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“To reach more readers and take your sales to the next level, you must proactively market your book”.
— Mark Coker
After months of effort and thousands of dollars, you finally finish writing your book. You upload it to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, and you eagerly await the thousands of sales that you’ll get upon pressing “publish”.
Yet a week later you see that you’ve only made… a few sales.
Dejected, you realize this isn’t your ticket to passive income. Making money from your book isn’t as easy as they say, but it doesn’t have to be impossible if you set your book up for success right from the start.
That’s exactly what this post will show you how to do: sell more books on Amazon.
There are no hidden gimmicks or secret formulas to making money from your writing. You don’t have to be a marketing genius either: when I started out book publishing, I struggled for the first year to break the hundred dollars a month mark. Yet, with troubleshooting, testing, and learning from the people who were making five figures a month, I finally started to see results.
If you’re a writer wanting to make money from your book (and who doesn’t, right?) this post will help you navigate through the trenches of bookselling.
Is it easy? No, like anything worth having in life, there is a lot of work involved. We have to do things right and set our efforts up for long term sales. As a self-published author, you should know as much about marketing your book as you do about writing it. While writing will get your book published, promotion and marketing is what will get you sales and more readers.
Every decision you make about your book, right from the beginning, will be made with the intention of getting it into the hands of your audience and bringing new readers into your brand.
How much effort will you need to invest?
This depends largely on your goals as an author. If you are doing this part time and you just want to recoup your expenses for the cost of publishing your book, your marketing strategy will be much different than author who has a goal of earning a full time income.
In this post I will run you through the essentials of marketing, packaging and promoting your book in order to maximize book sales and earn your money as an author. After all, who doesn’t want to get paid well for what they love to do?
Regardless of what your book selling goals are, there are seven elements that must be met if your book is going to even stand a chance in the marketplace. Remember: you’re competing with millions of other books and that there are around 4500 new books published every day.
That’s a lot of books.
But not to worry. If you follow the criteria below, you will jump to the top of the heap where the top 5% of authors making money are hanging out.
Selling your book begins, not when your book is published, but from the very moment the idea pops up in your head, before you even put pen to paper.
The 7 Essential Elements of Your Book to Get More Sales
“Thirty seconds. As an author (or publisher) that’s about all the time you have when talking to someone to generate interest in your book.”
— Sarah Bolme
You may be thinking right now: “Wait, where are the promotion strategies? How can I sell thousands of books a month?” We will get to that. However, before you begin to think about selling a truckload of books, you must first engineer it from the ground up to prepare for future sales. You must make your book appealing enough to the reader to catch their interest.
When it comes to selling a book, you have a short window to convince someone that your book is the best investment they are about to make. You can do this right away by sticking with the 7 essentials we’re about to show you.
1. An Awesome Book Cover that Gets a Second Glance
Someone once said: “You can never tell a book by its cover.” That might have been true back in 1946 but in today’s world, readers DO judge by the cover and they will buy your book based on the front-end window dressing. The principle here is simple: If it looks good, it must be valuable. Most books get three seconds to sell a reader. If you want to sell more books, have a cover that grabs attention and gets your browser to take the next step.
For cover designers we can recommend a few sites here:
2. An Intriguing Book Title and Subtitle
Your cover is what grabs the reader’s attention, but your book title is what makes the sale. It will depend largely on the theme of your book but taking time to craft a title/subtitle will be a deciding factor for potential readers to buy… or not.
The title is the hook that draws readers in and the subtitle is your elevator pitch that tells them what they can expect to gain by reading this book. Will they lose weight? Become better at saving money? Run a full marathon in under six hours?
Brainstorm as many possible titles as you can for both the main title and subtitle. Although the title can make them guess what the book is about, the subtitle is what sells it. Good books that sell often have great subtitles that gives browsers a stronger idea of what is behind the cover.
Check out these great titles for inspiration:
Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy
3. Book Reviews & Book Launch Sales Volume
If a book browser is sold on your cover and the theme resonates with a subject they want to know more about, a quick scan of the book reviews will be the final selling point for most.
A book with less than ten reviews, or no reviews at all, may get passed over in favor of other books with a strong review ranking. Tattoo this inside your skull: Reviews sell more books. Getting reviews is an ongoing marketing strategy you should always be working on.
