Six Frequently Asked Copyright Questions

Copyright is one of the toughest topics for new authors to understand. Many of you have questions about protecting your work as well as using material from copyrighted sources. Here are six of the most frequently asked copyright questions along with answers to get you started. Feel free to share additional questions in the comments section.

Is my manuscript copyrighted when self publishing?

Yes, the copyright for your material was secured as soon as you created it, or when it became fixed in a manuscript for the first time. No publication, registration, or any other official act is required to secure copyright. However, registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is recommended.

If copyright is automatic, why should I register for a copyright?

Filing with the U.S. Copyright Office creates a public record of the basic information of your book, which gives you the ability to sue for infringement and statutory damages. This creates a legal presumption that your copyright is valid and allows you to recoup up to thousands of dollars, and possibly attorney fees, without having to prove actual monetary harm.

How do I know if something in my book is copyright protected?

In most cases, any picture, material, text, information, quote, map, song, image, or illustration that you personally did not create is copyright protected by the person(s) who created and/or published the material.  Any text or pictures found in a book, magazine or newspaper is copyright protected by the publisher, artist photographer, or some other entity.  And yes, most information found on the internet is copyright protected.  For example, if you pull material from Wikipedia, it’s copyrighted by somebody.  Wikipedia is a non-profit site, and therefore, can provide information without permission; however, as an author using this information in your book, the original source must be contacted to obtain proper authorization to publish it for profit.

What is Fair Use?

Under “Fair Use,” some copyright protected material can be used without permission; however, there are no clear-cut rules, only guidelines and factors to be considered. Fair use is not a right, only a defense. If you are unsure, please consult a legal advisor or copyright researcher.

 The following four factors are used to determine fair use: 1) The purpose and character of the use, including potential gains for commercial 2) The nature of the original copyrighted work 3) The proportion or percentage of the copyrighted material in relation to the work as a whole 4) The potential effect on the value of the copyrighted material.

Will citing the source of the material free you from copyright infringement?

No!  Citing the source will not avoid possible court litigation.  Permission must be obtained, and you must provide the publisher with the appropriate forms indicating authorization.

How can I avoid being accused of libel?

Stating an opinion is not libelous, though it’s best to be careful not to make an accusatory statement about anyone when using real names. Do not make the following statements, as they are clear grounds for a libel case: Falsely accusing someone of a crime, or having been charged, indicted or convicted of a crime; falsely identifying someone with an infectious disease; falsely charging someone or an organization with a claim that discredits a business or office and lowers their profitability; and falsely accusing someone as being impotent.

Seriously consider if you are self-publishing a book that reveals information that could damage someone, and consult with an attorney or copyright research firm.  If you are publishing a true story, I recommend that you change names and use a pen name when publishing.

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

Five Tips for a Great Synopsis

One of your responsibilities as a self-published author will be writing a synopsis for your books. This is the text that will convince book sellers (such as agents and distributors) to purchase and sell your book. It is different from the copy on the back cover of your book, which persuades the reader to purchase your book. To write a winning synopsis, remember these five tips.

1. Reveal everything that happens in the book, including the ending. Heck, revealing the story’s ending is a synopsis’s defining unique characteristic. You shouldn’t find a story’s ending in a query or in-person pitch, but it does leak out in a synopsis.  A synopsis is designed to explain everything that happens, not to tease, so avoid language such as “Krista walks around a corner into a big surprise.” Don’t say “surprise;” instead say exactly what happens.

2. Make your synopsis two pages, double-spaced or one page, single-spaced. There is always some disagreement on length. This stems from the fact that synopses used to trend longer (up to 12 pages!). But over the last five years, agents have requested shorter and shorter synopses — with most agents finally settling on one to two pages. If you write a one page, single-spaced synopsis, it’s the same length as two pages, double-spaced; either are acceptable. There will be the occasional agent who requests something strange, such as a “5-page synopsis on lime green paper that smells of cinnamon!” But for  most agents, a one to two page document is perfect.

3. Take more care and time if you’re writing genre fiction. Synopses are especially difficult to compose if you’re writing character-driven (i.e., literary) fiction because there may not be a whole lot of plot in the book. Agents and editors understand this and put little (or no) weight into a synopsis for literary or character-driven stories. However, if you’re writing genre fiction — specifically categories like romance, fantasy, thriller, mystery, horror or science fiction — agents will look over your characters and plot points to make sure your book has a clear beginning, middle, and end as well as some unique aspects they haven’t seen before in a story. So if you’re getting ready to submit a genre story, don’t blow through your synopsis; it’s important.

4. Feel free to be dry, but don’t step out of the narrative. When you write your prose (and even the pitch in your query letter), there is importance in using style and voice in the writing. A synopsis not only can be dry, but probably should be dry. The synopsis has to explain everything that happens in a very small amount of space. So if you find yourself using short, dry sentences like “John shoots Bill and sits down to contemplate suicide,” don’t worry. This is normal. Lean, clean language is great, but do not step out of the narrative. Agents do not want to read things such as “And at the climax of the story,” “In a rousing scene,” or “In a flashback.”

