How Do I Copyright My Manuscript?

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Q: I recently finished a novel and want to know what I can do to have it copyrighted. Is there a special process? –Sylvia R.

A: Whenever you put something in a tangible format—written on paper, typed on computer, chiseled on stone tablets—it's copyrighted and protected under U.S. copyright law. No tricks. No magic. It's as simple as that.

Of course, if someone steals your work and presents it as his own, the burden of proof falls on you to show that you created it first (and own the copyright). This, as you can imagine, can be tricky. To give yourself better protection you can also officially register your work with the United States Copyright Office. The downside is it'll cost you roughly $35-45 per manuscript. The upside is that if anyone steals your work, you'll not only have proof of copyright ownership, but also be able to sue for more money and damages.

(FREE DOWNLOAD: What is Plagiarism? – And other Copyright Law FAQs)

Now I'm not suggesting you officially register every story you've ever written, as that can get costly—that decision is up to you. But it's certainly worth considering for any manuscript of great length and value to you.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.