Ask the Book Doctor: Are There Special Rules When Using a Pen Name?

Question: I am simply a hobby writer. I do get the occasional “how-to article” published in magazines; however, I want to write some western fiction novels. One problem, as I see it, is my surname. It is of eastern European origin and sounds strange to most Americans. If I write under an alias, are there any special rules that might apply to using a nom de plume, like getting paid under the assumed name, copyrights under that name, et cetera?

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Answer: I’m not an attorney, but as I understand it, pseudonyms are not a problem in the publishing business. Your publisher will know your real name and send your checks to your legal name. Once you produce a written piece of work, the copyright automatically belongs to you (under your real name) until and unless you sell those rights, and the rights will belong to you no matter what pseudonym you choose to use when publishing your book.

What would you like to ask a book doctor? Send your questions to Bobbie Christmas at This article republished from the Self Publishing Advisor archives.

Ask the Book Doctor: Are Book Titles Protected by Copyright?

Q: I’m considering a title for my novel that is already being used on another book. Can titles by copyrighted?

A: Titles are not eligible for protection under current copyright law (a search on Amazon will often reveal many different books all sharing the same title).  However, titles can be trademarked if used to cover more than one item in a series, such as a cluster of seminars based on a book of the same name. Or try self-publishing a book with “Harry Potter” in the title and get ready to hear from some lawyers.

<Image of Harry Potter not shown below, due to copyright…>

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While you can legally use a  book title that has been used by someone else, a better idea is to change the title and make it different, so people who search for your title will find only your book, and not others.  This is your chance to come up with something memorable and unique, and you’d be a muggle if you didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at This article republished from the Self Publishing Advisor Archives.

In Your Corner: Understanding Copyright

I won’t lie:

Copyright is Hard

So: never let the world beat you down into thinking poorly of yourself for not fully understanding every detail of copyright law. We’ll summarize some of the “greatest hits” of copyright for self-publishing authors here, including when it is important to register your copyright, and what it might look life if you do not pursue acquiring a copyright on your next book … but there’s a lot more out there than we can cover in one blog post, so we’ll provide some of our favorite resources at the end of the post as well.


The Starter Pack: Basics You Should Know

Copyright was introduced in order to protect intellectual property, and draws directly from the US Constitution, which grants this protection for original works in any tangible medium of self-expression (including books, of course, and art, music, film, et cetera). Copyright covers both unpublished and published works.

Copyright is not something you apply for. It is not something the government issues like tickets at the DMV. Copyright law protects your work from being claimed by others as their own, or from being exploited by others who seek to profit from your work without your explicit permission. Instead, your work is protected under copyright laws from the moment of its creation.

Copyright does not protect everything. It doesn’t cover facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it will protect a textbook or operating manual explaining those things. Make sense? And copyright does not protect the title of your book. You might attempt to trademark a title if it qualifies for that fully separate protection, but that is a lengthy, uncertain, and pricey process. It’s better to know going into publication that your title does not belong to just you. (But then, that can be a freeing thought. You won’t be served papers for accidentally replicating someone else’s title. With so many millions of books in print, that is a good bet.)

Copyright is good in most international cases. As in, there are some countries with whom the United States has not yet worked out mutually beneficial copyright recognition agreements. But the majority of US-allied countries respect US copyright laws.

So What’s This About Registration?

While there’s no requirement to register your copyright—it’s not strictly mandatory, that is, to register—there is a registration service provided by the Library of Congress in order to record claims to copyright. This establishes precedence, and legal standing if someone should ever violate your copyright—it will help you prove that the book in question was first registered by you and you alone. This is one of those “not required but STRONGLY recommended OR ELSE you might lose in a court case” situations. The world is not always a fair place, so we have to protect ourselves whenever we can.

After registration, you will receive a certificate proving your copyright information and placing your copyright record into the public record. In the off chance you face litigation, you will become eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees, among other things. You don’t have to do this right away, although the sooner the better; if you register with the LoC within five years after your initial publication, you are considered covered under prima facie evidence in a court of law.

Don’t rely on the old trick of mailing yourself a copy of your manuscript in order to acquire proof of copyright; this is considered the “poor man’s registration” but it doesn’t always hold up in court.

