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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ask the Book Doctor about Copyrights, Mentors, and Simultaneous Submissions

Real questions writers have asked; real answers, from a real book doctor

Q: After a book is written, how do I go about protecting my work with a copywrite [sic] before sending it off to prospects? Is the standard initialing acceptable? Would I need to initial each page? Would I need to get it notarized, so the idea cannot be taken by someone else?

A: According to current law, you own the rights to your copy—hence copyright, rather than copywrite—the moment you complete a body of work. If you find that someone has used your material without permission, you have the right to sue, whether or not you registered the copyright or published the book. You don’t have to initial the manuscript, register it, get it notarized, or anything, because you automatically own the rights to your intellectual property, based on the fact that you created it. The law protects you, should anyone use your material without your permission.

Professional editors, publishers, and agents also know the law and will not steal your material. On the flip side, when editors, agents, or publishers see that an author has copyrighted a manuscript, they perceive they are dealing with a paranoid person or an amateur, so don't prematurely register the copyright on a manuscript and give others the opportunity to make an incorrect assumption.

Manuscripts are always open to change, whereas copyrights are not, so a copyright should not be registered until the material is edited, proofed, and laid out, right before the book goes to press.

If you sell your book to a publisher, ask your publisher if it handles the copyright registration. Most publishers register the copyright in your name for you, prior to going to press. If you plan to self-publish, register the copyright right before you send the final file to a printer. Follow the procedures outlined at the government website, http://www.copyright.gov/register/literary.html.

Q: Where can I find a mentor to tell me where to send my poetry to get it published?

A: Mentors are a rare find indeed, and they don't hang out shingles announcing their availability. I was blessed with a mentor early in my career, because we had been friends in college before he became an accomplished poet. He read my poetry, picked out two specific poems, and told me a magazine that might be interested in them. He was right, and the magazine accepted both poems, for which I received two contributor’s copies. I was on my way, though, and after that, I found my own markets.

Instead of waiting for a mentor to appear, patronize literary magazines. Buy single copies of many literary publications or subscribe to several and support the market, because publications need supporters, too. Subscribe to WritersMarket.com, which lists poetry markets and gives their guidelines. Once you become familiar with the poetry market, you will know when, what, and how to submit to each potential publisher.

Q: What does "simultaneous submission" mean?
A: When an author sends the same book proposal or novel query to more than one agent or publisher at a time, it is called a simultaneous submission. For several reasons, the method favors those who are doing the submissions. It speeds up the process by allowing writers to send out many submissions at a time, an important ability, when responses sometimes take months, if they come at all. In addition, if more than one agent or publisher shows an interest, the author has negotiating power. For that reason, some agents and publishers don’t care for simultaneous submissions and prefer exclusive submissions.

Those that do not accept simultaneous submissions will say so in their guidelines. When you see such a note in the guidelines, submit to those agents or publishers last, after hearing back from most or all others. If, however, you have only one particular publisher in mind, submit your query or proposal to that publisher first, with a note that it is an exclusive submission. If you receive a rejection from that one publisher, you can then send simultaneous submissions to others.

At the end of the cover letter of all simultaneous submissions, add a line that states, "This is a simultaneous submission."

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.  Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com/ or http://www.zebracommunications.com/.