Self-Publishing Primer: Part 10 – What do I need to know about copyrights and ISBNs?

You will find links to the other posts in the series at Self-Publishing Primer.

Writers often ask me if they need to copyright their book before they send it into the publishing world – either to a freelance editor or book doctor to polish the manuscript or to agents and editors to seek publication. In fact, your words are copyrighted the minute you put them in “fixed form” – handwritten on tablet paper, typed in a word processor, recorded in audio format, or any other form. However, you will want to register your copyright AFTER the book is published.

The U.S. Copyright Office says: In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration.

Copyright registration costs $45, and you can learn how to register on the Copyright Office Web site.

There is no need to register the copyright before the book is published because if there are “substantial and creative” changes, you will have to re-register. Most books go through several revisions before publication, so it’s best to wait until the copy is final before registering copyright. You should not worry about editors, designers, printers, or other publishing professionals “stealing” your work. Professionals would not stay in business if they stole from their clients. If you have any doubts about the integrity of a person or company you are considering doing business with – don’t. Find someone else. You have to trust anyone helping you throughout the process of getting your book published.

Whether or not you register your copyright, you will have to comply with mandatory deposit and deposit two copies of your published book in the Library of Congress within three months of publication.

If you want to sell your book in bookstores, it must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). This is a unique 13-digit (expanded in January from 10 digits) number that identifies your book in a specific edition; books published in both paperback and electronic formats will require two different ISBNs. The ISBN identifies the country, the publisher, the title/edition. You cannot use an ISBN from another publisher because the publisher prefix is permanently assigned to the publisher of record. If you are considering publishing with a POD or subsidy company, the publisher of record will be that company – not you. You cannot have complete control over your book if you do not have your own ISBNs.

The ISBN agency in the US is R.R. Bowker, and you can apply online. The regular processing fee for a block of 10 ISBNs is $240 $275. Ten sounds like a lot if you’re planning only one book, but if you publish in more than one format, you will need a number for each format. And even if you publish only one book in one format and never use the other nine ISBNs, I consider this a wise investment to maintain complete control of your book. If you intend to publish a lot of books, you can save money by ordering larger blocks.

After you receive the list of ISBNs assigned to your publishing company, you must complete a form or register each book online so Bowker has a record of what title/edition carries each ISBN. This information is then published in Books in Print, and any bookstore or library can get the information needed to order your book.

The ISBN will be included in the bar code on the cover of your book. You can find sources for bar codes on the Bowker site, but your book designer or printer can probably provide the bar code as part of their service.

Once you are registered with R.R. Bowker and have your ISBNs, you know you are officially a publisher.

Next, we’ll talk about how much self-publishing your book will cost.

[tags]publishing, self-publishing, writing[/tags]

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