If You Do Not Register for Copyright …

Your book might be stolen, knowingly or unknowingly.

How unknowingly??

These days, there are hundreds of automated scripts scanning the web and indexing (or storing old copies of) websites and digital content for archival purposes. Many of these scripts are designed with honorable purposes in mind (wanting to preserve uncorrupted copies of websites in case material is taken offline or corrupted somehow) … but some are not. And some operate in a very grey area. You might remember the trouble Google landed in several years ago for making digital copies of recently published books available through the Google Books platform—the intent was to make all published content searchable, but it ended up making all published content purchasable … and through a website which hadn’t purchased the rights to begin with. It was messy. And it remains messy: the US court system ruled in favor of Google and against the Authors Guild.

Many scripts replicate what Google Books has done, but with even fewer safeguards and protections. This means that you have zero standing if you do not register your book with the Library of Congress and find that a website is running a digital copy of your book pulled from the ether by an algorithm without your permission, and literally anyone can now read your book without consent.

And of course there are much nastier cases, where people intentionally steal copyrighted material or otherwise exploit published material for profit. The point is … give yourself a leg to stand on, even if there’s no judge on your doorstep compelling you to do so this afternoon. There might be one in the future, and you want to be well positioned for that.


Some of our favorite copyright resources include:

And as always ….


You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

From the Archives: “The Book Doctor talks ‘Copyright’ Protection”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: June 2nd, 2010 ]

Self-publishing affords author the advantage of 100% content and property rights control, which makes copyright protection an important element to consider when choosing your publisher. Bobbie the “Book Doctor” Christmas shares some helpful tips…

Q: When I send my manuscript to readers or agents, should I put the copyright c in a circle on the title page, on every page, or anywhere at all? Should a date be there also?

A: I tend to trust people and therefore do not put a copyright mark on my manuscripts, because the laws of copyright protect us—that is, we own the rights to all our intellectual property the moment we create it. Also, agents and publishers who see a copyright mark may think the person who sent the manuscript is un-knowledgeable or paranoid, because it is not necessary to officially register the copyright until the work is laid out and ready to be published in book form.

If, however, you feel more comfortable marking your manuscripts with a copyright mark, the traditional method for showing a copyright is to use the symbol c in a circle or write the word “Copyright.” Either form should then be followed by the year and your first and last name, all on one line. It should appear on the title page only, and because it is not standard to have a copyright mark on a manuscript, there is no standard for where on the title page to put it. I would probably put it two lines below the name of the author on the title page.

Do not, however, go to the trouble of registering the copyright with the government until the book is about to be published. The content will no doubt change between the time you write it and it gets published, so wait until the book is in its final form before paying to register the copyright.

– by Bobbie Christmas

I’ll be honest with you here:

After decades of working in the self-publishing industry–as an author myself and as an advocate for other authors–copyright is still hard.  And messy.  And confusing.  For Americans at least, it shouldn’t be–the basic principles of copyright were determined (and governed) by the United States Constitution and other international copyright agreements, and have therefore been around a while.  For the the most part, after all of my experience, I feel like I can muddle along on a day-to-day basis, repeating the basic definition to myself:

Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. This is usually only for a limited time. The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. A major limitation on copyright is that copyright protects only the original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves.

(Thanks, Wikipedia.)

The thing is, despite having a fairly solid understanding of what my own “original work” and “intellectual property” looks like, there are a swarm of details like the one Bobbie addresses above that end up being so complicated I can’t memorize all of the details.  And because copyright laws are serious–and I want to respect both my own work as well as the work of others–I want and even need to have full command of the necessary information to honor copyright requirements.


Which is why having the right resources on hand to turn to is important.  A good copyright resource, like the Owl at Purdue for grammar and academic writing requirements, will be detailed and thorough, easy to navigate, and always just one click away.  It really does take a load off when you’re in a pinch and need to know the answer right now.