The Amazon algorithm is strongly linked to book sales and reviews. A book that sells well within the first two weeks combined with a set of high ranking reviews will get your book higher up the sales ranks of new releases during the launch.
This also sets you up for an effective long-term strategy. If you want to maximize the amount of sales you get over your book’s life span, then focus everything you have on the first 2-3 weeks. If you get lots of sales and reviews during this critical period, your book is set for long-term growth and will perform better than most competitors.
Reviews are a lot of work but they’re worth it. Aside from the cover, the reviews you get will make or break your sales. Focus your efforts on building a strong launch team of early reviewers who will receive a free copy of your book in exchange for an honest review.
To stack up on reviews during your launch you can:
- Provide a request to review page at the back of your ebook with a direct link to your book’s Amazon review page.
- Invite people to join your launch team and provide early reviewers with a copy of your book to review 2 weeks before you publish.
- Scroll through the list of Amazon’s Top Reviewers and request a review.
4. A Killer Book Description
Amazon allows authors to include a lengthy book description on the author page, don’t ignore this. While your book cover, title, and reviews are enough to make the sale, a solid looking book description adds that “heft” factor to the quality of your product.
Your book description will be a sales page that lists the benefits of the book. It should have a mixture of various font style and structure to create a clean, attractive description of your book. We recommend using the free Amazon Book Description Generator Tool at Kindlepreneur.com. This saves time in messing around with nasty HTML coding.
For some great examples for book descriptions check out these titles:
5. Amazon Keywords
What use is a treasure hunt if there are no clues? If nobody can find your book, then what use was there in writing it? In order for people to buy your book, they’ll need to find it, and this is where keywords come in.
Researching and implementing the right keywords will play a big part in driving traffic towards your platform. Regardless whether you blog, have a website or you sell products online, setting up your keywords is a critical strategy. But where do we find these keywords? How do we know what keywords are the right ones?
Finding the right keywords will get your book ranking in the top search results, which means it’ll turn up in front of your customers as they search for the relevant keywords. High rankings means more visibility which leads to greater book sales.
There are three tools we recommend for researching relevant keywords for your book. They are:
Using the right software, you can get results for the number of times your keyword is searched. Google also shows you related searches and the competition that particular word has. What you are looking for is a word that has good search volume but not high competition.
Another tactic is to search for your book’s title and keywords by using Amazon’s search bar. Check the suggestions that drop down. Imagine what your readers are searching for when they are looking for your book.
You are allowed to include seven keywords, or short-tail phrases, in your book. Most people, when they search in Amazon, are more likely to type in a short tail phrase instead of a single keyword. You want to be specific with your search. Specificity narrows down the choices and makes your book more searchable.
For example, if you are looking for a book on losing weight, and you are over 50, type in losing weight after 50 and you will target the books related to your short tail phrase. Readers search this way. When you eventually become a successful author (touch wood,) then people can just search for your name, go to your Amazon author page, and buy your book. However, that comes later, once you’ve built your brand. Until then we’ll need to make your book easy to discover.
6. Professional Editing
A book that has been poorly edited is going to receive negative reviews. Period. While it is perfectly fine to have negative reviews on your book, you don’t want those reviews to be about the writing quality. It is an instant turn off for book buyers.
By poor writing quality we’re not talking about the occasional error (which can easily be corrected,) but a book filled with bad grammar, misspelling and a sloppy appearance. Would you buy a car with the doors falling off? Of course not, and a reader will not read a book that hasn’t been properly edited.
You can hire a great editor through Upwork or Freelancer. Ask other authors if they can recommend someone. Your editing will be the biggest expense for the book but trust me, you don’t want to cut corners with this.
7. Pricing Your Book
One question that I often get from authors is: “How much should I price my book at?” This is a tricky answer.
Yes, yes, I know you want to maximize your profit, but you’ll also not want to scare away potential readers because of an overpriced book. Also, remember that for any book priced $1.99 or 0.99 cents, the royalty is just 35%, while books priced between $2.99 – $9.99 net 70% royalty. The sweet spot for many books is $2.99 – $5.99.
Price your book accordingly and by that, I mean, take into account the size and quality of your platform. Established authors with a strong following can charge more, and books priced slightly higher than the norm may do well if they are packaged well (quality cover, large volume of reviews etc.)
