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Self-Publishing Basics: Part 2 by Heather McCorkle

Protecting your work is perhaps one of the most important steps  to take before you publish, and yet it's a step that many forget. We'll be discussing two parts to protecting your work.

Copyright: Just because you put your work out there and put your name on it, does not mean it is protected. Copyright is not assumed, it is registered and recorded and if you are going indie, it's part of the process that you'll need to handle. So where does one record copyright? The Library of Congress. Don't worry, it isn't nearly as daunting as it sounds. In fact, you can even record copyright from home at the Library of Congress's Electronic Copyright Office. All you need is a computer and your novel in one of the following file types:

.doc (Microsoft Word Document)* .docx (Microsoft Word Open XML Document)*
.htm, .html (HyperText Markup Language)
.pdf (Portable Document Format)
.rtf (Rich Text Document)
.txt (Text File)
.wpd (WordPerfect Document)
.wps (Microsoft Works Word Processor Document)**

The beauty of it is, when done online through their Electronic Copyright Office, it only costs $35. Is it necessary? No, not at all. But, if you ever have to dispute rights to your work, or perjury of your work, it is priceless. 
IBSN: Another important aspect for publishing a printed book is an ISBN. You must have one if you are going to sell your books in physical stores or provide it to libraries. And, each type of book (paperback, hardback) must have their own. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. An ISBN is a number, not a bar code. And, don't be tricked into buying barcodes, you don't need to! Cover template providers will usually change your ISBN into a barcode for you. 
The ISBN identifies the title or other book-like product (such as an audiobook) to which it is assigned, but also the publisher to be contacted for ordering purposes. If an ISBN is obtained from a company other than the official ISBN Agency, that ISBN will not identify the publisher of the title accurately. This can have implications for doing business in the publishing industry supply chain (see below). 
One can buy ISBN's from many different places. If you publish with Createspace, they offer to provide them for you. In fact, they offer different types. It's important to know that the ‘free' ISBN's provided by places like Createspace are free because they will list themselves as the publisher, not you or your publishing company. To list yourself or company you will need to purchase the ISBN ~ either from Createspace, or from Bowker (if you live in the U.S.). Prepare yourself, they are expensive, as are almost all aspects of printed books. 
When it comes to eBooks, ISBN's are not needed except for iTunes (Apple). PubIt (B&N) and Kindle Direct (Amazon) use different types of identifiers which they provide. And don't worry, they allow you to put yourself or your company as the publisher. Protect and register your work and you protect your future.


Heather McCorkle is an author and graphic designer (CP Design). As an author she loves science fiction and fantasy and as a designer she specializes in book covers and formatting.

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This Post Has 71 Comments
  1. Heather, I’ve been searching for an answer to a question I have . . . without any luck finding it. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction? I’m trying to decide whether to use the free ISBN through CreateSpace, or to go through the trouble (and expense) of creating my own publishing company. Do you know of any articles breaking down the pros and cons of this? I’d greatly appreciate any resources I could find. Thank you so much for your time!

    1. Hi Erin, great question! It all depends on what you want to do with your career and your ‘brand’. The main reason people used to do it was to avoid the label and stigma of being self-published. Now days though that’s the way the world is going and it is no longer looked down upon by the majority. I would say use free ISBN’s whenever you can because they are ridiculously expensive.

  2. Hi, I have an odd question: I’m from the UK but I’ll be moving to the US for 3 years in the summer. Will I be able to register any work done whilst living there with the Library of Congress or will this not apply to me?

  3. For authors in Germany:
    – ISBN’s aren’t so terribly expensive, it’s registering with the ISBN-agency (150€)
    – Also, every German author with print books MUST send in two copies to the national library (usually the one in Leipzig). eBooks should be sent in too, but no one’s currently enforcing this. Online registering is possible.
    – make sure you know the regulations on Preisbindung. It means you have to sell the printed books for the same price everywhere, although you can have several price categories (like early bidders price, price at readings, price for damaged items). You cannot change the price for your printed books once they’re set.

    Sigh, yes, I know, we Germans just love our administrative stuff. If a leaf falls of a tree and lands in a house, and if a pile of folders comes out a week later, you’ll know you’re in Germany. 😉

    1. The copyright office says it is no substitute for registration. The reality is that most piracy is simply whack-a-mole, not something you end up in litigation for. I can’t think of any time I’ve ever heard of an actual dispute over who owned copyright. Generally it’s about whether the copyright is still valid due to time and changes in copyright laws or whether something qualifies as fair use.

    2. No need to do that, it won’t hold up now days. There was a huge dispute between J.K. Rowlings and another author recently. Of course J.K. won, but it goes to show, it does happen.

  4. This is great information that I am definitely going to utilize in the future after my book is done getting looked at by a professional editor. How long is a turnaround typically on ISBN #’s?

  5. “Just because you put your work out there and put your name on it, does not mean it is protected. “

    I’m afraid that’s not correct. You don’t even need to include a copyright notice, much less register it.


    “When is my work protected?
    Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

    Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
    No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.” “

    Also Apple no longer requires an ISBN.

    1. Thanks for the info Kathy. Taken directly from the Library of Congress, this is of course correct. However, it won’t necessarily hold up in a court of law when it comes to a dispute. You are safer in the case of a dispute if you are the registered owner of the work. At least, that goes for the U.S.

    2. For $35 I’d rather have the Copyright legally registered. The legal system will only recognize the copyright if it’s registered, not if you use the “poor man’s copyright”. I don’t know what you’re protected against if you’re not technically protected from someone using your work and you want to file a suit.

  6. If you buy 10 ISBN’s from Bowker it’s only $250. That’s a steal compared to buying 1 for $125. Guess it depends on whether you plan to keep writing and publishing. Oh, and I learned that you can’t simply “sell” any extras to someone else to use however they wish. Your name/publishing company will still be listed as the publisher.

    You can also register for an LCCN online through the Library of Congress for free. It lists your book among Publications-in-Print and allows libraries to carry your book.

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