How Writers and Book Authors Can Avoid Common Copyright & IP Pitfalls in 4 Steps

Photo Credit: IMG_0859 by Nathan Gunter Used Under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo Credit: IMG_0859 by Nathan Gunter Used Under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It seems like every time you meet up with friends you are greeted with the news that one of them is releasing of some sort of book.

And it each time it happens your thoughts are pulled to that garret space about the garage where you have spent almost the last decade working on the next great American novel.

Lately you’ve been noticing that the neighbors keep checking up on you when they see the lights still on at three in the morning.

It’s probably to make sure you haven’t inadvertently left that old car running again with an oily rag or something stuffed in its exhaust pipe.

You’ve edited your creation again and again and then you edited it just once or maybe twice more in case you might have missed something somewhere.

You’ve researched every historical reference for accuracy, followed every story line to a resolution, assured story continuity with each character’s motivation leading to the achievement of a goal and allowed for a surprising and satisfying resolution of all of the conflicts including one or two of emotional epiphanies.

You figure your family will never recognize themselves in characters which they have inspired and even if they do you’ve prepared a response involving a convenient accusation that they are nursing some sort of narcissistic personality disorder.

You’ve never been more ready. You’re afraid of nothing and nobody. And then, a cold chill runs down your spine as you remember that you still have no literary agent and no publisher.

Your awareness switches focus to the coyotes howling under the summer moonlight and that bottomless pit in your stomach starts to churn and roll with horror as you recognize the fact that as of this moment you are just another unknown and unpublished genius.

Protecting an Unpublished Work

You comfort yourself with thoughts of how your literary hero, James Joyce, got countless rejection letters from publishers all over the world who couldn’t relate to the potential marketability of Ulysses.

The manuscript alone must have weighed three hundred pounds. Can you imagine the “synopsis letter” for that one?

And it is true that the first publishers of Ulysses were arrested and fined for their trouble. Mais avoir le courage, Aloysius, surely your work of art will inspire a far more warm and friendly reception. Right? It will, won’t it?

Step 1

Here is my advice; get that thing copyrighted before you do anything else!

Do not write to agents in letters giving away your entire plot and story line; do not send work off to publishers seeking solicited or unsolicited submissions to review, or answer one of the ubiquitous “we want to read you book” ads; do not take any other step unless and until you have first taken the step of formally copyrighting your creative masterpiece.

Do not wait for someone else to do this.

Do not wait until you have a secured a smooth mouthed literary agent, a cleverly worded press bio or have been offered some kind of publication contract.

Do it yourself and do it now.

Do it online at or mail in your application to the U.S. Copyright Office. No matter how you get there make sure you get this part of the process done!

Step 2

The next step is to more fully appreciate that a copyright is probably going to be the one genuine protection you may have to preserve and protect your work in a marketplace where stomping all over an artist’s copyright in a Rumpelstiltskin rage is the norm.

Leaving fresh ideas unattended is like dangling heroin in front of an addict in a “behind your back intranet market” made up of creatively dried up losers and morally bereft gagmen who still pile into a tiny red car for a laugh and still leave their oversized shoes hanging out the rear window in your face after they stamp their name on a rejection letter and pass you by. It was never funny, and it still isn’t.

Get a grip. If you have a great story, if you have a fresh story, if you have some really unique ideas then don’t let those clowns talk you out of them.

Many a “literary agent” or potential “publisher” will be an honest operation but none of them are going to have a large “H” stamped on their forehead so that a neophyte author can readily tell the difference.

And after all, isn’t that just what many of these lowlifes are counting on to pay their bills?

Step 3

Is a non-disclosure agreement necessary?

Many a literary agent and publisher will be quick to tell you that no NDA is needed. They will tell you that your copyright covers your work and that it is all you need.

Well, guys this is just the type of fodder that begets copyright infringement law suits.

Why wait until a judge is trying to decide whether or not a ridiculously similar work was lifted by from your s by a client of the same agent to whom you submitted work for review? By that point the cat is well out of the drowning bag, isn’t it?

Why wait for a legal determination of copyright application? After all, copyright law won’t cover the ideas contained in a work. Agents and publishers surely know that only a DNA can protect that aspect of a client’s work.

And anyway, isn’t lifting freshly minted ideas from unpublished novels and passing them along for use in television show episodes, scripts on web marketing venues and TV commercials or just passing them along to some big name author in the same genre whose talent dried up years ago standard industry practice on the “behind your back intranet market?”

Step 4

You’ve completed and edited your manuscript, you’ve secured a formal copyright and now you are ready to publish it.

Self publishing is likely one of your best options. Anyway you cut it at some juncture you are going to have to take on the role of main salesperson for your book.

Making a webpage where people can learn about and purchase a copy of the book is a good start. Finding a self publisher that will agree to reproduce small batches or even single copies of your book is the next mountain to be scaled. It may take some searching but it can be done.

It is really true that many a successful author has literary agents and publishers knocking at their door to offer them book contracts.

The main reason for this is that they have achieved some minimal level of recognition with the book buying public.

It does not matter whether the public notoriety is due to some sort of infamous act, such as bombing the Boston Marathon or whether it has arisen as the result of some honorable achievement, such photographing the bomber at the moment of his arrest, the end result is the same, name recognition for a potential book brand with consumers.

Publishers and agents generally don’t care who the target market is for your book, no, they just want to know that there is a market for the books they produce. They want some sort of assurance that they are not going to be left with a warehouse full of books they can’t sell.

The long and short of it is that unknown and unpublished authors need to ferociously protect their work at all stages of the publishing game. The publishing industry is changing with the speed of light.

Literary agents and publishers that insist on standing still can expect to be left covered in the dust of innovative authors that stride bravely into the future to begin their authorship careers in tandem with a strong self publishing venue.

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About the Author: Christine Varad is the principal writer and editor for Varacolors. She earned her JD in law from New England Law and holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. As an artist and a lawyer she has a long standing interest in Intellectual Property law and protecting the rights and interests of the writers and visual and performing artists.