There’s a long discussion about copyright in my guild to independent publishing, Publish Your Book Your Way, but here’s the core lesson you need to know—you are not required to register your work with the U.S. Copyright office in order for your rights to be protected.
HOWEVER, if you ever get into a dispute over copyright, the entity who registers it with the U.S. Copyright office has the stronger case.
That’s why we recommend you handle this part of publishing yourself. You can do this online here: U.S. Copyright office.
Now, traditional publishers generally do this for their authors, and under these circumstances, it’s legit as long as you understand that you’ll never have complete control over your own work again. This is how traditional publishing works—they pay you money, you relinquish rights in return.
If you’re publishing your work independently, then please register your own copyright. It’s $35 if you do it online, $65 if you do it through the mail. The copyright form is pretty straightforward. Just remember to send them two copies of your book when it’s published.
The real rub over copyright comes in the self-publishing realm. Every self-publishing company brags about the fact that “you retain your copyright” to your work. And it’s true that some of them will register your work in your name with the U.S. Copyright office.
But there’s a significant percentage of self-publishing companies who will register your work under their name. In essence, they are stealing (yep, let’s call it what it is) the rights to your work.
Our advice from here is simple—buy your own ISBNs and register your own copyright with the U.S. Copyright office. That way, there’s no question who’s in control of your work.