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There’s no feeling quite like the elation of delivering your manuscript to someone excited to read it. You’ve poured hours, months, and sometimes years into your work, and now it’s ready for the eyes of your beta, advanced reader copy (ARC), or review crew. Unfortunately, plenty of authors also understand the dread and disappointment of finding their published books pirated or shared without their knowledge or consent—and the situation can be even more painful when the story is unpublished. 

There’s a saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Consider this article your ounce. Unauthorized copying of digital content will always exist; it’s nearly impossible to eliminate entirely, including with unpublished manuscripts. However, you can take steps to minimize the risk of this happening. With the proper programs, plus additional measures to secure your story before you share it, you can ensure your manuscript stays protected until you hit Publish. 

Decide on Precautions Before Sharing

Understanding potential risks when sharing digital manuscripts as ARCs or with beta readers or editors is essential. These individuals may not have the same security measures as traditional publishers, so it’s critical to take additional precautions to protect your work, like those listed below.

  • Use encryption: Ensure your manuscript is encrypted using a robust encryption algorithm, such as AES-256. This will prevent unauthorized access to your manuscript. Most platforms employ some type of encryption, but you can also purchase more robust protection using systems like VeraCrypt or BitLocker.
  • Password-protect your manuscript: Password-protect your manuscript to ensure only authorized individuals can access it. Use strong passwords that are difficult to guess, and change them frequently. Visit Adobe’s Help Center to learn how to protect and compress PDF documents, or check out this article from WIRED, which has excellent information on password protections: https://wired.com/story/how-to-password-protect-any-file/.
  • Consider Using DRM: Digital rights management (DRM) can help prevent unauthorized copying and distribution of your manuscript. Many platforms offer built-in DRM protection. However, although DRM can effectively prevent unauthorized sharing and distribution of digital content, there are always ways determined individuals can circumvent DRM protections. Additionally, DRM can limit the ability of legitimate users to access and use digital content in the ways they want. Ultimately, weigh your decision to use DRM against its potential drawbacks.
  • Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): Use NDAs, pre-signed terms of use, or similar agreements and contracts to ensure that individuals accessing your manuscript understand the importance of keeping it confidential. NDAs can also provide legal protection in case of a breach.
  • Watermarking: Use watermarks to identify your manuscript and deter unauthorized sharing. Watermarks can include your name, the date, and other identifying information. Static watermarks can be added manually on almost any platform. If using MS Word, go to the “Design” tab and select “Watermark.” Choose a pre-configured watermark, like DRAFT, CONFIDENTIAL, or DO NOT COPY. For a custom picture or logo, or a custom text watermark, click on the “Custom watermark” option under the same menu. Dynamic watermarks are a step above standard watermarks and can digitally “point the finger” at the individual who had access to your work before it was shared. These are usually purchased through services like Dropbox’s DocSend
  • Monitor access: Use file-sharing programs that provide access logs, so you can keep track of who has accessed your manuscript and when. This is also a great way to see who’s fulfilling their reading commitments.
  • Educate readers: Include a copyright notice or message in your manuscript stating that it is protected by copyright law and should not be shared without permission. You can also remind readers of this when you share the manuscript with them. ARC readers may share portions of your book out of excitement without understanding the intent that your work remain confidential until published.

Common File-Sharing Platforms

In addition to access logs and monitoring software, file-sharing platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and MASV offer a range of other security features, such as password protection, expiration dates, and restricted access permissions. It’s essential to consider your options and choose a platform that meets your security needs. For specific details about these platforms, read IAM’s Technology feature on document-sharing tips and programs, or visit the following websites:

Of course, digital publishing’s evolving landscape means there are plenty of programs designed specifically for authors as well. Sharing platforms like BookFunnel, NetGalley, and Reedsy Discovery have revolutionized the way authors can connect with readers while protecting their literary creations. With innovative tools ranging from secure book previews to targeted audience reach, you can share with confidence while maintaining control over your work. 

