Finishing a book is always a great accomplishment and it’s usually one that represents months or even years of hard work and dedication.
This is true whether you are a first-time author or a veteran in the field with dozens of books to your name. It’s also true whether you are self-publishing, going through a mainstream publisher or offering it as a free download.
Regardless of the kind of book, how you are publishing or who the audience is, it’s worth taking a few moments to decide how you can safeguard your hard work and ensure that your book is as protected as possible.
Because, even if you intend to give the book away for free, that book has value and it’s value worth protecting, especially since protecting it costs little and is easy to do.
To that end, here are five simple steps that you can take to protect your work before you send it off to the masses.
1: Register Your Copyright
This one is the most obvious but also one of the most neglected steps. If you are in the U.S., though you have copyright in your work automatically from its creation, if you want to be able to sue for any infringements of your work you need to have a registration. Further, if you want full damages for your work, you need to register it timely.
Though you technically have until three months after publication to have a registration be considered timely, if the book is finished there’s not much reason to delay. The only caveat is that, if you’re printing the book in physical format, you need to submit two copies of the physical work rather than a digital copy. However, for electronic-only books, there’s no need to wait.
If you’re going through a traditional publisher, it’s likely they will handle the registration for you, making this moot. Still, take a moment to ask your agent or editor if that’s the case.
If you do need to do it yourself, registering a single book with the U.S. Copyright Office (as of this writing) costs $35 and can be done fairly quickly and trivially on their site. However, if you want additional help, for an extra fee there are services that can do to bulk of the work for you, including one that I provide.
In short, register your copyright as soon as practical. It’s cheap, easy and, even if you aren’t a U.S. citizen, can provide some important protection for your work.
2: Consider Your Licensing
Though registering your copyright is, more or less, a ubiquitous task all authors should seriously consider, considering your license is not an option at all. That’s because, even if you don’t choose a license for your work, a license is chosen for you: All Rights Reserved.
Take a moment to consider how you want others to use your content. Are you comfortable with others sharing your work as long as they provide attribution? What about if they do so for profit? If so, you may wish to check out Creative Commons and consider using a license that allows such use openly.
If that isn’t something you’re interested in, you’ll likely still want to include a means for others to get in contact with you if they wish to republish all or part of the book. This can be done through a website, email, and/or postal address as you see fit.
The main thing though is to make it clear what your wishes are, whether they are all rights reserved or more open in nature, and to make yourself available to those who wish to use the content in a way permission is not expressly given permission for.
3: Draft Your Copyright Notices
To be clear, copyright notices aren’t actually required under law. Copyright is affixed to a work the moment it is created. That being said, it’s still probably a good idea just because of the misconceptions some people have about the notices.
Writing a copyright notice is fairly straightforward. If you’re working with a publisher, they’ll likely have stock text that they will want to use but, otherwise, you’ll likely want to find a good book copyright page sample that you can pull from.
Still, a basic copyright notice is more than enough (and more than is required by law) but if you’ve written thousands of words for a book, it makes sense to take a few additional seconds to draft a brief notice to discourage any misuse of its content.
4: Set Up Your Monitoring
When your book is released you’re going to know where it appears online, what people are saying about it and if it’s being offered for illegal download.
To that end, before you publish your book, create a Google Alert for your book’s title. If it’s a common title, consider adding your name to the query to ensure that only versions of your book. In addition to that, consider creating similar alerts for unique passages from your book so that way any place that included the text of your book will also be detected.
Doing this before the book becomes public is a crucial. Unlike copyright registration, this is a step you can and should do even if you’re going through a traditional publisher. Though you may not be handling copyright enforcement, you’ll be able to alert your publisher to issues that you see.
Either way, setting this up before publication is crucial as, most likely, the lion’s share of attention will be given to the book shortly after publication. If you start searching for your work even a few weeks after it’s released, you’re likely going to have the bulk of the content behind you.
5: Plan Your Enforcement Strategy
Finally, after all of that, it’s time to think about what you will do when and if you find infringements of your work. What infringements will you be targeting? What actions will you be taking against any infringements you find (if any)?
Taking a moment to think about your goals and wishes regarding infringement is extremely helpful when something actually happens. This means that you will have a plan in place to handle the situation before you are faced with your first infringement, making it easier and faster to respond. It can also help make it less emotionally taxing.
Once again, if you’re working with a publisher this is another area they will likely take the lead on this. However, they may be willing to have you be involved with the enforcement efforts or, at the very least, have some input on it.
Still, whether you are on your own or with a publisher, you need to be thinking about your enforcement efforts before publication, specifically what you want and what your strategy is for making it happen.
In the end, if you’ve put the time and effort into creating a book, it makes sense to take the little bit of time and effort it takes to protect it. This includes from piracy, plagiarism and any other threats that may impact it.
If you’re going it alone, the responsibility for this protection falls solely on you. It’s up to you and you alone to take the steps above and make sure that your book has all of the protection possible.
If you’re working with a publisher, then you have a partner in these efforts. However, they can only be an effective partner if you’re actively engaged. If you aren’t thinking about your book’s copyright, you can’t ask the questions or take the steps that will be needed to ensure it’s covered.
All in all, it is your work and your baby. Protect it well and it may continue to serve you and earn you revenue for many years to come.