Copyright and ISBN

The U.S. Constitution grants the government the power to grant copyrights.  A copyright provides certain legal rights to a creative work, in our case, a book.   The copyright will last for seventy years after your death.  You can get more information from the U.S. Copyright Office website.

So, what exactly does the mean?  Does having a copyright mean no one can steal or plagiarize your work?  No!  The world is full of cheaters and crooks who might try that.  A friend of mine authored a textbook that has been the bible of his industry for over 25 years and someone recently published a similar book containing obvious material lifted from his work.  A copyright only gives you a sword to use if you decide to spend the money to protect your book (or other creative work) in court.

Nevertheless, you still want to have your book copyrighted.  It might deter some plagiarists and, more importantly, it makes your book look more “real” and authentic.  After all, you want publishers and other authors to take you seriously, right?  But having a copyright is more than just putting the date and a “c” inside a circle at the front-piece of your book (although you want to be sure to do that, too!), you have to register it. 

If you register your book electronically (you will still mail them a hard copy of your book), your application will be processed more quickly and will cost $35, a $15 savings then if you use the slower, paper registration.  The multi-page electronic process is a bit complicated and once you advance from certain pages, you can’t go back.  The only option is to “trash” it and start over.  I recommend going through the eCO PowerPoint tutorial offered by the Library of Congress once, so at least you’ll know what the pages will look like and what you’re supposed to do.

When you’ve finished the electronic registration process, don’t forget to print out the form that needs to be sent in with your book to the Copyright Office.

International Standard Book Number

Just like the name says, your ISBN is the number that your book can be tracked in any library or bookstore in the world.  You need a different ISBN for every format in which your book will be published.  For example, you’ll need one for the printed copy and another one for the e-book (well, at least for Amazon’s Kindle; right now it is not required for Barnes & Noble’s Nook).  If you intend to have an audio version at some point, it will need its own ISBN.

If you are fortunate enough to have been picked up by a major publisher, they will provide your ISBN.  If you are self-publishing like I did, you can either get your own ISBNs or purchase them as part of the package from the company that is compiling and printing your book.  If you buy your own, you get them from Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the United States, which is exclusively responsible for the assignment of the ISBN prefix to those publishers with a residence or office in the U.S.  (Don’t forget, if you’re self-publishing, you are not just the author, you’re also the publisher!) 

Like most things, Bowker gives a volume discount.  The more you buy, the lower the unit price is for each number.

A Warning

If you decide to go with Createspace for your design and printing work, buy your ISBN from them.  Why?  Because you hope your book will be carried in brick and mortar bookstores at some point and Createspace won’t let bookstores order from them if the book doesn’t have an ISBN purchased through them.  This was probably my biggest disappointment with my otherwise good experience with Createspace.  They let me slap my own ISBN on my book and never said a word, like, “Oh, by the way, Marty, did you know bookstores won’t be able to order your book from us if you do that.”

Next time, I will “talk” more about my experience with Createspace.

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