BookFunnel

BookFunnel is designed to help authors securely distribute and share their e-books. Authors can create unique download links for each recipient, meaning the link will only work for that specific person. BookFunnel also provides authors with various tools to help distribute digital files more securely. The platform incorporates access logs and monitoring software to help protect your manuscripts from unauthorized sharing and distribution while also providing valuable insights into how your content is being used. In addition, it offers a range of security features, including password protection, watermarking, expiration dates, and a feature specifically for ARC readers that prevents files from being downloaded but instead allows read-only access. Read more about BookFunnel for ARC and beta readers at https://blog.bookfunnel.com/2022/announcing-restricted-book-delivery.

NetGalley

NetGalley is a popular digital service used by publishers and authors to distribute ARCs and digital review copies to readers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and other industry professionals before the book is published. This platform provides logs to help authors track requests and access to their books, as well as DRM protection to prevent unauthorized sharing.

NetGalley helps authors monitor access and track the usage of their manuscripts in three ways:

  1. The option to set specific access parameters for ARCs, such as expiration dates or limits on the number of times a file can be downloaded
  2. Detailed user activity tracking, including the number of times a file has been downloaded, who downloaded it, and when
  3. Reporting tools to track engagement, download activity, and feedback from readers and reviewers

Find out more at https://www.netgalley.com/tour.

Reedsy Discovery

Reedsy Discovery allows authors to submit unpublished or newly published books for review by a community of book reviewers and readers. The platform aims to help authors gain exposure and visibility and connect readers with new and exciting books. Several features ensure the secure and controlled sharing of manuscripts, including

  1. File sharing: Authors can upload their manuscripts directly to the Reedsy Discovery platform. It is then made available to reviewers and readers in a secure and controlled manner.
  2. Access controls: Authors can set specific access controls for their manuscripts, such as limiting the number of reviewers who can access the manuscript or setting an expiration date.
  3. User activity tracking: The platform provides detailed user activity tracking, including information on who has accessed the manuscript and when.
  4. Reporting tools: Reedsy Discovery offers a reporting tool that allows authors to track engagement and feedback from reviewers and readers.

The platform also offers DRM protection and watermarking to help prevent unauthorized sharing. Read more about Reedsy Discovery at: https://reedsy.com/discovery/blog/launching-your-book-on-reedsy-discovery.

Each file-sharing platform has unique features and pricing structures, so it’s crucial to research and compare them before choosing one that best suits your needs.

What to Do If It Happens to You

Unauthorized copying of digital content is an unfortunate reality that cannot be completely eliminated, but it’s important to remember you have the power to mitigate the risks involved, even with unpublished manuscripts. If you find yourself dealing with the unauthorized sharing of your manuscript, it can be a frustrating and upsetting experience. Still, the most important thing will be to remain calm. Take a deep breath and commit to a systematic approach to addressing the issue. 

If someone shares your unpublished work without permission, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Identify the source of the unauthorized sharing. This can be done through internet searches or anti-piracy software that scans the web for copies of your work. Once you have identified the source, take screenshots or save URLs to document the infringement.
  2. Depending on the situation, you may want to contact the individual who shared your work and ask them to remove it. Should the infringement occur on a platform such as a social media site or file-sharing service, you can report the violation to the platform’s copyright or infringement team. Many platforms have policies and procedures for addressing copyright infringement, so it is recommended you follow that platform’s specific process.
  3. If initial efforts to remove the unauthorized sharing are unsuccessful, you may want to consider legal options. This can include sending a cease-and-desist letter, filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice, or pursuing a lawsuit. However, weighing the potential costs and benefits of pursuing legal action is necessary, as it can be lengthy and expensive.
  4. Discovering that your work has been pirated or shared without your permission can be emotionally distressing. Remember to take care of yourself and seek support from friends, family, and professional resources if needed. It is also important not to let unauthorized sharing discourage you from continuing to pursue your writing career.
Tiffany Robinson

Tiffany Robinson

Tiffany Robinson writes contemporary romance under two different pen names because she loves the happily-ever-after. She’s also a freelance content writer, writing coach, and online educator. She and her husband have been running their own business since 2010 and have two young boys who keep them on their toes. Prior to marriage, children, and an online career, Tiffany was employed in the field of Exercise Science and Injury Rehabilitation. That experience taught her that communication styles are as wide and varied as East is to West (East and West never touch…), and that makes it a beautiful thing when common ground and common interests are found. Outside of writing, running a business, and momming, her hobbies include cooking and running. She knows it’s weird, but everybody’s got their thing.

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