Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work? (7 Things You Should Know)

Beta readers can help you spot potential problems in your work such as factual errors, character inconsistencies, and lack of engagement.

Can beta readers steal your work?

Beta readers can steal your work but it is not legal. Beta readers can legally steal the essence of your ideas, plot, characters, and unique content. However, most beta readers do not steal your work. Protect yourself by signing contracts, hiring a professional, and copyrighting your content.

In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about beta readers stealing your work.

7 Things You Need To Know About Beta Readers Stealing Your Work

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A Thief on a computer—Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work
Image by author via Canva—Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work?

If you’re worried about sending your manuscript to a stranger, you’re not alone. Most authors feel the same way.

When people ask me, “Can beta readers steal your work?” I share with them this list of seven things they need to know.

1) Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work? (Full Answer)

Yes, beta readers can steal your work. No, it’s not legal.

Beta readers can:

  • Try to pass off your book as their own
  • Upload your book to an online marketplace (like Amazon)
  • Upload your manuscript or screenplay to a site where anyone can download it for free

While you can’t control beta readers (they do possess free will), most of them won’t steal your work.

And that’s ultimately what matters.

There are steps you can and should take to protect yourself and your manuscript—keep reading to learn exactly what to do.

2) Can Beta Readers Steal Your Good Ideas? (Yes, Here’s Why)

Another issue authors deal with is stolen ideas. Unlike your exact work, you can’t copyright basic ideas.

Beta readers can absolutely steal your ideas without legal consequences.

It may not seem right, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about it (unless they copy your idea exactly). Even if you do take the person to court, you’ll be embroiled in a long and expensive legal battle.

Here is a concrete example: Let’s say you wrote a novel centered around new technology.

No one has ever included that technology in fiction before, so you’re very excited to be the first. However, after one of your beta readers goes over your manuscript, they suddenly publish an original novel featuring the same technology.

This can and does happen.

However, I want to remind you that it is very rare for beta readers to steal your ideas.

3) Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work (Plot)?

Beta readers can also steal the general outline of your plot.

Theoretically, they can go into some detail and include certain nuances—but that would mean writing a novel.

And writing novels takes an awful lot of time and effort.

So, do you have to worry about beta readers stealing your plot? Again, probably not.

With the exception of a few malicious opportunists, most people are content to simply help you enhance your story.

4) Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work (Characters)?

Beta readers can steal what makes your characters unique.

Perhaps, your private detective is a woman with a physical disability. She has an artificial foot that allows her to move faster than the average person.

There’s nothing to stop a beta reader from writing their own detective story about a different woman (or man) with a slightly different disability.

For example, a beta reader could write a story about a woman with an artificial hand.

5) Do Professional Beta Readers Steal Your Work?

Professional beta readers do not steal your work.

In fact, they can help you prevent it from being stolen. Professional beta readers often use written and signed contracts that can protect your writing.

Other professional beta readers go through legitimate websites, such as Fiverr and Upwork.

Those platforms serve as mediators between authors and beta readers. If there is a dispute, the platform swoops in to help.

Keep in mind that professional beta readers are usually paid.

6) Where Do I Find Professional Beta Readers Who Will Not Steal My Work?

You can find professional beta readers in many ways.

One of the most convenient ways is to visit a website like Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, or Writerfulbooks.

You can also find beta readers on:

  • Writer forums
  • Platforms like Medium.com
  • Facebook groups
  • Betareader.io

Personally, I like Fiverr, Upwork, and finding beta readers in your social networks.

For example, I would absolutely contact some of my fellow writers on Medium.com to beta read a nonfiction book for me.

For fiction, I’d probably hire someone from Medium or Fiverr.

7) Should You Copyright Your Work Before Sending It to Beta Readers?

You don’t need to copyright your content since you possess copyright the moment you create your work.

However, it never hurts to cover all of your bases.

To copyright your work, you need to do two things:

  • Register it with the government Copyright Office.
  • Put a copyright notice on your work.

If you can afford to do this, go for it.

However, if you can’t afford to do it, don’t worry about it. It’s not really necessary.

How To Choose a Beta Reader That Won’t Steal Your Work

I’ve worked with many beta readers, so I’ve developed a streamlined process for selecting readers unlikely to steal my work.

Here is how to choose the best beta reader:

  • Read online reviews before working with a beta reader
  • Go through a legitimate website
  • Hire a professional
  • Sign a contract that includes a nondisclosure agreement (NDA)
  • If you can afford it, you can also hire a lawyer to review the legal contract between you and your beta reader
  • Get a referral from another writer
  • Use a beta reader who is a non-writer (they are less likely to steal your work)

9 Things You Need To Do Before Sending Your Work Out to Beta Readers

Before you send your work to beta readers, make sure that you do the following nine important things.

Not doing them puts you and your work at risk.

  1. Save extra copies of your manuscript (on your computer and an external hard drive).
  2. Pubically announce that you are working on a book, novel, or screenplay. Do this a few times so that you have a public record.
  3. Be transparent about what you can give your beta reader in terms of support (time, resources).
  4. Don’t take a chance on an under-qualified beta reader because the risk can result in an inferior product. Trust me—I know.
  5. Get to know the beta reader via a video call (not just text or email). A video will create a personal connection and let you know if they can fluently speak the language in which you wrote your content.
  6. Tell your beta readers what to expect from you so that they can do their job better. The clearer your brief, the better your outcome.
  7. Be clear about when you want your beta reader to finish and send you feedback.
  8. Get everything in writing and save it so that there’s a public record of your interactions with beta readers.
  9. Get both a written and verbal agreement that they will not steal or disclose the information in your content.

Here is a good video that covers the entire process of working with beta readers:

YouTube video by Bethany Atazadeh—Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work?

Final Thoughts: Can Beta Readers Steal Your Work?

I want to end this article by reminding you, once again, that most beta readers will not (and do not) steal your writing or your ideas.

Being careful is wise, being a literary conspiracy theorist is not.

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Sources

US Copyright Office
Goodreads

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