5. Use all caps for  character names the first time they are introduced. Use normal text on other references. Also, avoid naming too many characters because this can get confusing;  try to set a limit of five or six. I know this may sound tough, but it’s doable. It forces you to exclude small characters and subplots from your summary, which actually strengthens your synopsis.

If you follow these tips, you will write a great synopsis.

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

The Benefits of Self-Publishing

Many aspiring authors find themselves debating whether they should self-publish or attempt traditional publishing. While both methods have pros and cons, there are many benefits to self-publishing. Here are the most common benefits of this growing publishing trend.

  • You have freedom of expression — you write your own words. You don’t have to change what you’ve written to please an editor, agent, or commercial audience.
  • You control how your book looks — everything from the cover to the interior formatting is in your hands.
  • You set your own price it can be as low or as high as you would like.
  • You receive 100% of your royalties — there’s no middleman stealing your profits, so you earn more per book than you would with traditional publishing.
  • You can review your  interior and cover proofs before publishing — if you misuse spaces or hard returns in your manuscript, it may mess up the layout of your book. However, you have the opportunity to review your proofs for these issues before they are sent to the printer.

It wouldn’t be fair to share the benefits of self-publishing without also discussing the potential downfalls. Here are some of the cons of this publishing option.

  • No one critiques your manuscript — how can you be sure your book is interesting and complete? If you want someone else’s opinion, you will need to hire a professional.
  • You don’t have to edit your manuscript — a messy manuscript turns into a poorly written book that very few people (if any) will want to read. Too many self-published authors choose not to pay for editing because it isn’t required. However, if you want your book to be taken seriously, a professional editor is worth every penny.
  • You control your book’s design — this is great if you’re a designer but not so great if you have limited graphic skills. Depending on your limitations and the complexity of your book, you may need to hire a designer or illustrator.

If you are a self-published author, I’d love to know what made you choose self-publishing. Feel free to share your stories in the comments section.

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

How to Select a Good Title for Your Self-Published Book

The title of your self-published book can impact your ability to sell it. A good title will catch readers’ attention and encourage them to buy the book, while a bad title can cost you by driving away customers. If you want to choose a good title for your self-published book, keep these tips in mind.

  • Make it memorable. This may mean choosing something humorous, shocking, or intriguing based on the subject of your book.
  • Make it unique. Do some research before choosing your book’s title. Visit bookstores and browse for books online. You don’t want to pick a title that is too similar to the books that have already been published.
  • Use keywords. Many people search online before purchasing a book, so make sure readers will find your book when they search for your topic.

I’d love to know, what are your favorite book titles?

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

Copyright Assistance

When self publishing a book, authors need to be concerned with copyright issues. While self-publishing companies are not legal experts or copyright researchers, they do make recommendations and offer assistance to help authors get the advice they need.

One of the most common mistakes self-publishing companies encounter is authors using website images from “download free photos” websites. Many authors don’t realize these are low resolution images not optimal for a printed hardcopy format or that free downloads are for blogging and website usage, not permissible for printed book publishing.

Another common mistake is authors thinking  that everything on Wikipedia is okay to publish or use; many items will require authorization/permission release from the copyright holder/originator/entity. Song lyrics are also usually copyrighted, so utilizing a copyright research company is the best way for authors to protect themselves.

For more information on copyrights, visit http://www.copyright.gov/. You can also talk to a representative at your self-publishing company. He or she should be able to provide you with the resources you need to answer all of your copyright questions.

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

Self-Published Authors Have Input

One of the  many benefits of self-publishing is the amount of control the author maintains during the publication process. Unlike traditional publishing, you can call all the shots. However, it is important to note that not every self-publishing company offers the same privileges and options. When choosing a company, find out how much author input is allowed and if there are any additional costs for customizations. For instance, most companies charge for custom covers or interior design, but you don’t have to buy custom options to have author input. Even standard templates give you the opportunity to change and adjust based on your needs and desires. This is privilege that most traditionally published authors don’t have, and it is one of the main reasons writers choose self-publishing.

I’d love to know, what customizations are you considering?

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

How Much Do Illustrations Cost?

Like ghost writing or copyediting, illustrations take time and require a great deal of skill and talent. It is important to remember that illustrators must be paid fairly for their time and expertise. The price for illustrations can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. It depends on the size and complexity of your project. When considering illustrations, it is important to do some research, figure out your goals, and create a budget. Once you know your expectations, you’ll want to find an illustrator who meshes with your style. To do this, find out if your self publishing company offers illustration services and get a quote. You can also look at sites such as guru.com or elance.com to find a freelance illustrator. Be sure to always look at sample work before choosing an illustrator. There are many different styles, and you want to find an artist who matches your vision.

For more information on illustrations, check out these articles.

The Importance of Illustrations

What You Need to Know About Custom Covers

Illustrations Affect the Success of You Children’s Book

 

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.