When it comes to resources on copyright, I have a few recommendations:

  • Poets & Writers has a website dedicated to “Copyright Information for Writers” which strikes just the right balance between simplicity and responsiveness.  You have the option of starting a “Topic,” or essentially posting your own query to the P&W community for responses.
  • UW Copyright Connection may just be the most successful resource at breaking down the various complexities of copyright for authors looking to answer specific questions. The Connection looks and feels much like a Wiki–only it’s dedicated to authors, so there’s no need to skim through the white noise of irrelevant information to find the answers you need.
  • The Book Designer has a series of good posts about copyright, including one titled “Self-Publishing Basics: The Copyright Page” that specifically addresses, well, the copyright page.  It addresses Bobbie’s comments above, and then fills in some of the white space around them.
  • The Huffington Post is also getting into the copyright game by addressing the self-publishing author’s unique relationship with copyright.  Check out the article, “Legal Issues in Self-Publishing: What Authors Need to Know” for more information.
  • Wikipedia.  It’s less of a cop-out than you think, trust me, especially if you’re looking for the historical background to certain copyright restrictions.  Sometimes the why is buried in the how it came about, and knowing the reasons for a restriction often make it easier to live within. Wikipedia also has a page dedicated to Authors Rights.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer: 10/23/2015


Following Webster’s legacy path, we discover that ESSAY and ARTICLE writing are a great way to exercise your creative muscles while dropping bread crumbs that will encourage Readers to discover the books you’ll write. Noah Webster wrote many such pieces which he says (in the preface of his Collected Essays) will naturally allow the writer to “give himself up to his feelings and his manner of writing will flow from his manner of thinking.” How might that translate into today’s world?


  • Webster took a season of his life to edit periodicals—the American Magazine for one year (1788–1789) and the pro-federalist American Minerva (1793–1798). Is this a skill you have, a natural talent that could build your portfolio? Seek out both paper and Internet magazine formats that interest you and begin submitting articles (400-700 words in length) to them. Follow their guidelines to a “T” while maintaining your natural and unique manner of writing and thinking to flow.
  • Webster continued to write and publish (self-publish) pieces that he knew to be valuable to the general public. Between 1802 and 1806 he issued the first three volumes of Elements of Useful Knowledge, schoolbooks to enlighten and educate the growing population of the United States of America. What subject matter interests you to the level of being passionate about it? Have you accumulated a level of knowledge about it that you could be labeled an “expert?” Too many people shy away from writing on a topic because they cannot see or accept themselves as a knowledgeable person in that subject matter when, in fact, their unique perspective is needed to advance deeper understanding.

Also, Webster wholeheartedly believed that writers—and the ideas presented in their work—needed protection from “theft.” He had experienced firsthand, and witnessed the works of other writers become plagiarized, misrepresented, and “hacked to bits” too often. In the fledgling United States “national copyright protection” for Webster’s SPELLER was limited to a period of fourteen (14) years. Although that seems like a very short time, it worked out well for him because at the end of that interval he sold the entire rights to the American Spelling Book (for its third copyright period 1818 to 1832) to Hudson and Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Those finances allowed him to focus on his major work: An American Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in New York in 1828.

ALL AUTHORS need to keep themselves informed about current copyright law. Best source: Copyrights DO expire after the death of the author (—plus 70, 95 or 120 years), so our heirs need to be aware that when that time comes, they may be able to sell that copyright as income to support our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Our friend, Noah Webster, Jr. continues to teach us about this challenging author/writer career. His persevering work ethic not only kept him and his family fed and housed, it has sent ripples into all future generations. Your work is just as valuable! Whether you’re creating textbooks or books of poetry—cookbooks or photography books—car manuals or political speeches—the words that you are placing together in concise structures of communication are necessary elements of life. Keep writing! Then…PUBLISH! ⚓︎

RoyaleneABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene has been writing something since before kindergarten days and continues to love the process. Through her small business—DOYLE WRITING SERVICES—she brings more than 40 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their projects. This is a nice fit as she develops these blogs for Outskirts Press (OP) a leading self-publisher, and occasionally accepts a ghostwriting project from one of their clients. Her recent book release (with OP) titled FIREPROOF PROVERBS, A Writer’s Study of Words, is already receiving excellent reviews including several professional writer’s endorsements given on the book’s back cover.  

Royalene’s writing experience grew through a wide variety of positions from Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to Teacher of Literature and Advanced Writing courses and editor/writer for an International Christian ministry. Her willingness to listen to struggling authors, learn their goals and expectations and discern their writing voice has brought many manuscripts into the published books arena.