Oct 16

Applying Online for an Official U.S. Copyright

I had to do copyright registration myself this time because the printer for The Woman Who Values Herself did not include copyrighting among its services. I've paid others to do this for me, because when I first did it in 2005, filling out forms and sending them through the mail, I messed up and the process took 18 months. But now you can apply for copyright for your book, published or unpublished, online, today through www.copyright.gov's eCO (e-copyright) system and it costs only $35 compared to $65 if you apply on paper. The online application requires a little patience for clicking Help and FAQ buttons on the less-than-intuitive interface (which advises you that its maximum file size for the "typical 56kbps modem is 11.3MB," and that its system was built for IE and Netscape browsers. Netscape?!? Gesundheit!). Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers are okay, and I think you can load bigger files now.

You can then upload your text if it's in the right format, which is most anything except .epub, which you'll have to convert to .zip. If your book is already printed, apply electronically for copyright and pay the $35 fee online, and then print out a shipping slip to mail along with two copies of the book to the Library of Congress. I just love the idea of my books in the U.S. Library of Congress. The site warns you that your package will be x-rayed for security reasons. I love thinking that my envelope with two books in it is so important that it scares them up on Capitol Hill.

The whole point of formal registration is to establish yourself as the copyright owner should a dispute arise. Probably one won't. But never say never. Registering your book within three months of publication gives you extra rights in case of litigation.

Copyright.gov is a great site for answering any and all copyright questions about texts, music, video, or any other sort of intellectual/artistic creations.

May 09

The Self-Publisher Options You Need and Don't Need

Every self-publishing firm offers a number of optional services on top of its base price. If you want a professional-quality book, these are the options you want:

-Professional copyediting and proofreading of the initial manuscript and final proof. Money spent on this is money well spent. Don't economize by trying this alone. Your readers will love finding the inevitable errors, and you will hate paying the self-publisher to correct and reprint your book.
-Professional layout or setup of the book's interior. This may be called "the setup fee" and is often included in the base price. The self-publisher has the proper software for this.
-Professional cover design. You may supply the photo or illustration, but don't insist on drawing or lettering your own cover. If you don't like what the publisher's graphic artist suggests, ask for another design.
-Register your book with the Library of Congress. It sounds easy: Fill out forms and write a check. But the forms are complicated, rather like patent applications, and with my first book only an 18-month correspondence straightened everything out. Save your mental health and pay $100 to get it done.

Don't waste your money on:
-Independently buying your own cut-rate ISBN number for your book. A self-publishing firm will not be able to use it.
-The pricey package allowing you "unlimited customization" of your book. Why pay your chosen self-publishing firm thousands of dollars just for the luxury of spurning its help and advice?
-Promotional or marketing packages that will compose press releases, send your books to reviewers, and so on. Self-published books do not benefit from these tactics.
May 06

Stealing Poetry

True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.

Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.

This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from Creativecommons.org.

Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!

Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.