Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Don't register your copyright before you query.

Here's a great post from Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware explaining why you don't need to register your copyright before querying agents or publishers: in short, your work is automatically legally protected as soon as you put the words on the page. 

Here's something she doesn't mention in the post: to include your copyright information in your query letter or on the manuscript itself looks amateurish. If you wrote it, of course it legally belongs to you; that's what copyright means. Amateurish, and maybe a little bit paranoid too; I admit it's a bit of a red flag for me, in a query letter, that the writer may prove difficult to work with. Good relationships are built on trust, and that's a poor way to begin.

(That whole thing about mailing the work to yourself and putting it in the freezer is a myth, too, of course.) 

Can you think of any other publishing- and writing-related urban legends? 


Kara said...

Recently...I keep hearing the "make sure you when you query that you tell the agents that it's a multiple submission!" Set the record straight, here...don't most agents just ASSUME that you are multiple submitting? And if they don't...shouldn't they? And an offshoot to this...what is your take on exclusives during the query process? (I know how most writers feel about it...)

Courtney Miller-Callihan said...

Really good questions here-- maybe I will parlay this into a longer blog post.

1) I ALWAYS assume that it's a multiple submission, unless, maybe, I met the author at a conference or the author was referred to me by someone else (an existing client, a friend of mine, etc); in those cases it is nice to know if others are also looking at the work, but I tend to assume it's a multiple sub unless I'm told otherwise.

2) I have asked for an exclusive less than five times in my career, and the only reason I ever do it is if I've asked for a revise & resubmit, where I've invested a bunch of my time and energy "for free." (I obviously don't get paid unless I take the book on and sell it-- I get paid when the author does.) Even then, I ask for a two week exclusive, basically a head start, in exchange for giving some really detailed feedback to the author. I want the writer to feel really good about signing with me, and that includes letting them "shop around" a bit if they want to.

VisionWriter said...

What about having the (c)year and name at the end of a manuscript? Is that unnecessary too?

Courtney Miller-Callihan said...

Yep, unnecessary! As Victoria says in her post, if you self-publish the work, you may decide you want to actually register the copyright, but it's not technically necessary at any point-- and your rights are not affected by including a copyright statement somewhere in the work.

Jessica and Greg said...

What about agencies like Trident Media where you have to agree to their terms before querying, and the terms say that they are not responsible for similar or "identical" projects to yours that come out? I have refrained from querying any agencies that have this stipulation (I've found 2 so far) out of fear of not being able to protect my work should something as absurd as an identical manuscript come out. Any input?

Courtney Miller-Callihan said...

My agency doesn't include terms like that on the website, but we have some similar language in our agency agreement, essentially stating that you acknowledge I may represent projects similar to yours.

This story horrifies me: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/love-bacon-author-wins-publishing-victory-love-corn-book-lawsuit-settlement-article-1.122177 but should give you at least some hope that your copyright would be upheld in a worst-case scenario. This is probably just one of many many reasons to hang on to earlier drafts of your work... the metadata in an electronic file like a Word document could potentially be used in court to prove your case.

That being said, you'd be amazed at how many really similar projects I do see. I can't really give details for obvious reasons, but to use a completely made-up example, what happens if I get a query about a historical novel on Lincoln's assassination, told from the perspective of someone in the audience, but I already have a client manuscript on my list that's a historical novel on Lincoln's assassination, told from the perspective of one of JWB's fellow actors?

I think those agencies are just trying to protect themselves. I think most people realize that it's possible for two people to independently have the same, or very similar, ideas, but I also think there are people who might try to sue, even though it'd be hard to argue that "a book about Lincoln" is really a unique idea.

However, I would never encourage anyone to query an agent they didn't feel good about. Trident is a reputable firm, and they work very hard on behalf of their clients, but if that language really turns you off, perhaps it's best to look elsewhere for representation.