Skip to main content

Should I Copyright My Writing Before Submitting to Agents and Editors?

Should I copyright my writing before submitting to agents and editors? Could they steal my story or ideas? How can I protect myself? We look at copyright here.

Ask any serious creative freelancer (writing, photography, etc.) about rights, and they're likely to tell you that rights are as important as money. That's because whoever owns the rights also controls when a work can be used and distributed and how much money it will cost to use them.

(Why do submission response times take so long?)

Look at the wealth and success of creators like J.K. Rowling and George Lucas. Now imagine if they had accepted a one-time work-for-hire fee and not held on to all the subsidiary rights associated with their characters and stories. Rights are important.

So it's not surprising to me that I'm often asked about copyright, especially in terms of whether writers should copyright their work before submitting it.

Image placeholder title

The simple answer to this question is that it's impossible to submit your original work to agents or editors without it being protected by copyright. In the FAQs on Copyright.gov, it reads the following, "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."

(Read all the Copyright.gov FAQs here.)

In that sense, each draft of your writing is protected once it's created in real time. So if it's your original work, and you're submitting it, then it's impossible to do one without the other. But then, the next natural question is whether a writer should register their copyright before submitting.

*****

Image placeholder title

Writing strong first pages requires a great hook, a strong voice, and a clear premise. The first sentence should immediately catch the reader’s attention, while the subsequent text should leave the reader wanting to dive further into the pages of the manuscript. But making the first pages of your story absolutely un-putdownable takes practice, patience, revision, and an eye for detail. Which is why we’re here: to discuss what to do (and not to do) to make your opening pages stand-out. This course is designed for writers who are ready to roll up their sleeves and take their opening pages to the next level.

Click to continue.

*****

While original writing (published and unpublished) is immediately protected under copyright law, one reason for registering the copyright is that it creates a public record and makes it easier to defend your copyright in a court of law and receive damages and attorney's fees if you win your case.

Since we're dealing with law (and I'm not a lawyer), now is great time to let you know that I can't provide legal advice for specific situations. Always consult a lawyer for advice on your specific situation.

That said, here are a few things writers can consider:

  • Copyright does not protect ideas or facts. Rather, it protects the actual execution of those ideas in manuscript form. In that sense, it's very difficult to protect ideas, which is a common concern for writers new to submitting their work.
  • Registering copyright costs money. Fees currently range from $25-400 for various forms of copyright registration (click here to view the fees on Copyright.gov). So those fees could add up rather quick, especially if you're not guaranteed publication or payment.
  • Copyright registration could bring peace of mind. For some writers, it might make sense to register copyright just for the peace of mind it brings to know that the work is registered on the public record.

While the decision to register copyright before submission is a personal choice, always remember that your writing is protected under copyright law from the moment of creation, whether on paper or screen.

How To Create a Podcast, Develop an Audience, and Get Your Novel Published

How To Create a Podcast, Develop an Audience, and Get Your Novel Published

We’ve discussed podcasting to help promote the book you’ve written—but what about podcasting as a way to tell the story itself? Here, author Liz Keller Whitehurst discusses how the podcast of her novel, Messenger, came to be.

Hunter or Hunted?

Hunter or Hunted?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, we're in the middle of a hunt.

Announcing the Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory

Announcing the Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory

Announcing the Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory from Writer's Digest magazine, which includes advice from 41 agents, 39 debut authors, and 27 small presses.

The Idaho Review: Market Spotlight

The Idaho Review: Market Spotlight

For this week's market spotlight, we look at The Idaho Review, a literary journal accepting poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction submissions.

Abbreviation vs. Acronym vs. Initialism (Grammar Rules)

Abbreviation vs. Acronym vs. Initialism (Grammar Rules)

Learn when you're using an abbreviation vs. acronym vs. initialism with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

What Is Investigative Journalism?

What Is Investigative Journalism?

Alison Hill breaks down the definition of investigative journalism, how good investigative journalism makes for sweeping societal change, and how the landscape of the work is evolving.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 6 WDU Courses, an Upcoming Virtual Conference, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce six new WDU courses, a romance writing virtual conference, and more!

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Past experiences taught bestselling author Alan Russell to tread lightly when it came to collaborating on projects. Here, he discusses how the right person and the right story helped him go from a “me” to a “we.”

From Script

Short Film Goals, Writing the Cinematic Experience on the Page and Sundance Film Festival 2022 (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, set your creative goals with a monthly guide to write and produce your short film, provided by Script contributor Rebecca Norris Resnick. Plus, an exclusive interview with Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Monahan, a Sundance Film Festival 2022 day one recap, and more!