One of the most frequently asked questions by new independent authors is, should I copyright my book before publishing it? It’s a relevant and important question because the last thing an author wants is their creative work being ripped off and pawned as someone else’s. But just when is the time to copyright your writing? Should you buy your own ISBNs, or stick to publishing via platforms dealing with them? Do ISBNs even hold weight?
The Traditional vs. Independent Author
Before the self-publishing boom, authors inhabited what we refer to as the realm of traditional publishing. It looked something like this:
Traditional authors usually tried to work with a literary agent, but it was tough to get one if you had no published work. And even then, an agent had to believe your work was marketable and salable. For the traditional author to see their book published, it had to offer something extraordinary. It had to be what a publisher deemed the crème de la crème of manuscripts. Otherwise, it was seen as a waste of time for both the publisher and prospective readers.
Indie authors are living in an entirely different world today. With self-publishing options as diverse and numerous as automobile makes, the realm of the indie author is all about convenience.
The wait illustrated in our infographic doesn’t apply. The days of checking the roadside mailbox for a glimpse of hope are gone. Independent authors can create and publish their books in mere months without ever having to cross all appendages and send out prayers for an acceptance letter. They just write that sucker, convert it to e-book format, upload it to a publication platform, and go!
Self-publishing has paved the way to fast publication. You can write, edit, proof, and publish a book in mere months versus the years traditional authors trudged through, waiting for their manuscripts to be picked up by a publishing house. But there are a couple of catches.
The Downfall to Self-Publishing
Don’t get us wrong. We’re huge advocates of self-publishing. There has never been a better time to be an indie author. You have the literary world at your fingertips, and you stand poised to make your dreams come true. All it takes is determination, motivation, passion, education, and, of course, talent. But there are some noteworthy cons to stepping into the realm of self-publishing.
1. Little Qualified Guidance: As Publisher’s Weekly so aptly puts it, “Without the guidance of literary agents, indie authors have to take extra-special care to protect their rights.” Unless you’re pursuing a publication platform that takes zero rights, it’s up to you to negotiate with a self-publishing service. The number of self-pub services out there would likely swallow the automobile dealership industry whole. And while some indie authors swear by the big platforms like Kindle and Smashwords, others find working with a smaller service holds greater benefits. At the end of the day, you’re on your own, which means it’s up to you to find qualified guidance and educate yourself regarding the ins and outs of the publishing industry.
2. The Need to Market: One of the biggest reasons an e-book flops is due to lack of marketing. As an indie author, you wear the hat of a marketer. You need to know how, where, and when to market your book. Additionally, you need to handle PR, which means responding professionally and properly to both raving reviews and critical bashes. It’s a full-time job, and one most authors neglect in favor of working on their next book.
3. A Monsoon of Mediocre Material: The next reason an e-book flops is because it contributes to the monsoon of mediocre material readers are drowning in! Self-publishing handed talented writers a golden opportunity, but it came in the form of a double-edged sword. Anybody can publish an e-book. There are no editors employed by publishers to wade through the blah and pull out the wow. The guy who couldn’t use grammar correctly if his life hung in the balance is the same guy with 50 electronic books in the marketplace. And your really good book is buried beneath the churning waters of a sea of really bad and mediocre material. The moment you embark on the path to independent publishing, you set off on a journey where the odds are by and large not in your favor.
4. The Rip-Off Thugs: The Internet introduced the perfect storm of information sharing, and, as a result, great work by talented individuals is ripped off left and right. In fact, it’s likely anyone who’s produced anything screaming of quality, creativity, and uniqueness has been ripped off by a few hundred bottom feeders who have absolutely no talent whatsoever. And don’t even get me started on the droves of “content agencies” and “copywriting experts” who employ ghostwriters to craft the majority of their online work. It’s atrocious! I started out in this industry as one of those ghostwriters, and it fueled a fire inside of me driving me to starting my own business where I refuse to follow suit because it’s just wrong. Don’t use exceptional talent as your doorway or your doormat. It makes me leap for joy to see others, like Chuck Wendig, echo a similar sentiment.
P.S. Go follow Chuck’s blog if you appreciate raw awesome in writing. He is, in my book, a legend.
But I digress. The point is that your work, even if copyrighted, booby-trapped and surrounded by landmines, a shark-infested moat, and guarded by a thousand of the meanest beasts on the planet (mother-in-laws included), will still be pirated, ripped off, and otherwise taken by some jerk who tries to pass it off as their own. It’s going to happen…at least, it will if your work is any good. Before blowing a gasket and investing in a fire thrower, take the fact that rip-off thugs are attacking as a good sign. Your work is gold.
Your way of leveling the playing field may be to copyright your work, and the decision is yours. But before going crazy, be sure to understand e-book copyright laws and action.
