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Thread: Should I copyright my work before sending?

  1. #1
    blueiguana
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    Should I copyright my work before sending?

    Is it normal for a literary agent to need a Word Document of your manuscript? If potential publishers need/want online submissions, wouldn't a PDF of the manuscript be... what's the word I'm looking for... more secure? It'd give me peace of mind to know that my manuscript couldn't be altered in the slightest way. Or am I being a Nervous Nelly? Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    I would be amazed if pdf was the norm, I think rtf/doc is standard.
    Emily Veinglory

  3. #3
    Hack Writer realitychuck's Avatar
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    Editors and agents aren't interested in stealing or altering your work. Don't be concerned -- send it as .doc or .rft of whatever format they specify.
    ...and the man at PA has just bought a new car with the profits he's made on your dreams. . . .

  4. #4
    Fish Whisperer aka eraser's Avatar
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    I'll echo realitychuck. Don't fret about the theft/alteration thing. An unscrupulous agent would need to steal a hundred to find a handful worth publishing and then who's going to pretend to be the author?

    This sort of scenario only happens in new writers' nightmares. You're awake now. It's okay.
    Recently Thunk Thoughts
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  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW Kiva Wolfe's Avatar
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    Idea theft is rare nowadays. Unless you are having slight misgivings about this agent, send ahead as per his or her requirements.

    Psychologically, and to some extent legally, it helps if you copyright your work.
    Last edited by Kiva Wolfe; 06-27-2005 at 01:11 AM.
    RED FLASH by Kiva Wolfe (Draumr Publishing, LLC). Available online and in bookstores. ISBN 1-933157-06-2. $17.95 Trade; $6.50 E-book. "Americano de nascença, brasileiro em coração." http://www.kivawolfe.net

  6. #6
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    There aren't really any good reasons to copyright an unpublished work.

    The folks I know who want manuscripts in electronic form want it so they can read it on their Palm on the subway ... not to pirate it.

  7. #7
    2 WIP? A glutton for punishment astonwest's Avatar
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    I'm not even sure if PDF files would be any more secure...

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  8. #8
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    (1) The main reason to use a PDF is that it is far harder (not theoretically impossible, but not demonstrated in the wild yet, either) to embed a virus in a PDF document than in a Word document. RTF is fairly "secure" in that sense, too, but is more prone to problems with character-set mistranslation between Macs and PCs.

    (2) Jim is almost correct, and for the purposes of anybody on this board gives sound advice. Although there are a few really strange circumstances in which registering one's copyright in advance of submission is a good idea, those circumstances are quite rare—and if you're in them, and you don't have assistance from a good literary attorney, you're going to be in far more danger from other legal issues than from failing to register the copyright before submission! In other words, if your (competent, experienced) lawyer who practices publishing law says "I think you should register this manuscript before submitting it," do it; otherwise, save your $30 for the nonce.
    CEP
    blawg: Scrivener's Error (includes links to main site)
    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
    comments, by me or anyone else — as anything other than general guidance.
    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Kiva Wolfe's Avatar
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    I am in agreement that it is probably not necessary to copyright an unpublished work, as ownership/a copyright is established the moment one creates the work. However, the only way to bring a lawsuit for infringement would be to obtain full copyright protection by registering with the U.S. Copyright Office. I think there's a 90-day window, but if the registration is prior to publication or an actual infringement, a copyright owner may be entitled to additional damages and attorney's fees. Do what makes you feel more at ease. If you do decide to register your work, keep in mind it officially becomes an asset, though it may not have any tangible value until it is officially sold.
    RED FLASH by Kiva Wolfe (Draumr Publishing, LLC). Available online and in bookstores. ISBN 1-933157-06-2. $17.95 Trade; $6.50 E-book. "Americano de nascença, brasileiro em coração." http://www.kivawolfe.net

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW J. Y. Moore's Avatar
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    Perhaps I'm wrong here but if the manuscript has not yet been published, the likelihood that there will be revisions suggested by editors (approved by the author, we hope) is quite high. Consequently, the published work will, in all probability, be different from that submitted. Therefore, any copyrighting done at the pre-publishing stage is simply a waste of $$ anyway. As with artwork (and as Kiva said), the moment of creation establishes the primary copyright.

    If you are still concerned, do the "poor-man's copyright" prior to submitting the ms. Produce a printed copy of your ms and ship it to yourself, requesting a signed, return receipt. When you receive it, do not open it. Simply attach the receipt to it (once it comes back to you) and store the package in a safe place. This way, you can prove in any court action that you had prior claim to the material.

  11. #11
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I'm going to beat Jaws to it this time, I think: Poor Man's Copyright = Urban Legend.

  12. #12
    Preditors & Editors Requiescat In Pace DaveKuzminski's Avatar
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    Isn't that the one where you hermetically seal your manuscript in a jar from Funk and Wagnalls and stuff it in an alligator you mail to your postman?
    When it comes to PA, the royalty check and the reality check arrive in the same envelope.

    Remember to be kind to writers who step in PA. They really don't know how bad it smells.

    The difference between PA and WLA? None. Both have the stench of dead and dying books emanating from their doorways.


  13. #13
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    No, it's when the carpet installer finds a strange lump under the wall-to-wall when he's got it all tacked down, so he smashes it flat with his hammer. Later your canary is still in its cage but your manuscript is missing.

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW J. Y. Moore's Avatar
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    OK! Uncle, Uncle! LOL!

  15. #15
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    This happened to a friend of a guy I knew: He and his girlfriend were out parking, and they were getting real cuddly when the radio came on and there was a story about how a local man had written a book and was trying to get it published. Well, the girl got scared and wanted to go home, but the guy wanted to keep going with what they were doing ... they had a big fight, and he peeled out of there and drove her home, and when he opened the door a manuscript was stuck right through the door handle!

  16. #16
    Naked Futon Guy allenparker's Avatar
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    just another line and sinker flying past

    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    ... and when he opened the door a manuscript was stuck right through the door handle!
    You almost hooked me with that one.

    Allen

  17. #17
    13th Triskaidekaphobe Richard's Avatar
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    Isn't it normally a foot they want to get in the door?

  18. #18
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    (1) Uncle Jim did beat me to it, only because I've been busy pontificating on "what does the Grokster decision really mean?" all day. There is no value—none, zero, nada, zilch—to the so-called "poor man's copyright." It doesn't even provide you any better evidence of the date of manuscript completion than does your proper system of regularly kept business records!

    (2) That 90-day window for registration is based not on when the manuscript is completed, but when it is published. Unpublished manuscripts have special rules. To repeat what I said before: There are some very special circumstances in which registration before publication may be a good idea. No literary agent, book-doctoring service, submission service, or even publisher is going to understand those circumstances well enough to advise you while simultaneously avoiding a conflict of interest.
    CEP
    blawg: Scrivener's Error (includes links to main site)
    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
    comments, by me or anyone else — as anything other than general guidance.
    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW
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    This topic of copyright registration comes up over and over again on this board. Can anyone actually cite a case where a realtively unknown writer had an unpublished manuscript stolen, the mss was published by someone else who made a ton of money, and the author sued only to lose the case because he/she had not copyrighted the unpublished work? It could theoretically happen, but the chances of those three things happening to the same manuscript are somewhere well below the odds of winning the lottery. So, I challenge anyone to produce a relatively recent (in the past decade), true, verifyable story of this happening. Otherwise, save your copyright money and go buy pizza.

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