You could start pricing your book at $2.99 and move it up $1.00 a week, testing the boundaries until you notice a significant decrease in sales. You might sell less books at $4.99 but if your book has all the best elements mentioned in this section, and you market accordingly, the perceived value of your product will stand the test.
As for paperbacks, most indie authors are averaging a sales price between $9.99 and $12.99. Remember that you need to take into account the printing costs, but your royalties can do better per sale based on the higher price of the book at a 60% royalty rate.
These are the core essentials of any book. Even if you are not a good marketer, you can sell more books if you get these steps right.
Now, let’s take a look at some more advanced marketing strategies that includes book promotions and building an author brand.
The Permission Marketing Plan
“Permission marketing turns strangers into friends and friends into loyal customers. It’s not just about entertainment – it’s about education. Permission marketing is curriculum marketing.”
— Seth Godin
Now that we have looked at the basic elements you need to sell your book, it is time to get into the initial marketing. Generally speaking, most authors are not marketers. But you don’t have to be to sell.
Following the above steps will place your book in the top 10%, but it’s time to enter the pro leagues by using a solid marketing plan. This is where you can start making some real money.
Mind you, these strategies represent the infrastructure of a long-term book business. If you’re looking to make a quick buck they won’t help, but if you’re looking to lay the foundation for setting up passive income and drawing monthly income from your books over time, they’ll help.
First, understand this, to create sustainable income from your books, you can’t just tweet your way to sales, or send out weekly blog posts. To sell lots of books you need one thing: traffic.
How to get traffic? By invitation. How to invite people to buy your book? By giving stuff away and providing so much value that they can’t possibly say no.
We do this by setting up an email list of raving fans.
With an email list, you can create a sustainable platform of fans that are eagerly anticipating your next book release. Picture this: in the buildup to launch day you have 1000 impatient readers yearning to grab your book. They’re counting down the minutes. You click “publish” and send out an email to your list. They instantly buy it, and your book skyrockets up the bestseller lists, leaving you in the top of your category, the Amazon top rankings and in search engines. How great would that be?
An email list of raving fans is worth its weight in digital gold, but building it takes time, patience, and a lot of work. You need to be strategic with your list and deliver valuable material that they need. Consistent engagement builds your list and becomes the foundation for your author brand.
Without an active email list, you’ll be relying heavily on luck and organic traffic. Although you can still do well without a list, you’ll work twice as hard to get your book into the top search engines.
If the money is in the list, you want to start building your list right now. You can do this by first offering an incentive inside your book. Do you have something of value to provide readers to entice them to sign up? If so, offer it now and begin list building.
But remember: People are giving you permission to email them. This is the beginning of a relationship with your readers. Value that relationship and you will have started the foundation for a business. Write for your readers and you will never have to worry about selling more books. Your readers will help you to market your book and they will always be your best customers.
You can start by signing up with an email subscriber service. There are several to choose from:
Mailchimp: This service is to free for up to 2000 subscribers. However, there is no support until you pay a monthly fee.
Mailerlite: a nice platform, very simple with easy-to-navigate features.
Get response: Also, simple to use and industry standard.
Once you have a comfortable list that you are engaging with regularly, it is time to focus your core efforts on providing value to that list. The subscriber gave you permission to email them, and now it is your responsibility to follow through by building that relationship.
Action Task: Sign up with one of the email subscriber services recommended. Spend a few hours and come up with ideas on two things:
- How to provide so much value up front that your reader demographic will be eager to join your list?
- What type of content can you regularly write to engage your list and build a relationship with them?
Look to newsletters you’ve signed up for inspiration.
Run Book Promos Every 3-6 months
You’ll find that, even the best books out there drop in rankings over an extended period of time. This is where we can keep things fresh by running promotional campaign for the book every 3-6 months.
Here is how you can do this.
Drop the price of your book to 0.99 for 5-7 days. You can adjust the price by going into the KDP dashboard. It takes Amazon anywhere from 6-24 hours to set this up.
Stack multiple book promotional services for each day for the week your book is set at the promotional price. Setting up book promos does cost money but it gets your book rankings moving up again and gives the book a fresh kick. You can set up promos with the following sites:
BKnights [Fiverr] You can’t go wrong for $5. I would also take the extra gig for $5 and get in on their daily newsletter. You won’t get a ton of downloads but on average 12-25 depending on the book.
