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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.

What Technology Hath Wrought: The Advent of Digital Printing

Newsprint copy
Sonja Hakala’s Your Book, Your Way is being revised and renamed. You can enjoy read of What Would William Shakespeare Do? in real time right here. If you want to start at the beginning, you can by clicking right here.

Digital printing is the technology that allows you to make copies of anything you wish from your computer. It is the same technology that drives copying machines and scanners. And it’s part and parcel of all digital cameras. It is the technology that has sent the traditional book publishing world into such turmoil because it has returned the power to print to authors.

Yeah, digital print technology is everywhere. In fact, it’s difficult to remember a time when you couldn’t make a copy of anything you chose just by laying the original on a glass screen and pushing a button. But sentient beings born before 1960 can tell you stories about mimeograph machines with their smelly purple ink or how they tucked sheets of carbon paper between pieces of white paper before rolling them into a typewriter.

I know, I know, the stuff of dinosaur legends.

The roots of digital printing actually reach as far back as 1778 when a German scientist named Georg Christoph Lichtenberg discovered the basic principles of a dry printing method called electrostatic printing. It used static electricity—the sparky stuff that makes your hair stand up on end when you pull a fleece jacket off in winter—produced by a contraption called an electrophorus. When the buildup of static was discharged near fine particulates, the result was distinct patterns.

These principles had to wait until 1938 to get a push in the right direction when an American physicist and patent attorney named Chester Carlson combined electrostatic printing with photography to create a dry printing process he called electrophotography. Carlson, in essence, invented the technology that is the basis for all copying machines.

As seems to be the norm with anything new, it took Carlson quite a while to get anyone to see the potential of his invention. In fact, it was six years before anyone took an interest in his work.

Carlson’s technology was cumbersome, as are the prototypes for most inventions. But finally, in 1959, the first machines that we would recognize as copiers were introduced to the public. By this time, the name of the technology had been changed to xerography, the Greek equivalent of “dry printing”. You might more readily recognize that word as part of a company created to produce copying machines, the Xerox Corporation.

Now xerography is only half of the digital printing equation. The other half, as you might suspect, is the computer. When you marry these technologies to one another, you eventually get to the printers most of us have at home. And if you put those home printers on steroids, you get very large, very fast, and very efficient digital printers that can economically print and bind a single copy of a book in less than a minute.

And here’s the kicker—digital printing does not use printing plates to create copies. The setup to print digitally is within the means of anyone who owns a computer, has some technical knowledge, and some software.

In other words, with digital printing, no one needs to figure out how many copies of a book to print based on a best guess of how many will sell. Now you can print as many copies as you want, one at a time, as needed.

At this point, the cost of digitally printing a single copy of a book is still more than the single-copy cost of a book printed by offset. But when you can print one-at-a-time, this greater expense is easily recouped.

A Book Mash

Book Mash 040114 for web
I got this idea from the radio program for word nerds, A Way with Words.

It’s called a book mash and the idea is to pile books spine out with the titles chosen for their poetic inclination toward one another.

It’s fun. If you try this yourself, please take a picture and we’ll post it here.

Here’s my first book mash:

The search,
Chasing life,
The road unsalted,
Retrieving times,
The world invisible.

Who Controls Your Book?

Books in redWhat, exactly, is a book?

Is it the raw manuscript that you have on your desk top in MS Word or Pages?

Is it the thing on paper between two covers?

Is it the electronic version that someone downloads onto a Kindle or iPad or Android?

Is it the spoken version on CD?

Is it the PDF the you posted on FaceBook?

When you think about it, they’re all books, aren’t they?

Or rather, they are all different forms of the same collection of words by the same author(s).

Prior to the 1960s or so, it’s probable that a book existed in only two versions—the one that an author had meticulously pecked into a typewriter and the one that had a cover with printed pages on the inside.

Since then, we’ve added books on computers, talking books, and a proliferating number of electronic versions. All the same collection of words by the same author(s) and all called books. But they’re so different from one another.

It used to be that the acid test of book ownership rested on what entity (author or publisher) owned a book’s ISBN. And that’s still a pretty good test.
But now there’s an even better one, one with more stringent conditions, and it’s this: the entity that controls the digital file of a book owns the book.

In other words, if the digital file(s) of your book are on your computer, then you are in control of your book, its distribution, and its destiny.

If the file(s) are elsewhere, a place where you can’t control them, then something or someone else controls them.