Copyrighting Your eBook
Time for a heart-to-heart. Ready for a little bluntness? Copyrighting can be tough to understand for one simple reason: the people who steal fuck everything up for all of us.
Fact: From the moment you write it, your e-book has intellectual property rights belonging to you.
So, you could be 100 pages into your manuscript and decide to share a snippet with the writing group you frequent online, and you own the copyright to it without having done anything more than having written it. The challenge comes in establishing and proving originality, which means proving you are the first to create what you’ve written.
The good news is establishing and proving originality has become a bit easier these days. If you work in a word processing program, the date and time of the original creation or save is forever built into the properties of the document. So, some rip-off thug pirates your snippet from the writing group and tries to claim it’s theirs. Ah, no. You have proof of originality, dated and time stamped.
Fact: If leaving originality and ownership to a file makes you antsy, you can pursue an official copyright through a legal entity.
In the United States, you can file your e-book with the US Copyright Office. The process will involve paperwork, which can be a little confusing, and the payment of a registration fee. If registering for copyright leaves you baffled and anxious, you can enlist the aid of any number of companies designed to operate as a third party. They’ll take care of all the paperwork for you, and you’ll pay a slightly higher price including the registration fee and their service charge.
In the United Kingdom, copyright protection is enforced by the Intellectual Property Office. Copyright is designated as an automatic right, and it will protect e-book authors for 70 years following death.
But there’s a catch for e-book authors when it comes to e-book copyright. Currently, the copyright law of each country will only protect the author against infringements in their area of jurisdiction, which means the country they apply to. US registration will not apply in the UK and vice versa.
Writing a Copyright Notice
While not required in either the US or UK, it is usually beneficial for an e-book author to write a copyright notice. The notice outlines the rights and wishes of the author, and it informs the public of exactly how the book is protected under copyright laws.
Copyright notices display useful information, including the word “copyright,” the copyright symbol, the year of the publication’s first printing, and the name of the copyright owner. You’ll see a copyright notice in just about every book. It looks something like this:
Copyright ©2015 Jane Doe
The notice should be prominently placed in the front of the e-book, where it will be in clear sight to all who venture into the book. It essentially provides useful information while simultaneous issuing a “Don’t mess with me” warning.
Pursuing a Copyright Action
In the event, someone rips off all or a portion of your manuscript, your copyright notice, registered copyright, and automatic intellectual copyright all grant the ability to take action. It’s up to you to understand the action(s) you can take per each right, as well as the jurisdiction those rights and actions extend to.
The eBook ISBN Fight
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Up until December 2006, ISBNs were ten digit numbers used to identify specific books. Since January 2007, they have consisted of 13 digits. According to the International ISBN Agency, the numbers are “calculated using a specific mathematical formula and include a check digit to validate the number.”
An ISBN is used as a product identifier. Internet retailers, booksellers, publishers, and other supply chains all use ISBNs when listing and ordering books. The numbers are essentially a form of stock control, and when attached to an e-book, the book becomes far more findable by a much larger crowd.
Assigning an ISBN to your e-book does not constitute copyright or enact legal protection. It is simply an identifier, most commonly used in marketing and sales. However, it is important to note, some countries have legal requirements for a book to have an ISBN.
Kindle and ISBNs
If you publish through Kindle’s platform, your book will not be assigned an ISBN. The identifying number it receives is unique to Kindle, and it has no use anywhere else in the retail and sales world. Kindle could be viewed as an exclusive publishing platform as it caters entirely to an audience dedicated to Amazon and Kindle.
Smashwords and ISBNs
Smashwords is one of the largest platforms where indie authors can publish their e-books and watch them disperse to a huge audience of readers, publishers, and retail distributors. Smashwords publishes e-books with ISBNs, which opens the doorway to limitless opportunities in the sales and marketing department.
Do You Need an ISBN?
Unless the country you live in mandates the requirement for an e-book to have an ISBN, it’s not required. In the United States, unless you work with a publisher who takes care of ISBNs, you’ll have to purchase one for each book you publish. And it’s not cheap.
ISBN.org by Bowker is a legitimate US ISBN agency. One ISBN currently costs $125.00, or you can opt to purchase ten at $295.00. In other countries, such as Canada, ISBNs are currently free.
When to Copyright Your eBook
So, just when is the time to copyright your e-book? From the moment you write it, you automatically retain intellectual copyright. Once your manuscript is complete, you can then file for a legal or official copyright through your country’s register, but be aware it only applies in that country.
At the end of the day, copyright protects your work as yours. But it won’t stop rip-off thugs and talentless bottom feeders from pirating and pawning. Chances are you won’t always be aware if and when this happens. And should a situation arise in which you pursue legal action, you’ll have to decide if the probable outcome will outweigh the path to it.