Free Writing and Publishing Tips
From a Professional Book Editor


Simple Copyright

Many authors are, understandably, worried when it comes time to send out their manuscript to publishers, editors, or agents. "Will someone steal my idea? Will some company use my book and leave me with an expensive legal battle to try to get back the rights to my book?"

Many authors are also confused about copyright and what they can do to protect themselves. "Do I have to register my work with the U.S. copyright office? How do I do that? How can I register my work with the copyright office if I'm not finished yet? What do I do if I'd promised this to a publisher and there's no time to register?"

While registering with the U.S. copyright office is the best way to go, there is a simple solution that can provide some level of protection. I want to stress that this is not completely fail-safe and, again, the best way to go is to register your book with the copyright office.

Mail a copy of your manuscript to yourself. What this shows, through a branch of the federal government, is that you have completed your manuscript by a verifiable date: the postmark. For added protection, send it registered and/or certified, because sometimes the postmark is not always clear on the envelope but is almost always clear on the registered/certified receipt. Do not send it via UPS or FedEx. They are not branches of the federal government (even if they are almost always more reliable).

Fill out the return address on the envelope (and the registered/certified receipt) as follows:

Title of your work
(c) [year] by [your name]
your name
your address

In the delivery address section, simply put your normal name and address.

Inside the mailer, if you like, you can include a brief (but true!) history of the manuscript. This could include such things as which publisher, editors, or agents you have already sent it to and the approximate date you started on it. You can also include registered receipts from previous mailings to publishers. If you forgot to send it registered (not certified-see Should I Submit my Book via Certified Mail?) at least include the history of submissions and any rejection letters you received along with their original envelopes if you happened to save them.

One important note here is to be completely honest when writing up your history of your manuscript. This is because anything you say can come back to haunt you if you're not honest. Think like a lawyer: If you lied about a submission or when you first came up with the idea, then it will make you look bad and weaken your case.

If your book is a work in progress, you can do this several times, which will really strengthen your case. One, it shows that you are actively working on this manuscript; two, each time you mail a new and revised version of your book to yourself it reinforces your case.

Best of luck with your writing career!

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This page first posted August 9th, 2000.

This website 1999-2003 Mark Anderson.