Category Archives: Publishing

The Paperwork of Publishing (part two)

Copyright symbolThere’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.

The Paperwork of Publishing (part one)

ISBN scanIf you want to maintain full control of your work, there are four criteria that are absolute.

  1. You purchase and use your own ISBN numbers.
  2. You register your work with the U.S. Copyright office.
  3. You maintain total control of the digital files that create books for your readers.
  4. You direct all the proceeds from sales to your own financial coffers.

Let’s start with a quick lesson on ISBNs, International Standard Book Numbers.

These are the 13-digit numbers you find printed at the top of the bar code on a book’s back cover. In this country, the ONLY place to buy legal ISBNs (the ones recognized by the entire industry) is the R.R. Bowker Company, our friends who are responsible for Books-in-Print. Here’s the correct website: ISBN.

Why is this so important? A book’s ISBN (and this is true for ebooks, audiobooks, and books-on-paper) functions like its Social Security number. No matter where you work in the U.S., the money you earn for Social Security goes into your account. If your book has a legitimate ISBN, no matter where it’s sold, the proceeds of the sale are yours.

There are some circumstances when using another company’s ISBN is OK. At the moment, those circumstances include: publishing with Blurb.com, Lulu.com, Create Space.com and Kindle.com because so far, these companies have not tried to control books bearing their ISBNs. If you’re just starting out in the publishing business and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, using an ISBN from these companies just to gain the experience of publishing is OK.

But once you get serious, purchase and use your own ISBNs. They cost $125 for one but buy ten because it’s $250. There’s no expiration date. They are unique to you or your publishing company if you decide to give yourself a name. No one else but you can use them. Don’t bother purchasing bar codes because the major digital book printers will supply them.

When it’s your ISBN, it’s very, very clear who controls the money earned by your book.

On the dark side of this coin, run as fast as you can away from any company that will not agree to let you use your own ISBN (unless you’re dealing with a reputable traditional publisher). In the self-publishing world, owning a book’s ISBN is analogous to owning the rights to a book, and it’s a sure sign of a company with less than stellar ethics.

Who Controls Your Book?

In this age of audio, electronic, web-ready and paper books, how do authors control their work?
iUniverse crossed out
The most direct answer is this: The one who controls the master file that makes a book manifest controls the book.

So what in the heck does that mean?

Let’s start with a familiar example to help explain this important concept. All books-on-paper are now printed from digital files (PDFs) that function just like the digital files you have on your computer. Chances are that you’re using word processing software of some sort to write your book. When you do that, you are creating a digital file that makes your book manifest (real).

This is an important concept in copyright law as well.

As long as your work is on your computer and your computer alone, there’s no question about control. It’s yours. You control it.

But what happens if you take that word processing document and send it to a self-publishing company such as iUniverse so that they can turn it into a “real book”?

If you go this route (and we sincerely hope you do not), you will send a sizable check to iUniverse for their work, and they will create a PDF of your book’s interior and a PDF of its cover.

Let’s be clear about this—if you choose this path to publishing, you will be paying a company to make your Word doc into a hold-it-in-your-hands book-on-paper. So the digital file that gets used to print your book should be yours to control, right? In other words, you’ve paid for this work so the result should be controlled by you. Right?

Nope. Not even close.

Every self-publishing company touts the fact that authors who use them always own the rights to their work. Theoretically, that’s true (in most cases). What you don’t own are the digital master files—that you’ve paid for—that are used to make copies of your book.

So what if you’re unhappy with sales on the iUniverse website and want to print your book somewhere else? iUniverse will give you those files—for an additional fee—IF IF IF your contract allows for that.

Or you could be stuck…forever.

This is standard procedure in the self-publishing industry—you pay to create your work but you don’t really own the results.

There’s gotta be a better way, right?

What Do Indie Authors Really Want?

TOF-front cover onlyOne of the great attractions of a good travel website or book are the ratings for accommodations, places to eat and places to visit. Let’s face it, we all notice a one-star vs. a five-star rating.

But how do we rate book distribution agreements for independent authors? What are our criteria?

Recently, the website Digital Book World did an interesting survey of indie authors about why we do what we do. Going into the survey, most folks thought that the number one reason to indie publish would be higher royalty rates.

That was number two, as it turned out.

The number one reason why indie authors publish their own work is—creative control. (It’s certainly my number one reason to independently publish my own books.)
TRU-2015 front cover only
Now most folks would define creative control to mean that indie authors choose their own book covers, titles, and how the insides of their books look.

But in indie publishing, creative control means far more than that. The creative control exerted by an independently publishing author extends into the very heart and soul of the business of publishing. Within the traditional industry, that heart and soul is called distribution—the control of pricing, control of the stream of financial information, where and how to sell a book, and control of the printing process.

Publishing Without Borders

Landscape in snow for web
The complexity of the currently publishing landscape comes home to me again and again as fellow writers turn to Full Circle Press for guidance for their books.

I had one such interaction this morning, via email, with a man who attended one of my What Would William Shakespeare Do? workshops. He’s a photographer for passion and a landscaper by profession, something that’s very difficult to do in Vermont in winter.

In other words, money is an issue and he’s struggling to cling to his passion in the face of his financial reality. Should he give it up?

As much as the trolls bemoan the now universal access writers have to publishing outlets, here at Full Circle Press, we revel in it because everyone has a story to tell.

And now that we are freed from the gatekeeping constraints of traditional publishing, we have a multitude of ways to tell our stories to one another. In fact, we encourage new authors to try the low or no-cost avenues so they get a feel for the business. Then, if/when they decide to get more serious, they know how the process works and how to recognize quality book production services when they see them.

You can publish your book-on-paper for free through Amazon’s Create Space program if you are willing to take the time to make your book cover with their tools, and follow their instructions for how to manage your book’s interior.

You can upload your book electronically for free through Kindle and Smashwords and sell it around the world. Make sure you follow their very detailed instructions on how to do this right using Microsoft Word.

You can construct a book with pictures and text using free software through sites such as Lulu.com, Blurb.com, iBook.com (using Apple’s iPhoto software), and MyPublisher.com. You have to pay for the finished books (these sites make their money on printing) but you can create your books for free.

You do understand that unless you’re familiar with this type of work, the results may look less than professional.

But you will be published. And you’ll learn A LOT.