said...

I see from the comments that I definitely used the wrong word - "concept". I should probably have written "novelty". Those pesky foreigners! Once the query says cotton on the bunny, the novelty is gone. Why use a new author then? Patents take years and technology does not wait. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

If you are REALLY worried about this, do a Humboldt's gift. That is, make a copy of your brilliant concept/novelty and mail it to yourself. Do not open it when it gets to you. Then query agents/editors. When the greedy bastards steal your
concept/novelty, your trusty lawyer can use your Humboldt's gift to prove the dastardly deed. I the mean time, your concept/ novelty will be making MILLIONS of $$$. When you win your lawsuit, all those MILLIONS will go straight to you.

spaulson said...

neetveet foreigner, are you the person whose question Miss Snark answered?

Editors and agents are NOT going to steal your idea. Ever. No matter how original it is. If one of them likes your idea enough, they'll work with you to get your book published and you'll get the money. If the public likes your idea and it makes money, you get to publish more books based on it. That's how publishing works. I'm sure that's how "Pat the bunny" made so much money (for the author, too).

And in case this slipped by you...don't listen to the anonymous commenter before me. Contrary to popular belief, mailing an envelope to yourself does not preserve copyright.

Anonymous said...

Just don't send your idea/concept/manuscript/concept document/novelty to anyone associated with Hollywood. Stealing is everyday business there, where the creators of content (i.e., writers) are the dirt surrounding the totem pole.