Q: Should you copyright your manuscript before sending it out? How do you someone won’t steal your ideas. What is the common practice among authors?
A: Your work is copyrighted as soon as you’ve written it. You do not need to go through the formal process of copyrighting before submitting your work.
The common practice (the STANDARD practice) is to write your manuscript, revise it, get second opinions, revise some more, revise some more, then send it out! Indeed you have to trust the process some.
But there is little incentive for someone to steal your work, in my opinion, particularly when the advance for sold work is usually quite low. You do want to exercise good judgment though and not post your stuff on the Internet. Or if you’re working with another writer for critique purposes, TRADE manuscripts with them versus showing them your stuff and not seeing theirs. As for people stealing ideas, I guess it could happen. But you’ll find many ideas are done over and over again just by shear chance. A copyright doesn’t protect an idea to begin with. So you can’t sue someone for stealing your idea because ideas are not that unique. It’s the execution of the idea that is unique, and that would be your specific manuscript. Of course, I am no lawyer, but that’s the general consensus on how many authors feel about this topic.