Should You Copyright Your Book Before Sending To An Agent Or Publisher?

When you are done writing and editing your manuscript, you must be wondering, what are the next steps?

You have two possible publishing paths you may choose from:

  1. Find a reputable company to publish for you.
  2. Self-publish.

In addition to publishing, you may also be wondering how and when to copyright your work. Whether going to a publisher or not, the thought of copyright has probably entered your mind.

But now that you have decided to go with a publisher, you are wondering how safe your work will be. Maybe you have even considered getting a copyright for your work just in case your publisher/agent takes advantage of you?

Read on to learn why this may not be necessary, as well as other vital steps to get your book published safely.

Should You Copyright Your Book Before Sending To An Agent Or Publisher?

The simple answer is no.

Under US law, whether you type your work digitally or write it on paper, the content is legally yours.

You can copyright your work before publishing if you so wish, but there are a few reasons why it may not be such a brilliant idea…

Is A Copyright Necessary Before Publishing
  1. Your publisher may not be able to recommend any editorial changes to your work without you having to update the copyright. Not only will this process be expensive, but it is also likely that many publishers will not want to commit to working with you.
  2. If you are working with a reputable publisher, it would be less tedious for you to have them register the copyright under your name, which they are obligated to do once you are in a contract with them.
  3. Publishers are not in the business of stealing content; none want this kind of reputation (or legal battle) as it will surely bring them down. You have to think, yes your work might be great, but what do they really stand to gain at this point worth that risk and hassle?

    In the rare case that a publisher chooses to take advantage of your work, you will have ample evidence to prove so in front of a small-claims court judge.

What steps can you take to protect your work without copyrighting?

What Steps Can You Take To Protect Your Work Without Copyrighting

Now that you know you don’t need to copyright your work before submitting to a publisher, it may offer you some relief to take some simple steps to ensure you can prove your ownership of the content should you need to.

  1. Only submit physical/ hard copies of your manuscript when reaching out to publishers.
  2. Ensure your original content is in a safe place, on a personal computer, in a safe/storage unit, or in a secure email or USB. If it is not a digital copy (which will already have relevant data ingrained in it's files), including the date and timestamp can go a long way in ascertaining ownership.
  3. You can also send the manuscripts to publishers as sealed envelopes or with a trackable postage service. Also, send yourself a copy in this same manner and ensure you do not open the envelope.

    A postmark is a government-issued date, so the publisher cannot prove ownership if the content is received via mail. In case they discard the envelope, you can produce yours and the digital copies you own to prove you have had the content longer than anyone else.

Now that you know of these creative ways to ensure your work doesn't get stolen and are confident of landing yourself a book deal, network with other authors who have done it before.

They can give you insights on what to anticipate in the publishing process as well as how they handled any such concerns. 

You can follow author forums online; on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube and other social media platforms. You can also attend conferences and workshops to learn all you can about copyrights, publishing, and protecting your work and brand in the digital age.

How to Safely and Successfully Submit your Manuscripts to Publishers

Before approaching a publisher, do some research to learn if they are taking on new authors, if they can accept your content, or if they can start publishing new books as soon as possible.

These are steps that will empower you to find the right publisher, and more importantly, reduce your rate of rejection by publishers. You also don't want your manuscript just floating around out there if you start sending to unconfirmed locations or addresses.

It is likely that they would want you to go through your agent, in any case, not directly to them - this reduces the amount of clutter they receive and limits the books they receive to at least already vetted and vouched for content.

Also, keep in mind you don’t have to produce your whole manuscript before you get a publishing deal.

Does Self-Publishing Count as Being Published?

Choosing a good agent to work with is vital, especially if you are a new author as the agent will have the expertise and guidance on the best publisher for your particular book.

The following are the roles of an agent:

  • They connect you to your most suitable publishers and editors.
  • They negotiate the best deals for you to ensure you get paid fairly and accurately.
  • They act as the intermediary between you and your publisher.
  • They can give you career advice to get you going as an author.
  • They ensure your book sells, and you pay them through a commission system, usually 15% of your book sales, advances, and royalties. 
  • They discover the best publishers to work with. This step includes researching the requirements of each publisher.

Usually, most publishers will ask for the following submissions to consider publishing your book:

  • Ensure your submissions are professional, authentic, and of your best quality before submitting.
  • A pitch or cover letter describing your work.
  • A synopsis of your book if you want to publish a fiction book. 
  • A book proposal if you want to publish a non-fiction book.
  • Sample chapters of your book.
  • Only send the ones you feel are best, but in the case of fiction work, send a chapter from the beginning of the book as this is where the most development potential lies.
  • Make your submissions and wait for feedback from publishers. Once you make your submissions, it is time to be patient and expect to hear from a publisher soon. 

When a Publisher Responds

When A Publisher Responds

When a publisher loves your work and wants to make further arrangements to start publishing, you and your agent must be ready to agree to the best offer possible.

This is how negotiations develop into a publishing deal:

  1. Your agent negotiates with the publisher and consults with you until you get an acceptable and fair deal. The agent will legally communicate your offer/deal acceptance to the publisher, often via email.
  2. When you accept the offer, the publisher then starts drafting the contracts as agreed. They will email the contract to your agent, and at this point, more negotiations may occur until both parties reach the final agreement. 
  3. Once you agree on the contract terms, you sign the contracts, and the publisher agrees to send a portion of your advance. 
  4. You have a book deal! Your publisher may go ahead and announce the deal on their website and marketplace.

Now that your book is being published, you can take the opportunity to;

  • Publicly announce your book deal.
  • Keep in touch with your editor to discuss how to proceed with the publication.
  • Keep in touch with your agent; ensure they are present for any questions or clarifications throughout the publication process.

Can You Make Money from Amazon Self-Publishing?

As you can see, the process is very well thought out and handled professionally. The concept of either an agent or publisher stealing your works is almost unheard of and is kin to a music manager stealing a singer's song and trying to release the song as their own.

A LOT would need to go into that process and pulling that off and the risk and legal proceedings would make sure the already minimal benefits were not worth it.

In any case, your concerns of theft are genuine, so your best bet is to choose a solid and reputable agent to represent you. Once you have nailed this, your concerns should reduce significantly.

You can learn more about copyright and DRM (eBook copyright management) here.

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