Fact: When I lived in Toronto, I came across a great story, one so hot I knew that it would be my first pro sale. I phoned the city desk at the Toronto Star, where the editor agreed. "But why should we give it to you?" he then asked. "We have our own reporters." Wahhhhhhhh! Luckily, I rallied and called the Star's rival, the Sun. They were outraged by what had happened and agreed to publish my version of the tale. The Star's scoop beat me by a day but I broke into print at last.
Fact: Around the same time, I sent a short-short story to a well-known, extremely prolific fiction writer who also lived in Canada. I never heard back from her. But about 18 months later, she published a short-short in Playboy. Different title. Her own words. But the story was the same, with an identical final plot twist. Wahhhhhhhhh!
Fact: About seven years ago, I received a form rejection for a nonfiction proposal. But at the top of the form was a handwritten note in large letters: "CALL ME!" I did and asked him timidly, "Was the form rejection a mistake?" He said, "No, you write wonderfully but no one can publish your nonfiction book because you don't have a platform--you know, an online reader base and big bucks to sink into touring." But why had he asked me to call him? "Well, in your query," he said, "you mentioned a secret plan to help writers go on tour at a fraction of the cost. Tell me about it and maybe it can help some of my writers." I slammed the phone down and cried, "Wahhhhhhhhh!"
Oh, I have other stories. But, call me a slow learner, I've learned how to deal with thieves. Effectively and legally.
Space Vampires are the more serious threat. To hope to succeed in the market today, our books must be great--and our queries must rock. Because speed is of the essence. Ineffective queries that make the rounds for months, then years, reinforce the presence in the air of hot ideas. Ideas are far less often stolen than thought about and talked about in casual conversations: decent people trading quips or scoring points for insight. In time, no one even remembers the poor aspiring writer who came up with the idea. Or that his proposal contained the phrase "The Monster Tour" long years before Lady Gaga. The idea was in the air.
Moral: Write brilliantly. Then bleed nearly to death in writing a query that brings down the house. Get an agent who can help you beat the Space Vampires to the draw.