How does a publishing house decide whether to publish a debut writer’s work? If it is given for reading, how is the writer protected from the publishing firm stealing the work?
Publishing is one of those topics that can contain contradicing answers that are both correct. Why do I say that? Because everyone says that a publishing company wants XYZ. In fact, that is not really true. Let me explain.
A large publishing company may deal only with an agent, but sometimes they will deal directly with an author. Why? Because the author is already an established writer.
When you find a publishing company you would like to deal with, seek out their submission guidelines. Make sure you follow them to the letter, for nothing gets a rejection faster than not following them.
How We Work
I cannot tell you how every publishing company decides to either publish or not publish a work. The following is how my company decides if they want to publish a submitted manuscript.
The submitted manuscript comes into our hands via a submission form. If the author followed the guidelines and supplied not only their full manuscript but everything as directed, the work goes for test reading. After reading the work, our person will make a call on several things from plot, engagement, writing style, word choice, and overall readability. If the work fails the test read, we notify the author. We then delete the work from the server and computers. The reader forwards the work to me if it is amazing, or even good, to make the final call. As the publisher, I’ll examine the manuscript for edibility and contact the author to find out a little more about them.
I’ll let you know right now, authors living in North America have a higher chance of being published through us then someone from another country. That is not to say someone from South Africa cannot be published through us, just ask Johan Thompson who wrote and submitted “The Clone” (released January 31st, 2017). He lives in South Africa, but the work was of such quality that we needed to sign him. No, the reason we are more specific to North America is due to advertising. It is easier to promote someone on the same continent than a person overseas. Also, if the author needs copies of the work for signings and presentations we can get them some with less expense through our printing partners.
Like everything, publishing is a numbers game. Money spent publishing as opposed to funds coming in due to sales. Most is balancing on the head of a needle, but when is business not like that.
Protecting Your Copyright
For the second part of your question concerning copyright. This is a legal issue (see here), and any publisher who thinks they can steal another person’s writing is fooling themselves. I’ll direct you to the first season of the show “Younger” when a teacher plagiarized a novel written in the 1960’s, re-wording part of it. The acquisition editors did not notice it. It took one of the older editors to say, “I loved this book, especially the first time I read it 40 years ago.”
In Canada, copyright law protects an author. It designates once you write it you own the copyright and can protect it to the best of your ability. If you are concerned about it, make sure you keep a copy of the work on something like Google Drive. It will time stamp it and this could be something you could use in court (not being a lawyer I would only suggest you talk to one if there is a big concern). To no end, if the publishing company was going to steal your work they would not be in business anymore. Plagiarism is something that happens between authors, not publishers. If you do a search it will be hard to tell how many times has a publisher been sued for stealing a manuscript.
Besides that, the basic idea of a story is not something that you can copyright. Heck, how many times have you seen the story about a guy falling for a girl, losing her, and getting her back in the end? Copyright only covers your “work”, not plot and theme.
The authors who are concerned about a publisher stealing their work are the ones still not published. Do you want to be published?