I do not have the expertise to write a book. If I have an idea and story line for a book, and am thinking of hiring a ghostwriter, how do I protect myself?
First, you need to know that you can’t protect the idea you have for your story line, only its expression.
For example, if your story includes someone being murdered with a gun, what your copyright protects is how you, or a ghostwriter on your behalf, write about that murder, not the idea of being murdered with a gun.
You may protest that your idea is unique where my example is anything but. It doesn’t matter. Even if you’re the very first person to come up with an idea, you can’t copyright it. And we’re talking about copyright here, not patents or trademarks which don’t usually apply to writing.
Next, the professional ghostwriters I know have no interest in taking someone else’s idea and using it themselves. The chances are even if a ghost did actually take an idea, the way they wrote it would be quite different than the way you would ask the ghost to write it. So there’s not, in my opinion, much danger.
That said, every reputable ghostwriter I know is willing to sign and may even offer some sort of non-disclosure agreement. You’ll find the one I use, editing as needed, here. (You’re welcome to copy and adapt that if you want.)
The non-disclosure agreement pretty much says the ghostwriter won’t use the ideas and materials you share with them in any way that you don’t direct or give specific permission to use.
I know not all professional ghostwriters offer a non-disclosure agreement, but all of them that I know are willing to sign one. I’d say if your prospective ghostwriter won’t sign one you should move on to find one that will.
But there really isn’t much risk in my experience.
Do you have a question about freelance writing? Contact me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to get it answered.
Have any of you had problems with people stealing your writing ideas? What have you done?