Robin Reads. [Requires 10 reviews and a 4.9 rating] Takes a couple days to get approved [$55].
BookSends. Requires average 5 reviews at $40.
Bargain Booksy. I love this one, no reviews needed and you can sign up right away and get approved. $25 for nonfiction.
Awesome Gang. This one is great for the price, $10.
Many Books. Great little gig, average returns, $29.
Book Runes. Global reach with over 50k mailing list, $25.
eBooks Habit. Great little promo, I recommend the guaranteed placement for $10.
Booksbutterfly. Various promo packages with guaranteed paid and free downloads.
This is an opportunity to set up a small support group to read the book and leave a review during the promotion period. This boost in downloads and new reviews boosts the rankings of your book. If you have multiple books, it’s an opportunity for traffic coming into your platform to be introduced to your book library.
Create a Library of Books and Build Your Brand
It’s really hard to make money from just one book. Which is why I recommend writing and publishing a lineup of books that your fan base can’t wait to read. Writing multiple books is a long-term strategy that can build a profitable book business over the course of several years. Remember, you’re in it for the long-haul.
Can you imagine if you had ten books for sale and each one is set up for success to bring in an average of $1000 a month? You can do this with a strategic plan for your author business.
Publishing new content regularly builds your email list and pushes your Amazon Author Ranking up the charts. By putting out a new book every 3-4 months, you are creating new content that keeps your author platform sizzling with activity.
In addition, it is easier to promote several books at the same time. You can set up a book bundle and have your books available in multiple formats including audiobooks and paperback.
Action Task: Block out 30-minutes a day for the next 30 days. Come up with ideas for at least ten books you want to write. Do a mind map followed by an outline for each one. Then, set out to create a publishing schedule for each book.
Questions to ask yourself are:
- How long is each book?
- Am I targeting a general audience or a specific niche?
- What is the estimated profit potential for this book?
- How can I put out a new book every 3-4 months?
- What is my featured lead magnet to start building subscribers email list?
Here are a few authors creating a library of books and doing very well with their platform of consistent releases:
Patrick King, Social Interaction Specialist
S.J. Scott, Develop Better Habits
Martin Meadows, Self-Discipline and Grit
Peter Hollins, Human Psychology
Zoe McKey, Communication and Personal Development
Oh, and let’s not forget Stephen King, who has published over 65 books with 350 million copies sold since Carrie was published in 1974.
Wrapping It Up
If you want to sell more books and earn money as a paid author, write and publish books that sell. Target a specific audience and write your content for that fan base. Build a brand around your work and market your writing accordingly.
Stick to the essential elements of book publishing and be sure to write a book that engages your readers interest, provides them with entertainment [fiction] or life lessons [nonfiction], and invest your time into creating a series of books that have impact and branding appeal.
This sounds simple, and it is, but it isn’t easy. Selling books and making money is a long-term strategy. There are hundreds of ways to promote your book and brand. But you don’t, and can’t, do everything. Focus on the strategies that will have the long term results you want.
Now, I’ll leave you with a list of additional marketing and promotional strategies you can consider to build your brand and promote your work.
20 Ways to Promote Your Work and Build an Author Brand
- Create a book trailer and post the video on YouTube or Vimeo.
- Set up an Author Page on Facebook and have readers sign up. You can take this a step further and create a private facebook group where you share some of your best content and insider information with your tribe.
- Create an author website. Use this to promote your books, blog about content in your books, and keep readers engaged through online discussions about your work and mission.
- Set up a professional author email. For example: email@example.com
- Get professional author pictures taken. Post these to your website, social media, and the paperback copy on the back.
- Approach foreign book publishers and try to get your book translated into other languages. Nowadays many authors are translating books into Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Spanish.
- Get video testimonials for your book. Post to YouTube and your website.
- Send your paperback to fans and ask them to take a photo holding up the book. Use this as a promotional tool by creating a landing page for your book. Additionally, you can create book pages for your books on your website [Note: We strongly recommend you have an author website].
- Run a book giveaway on Goodreads.
- Write a series of blog posts related to your books and overall branding theme.
- Guest post blog for well-known sites and drive backlinks to your website or Amazon author page.
- Get featured on as many podcasts as you can. This is a great way to drive traffic to your book pages and site.
- Set up a URL forward that sends people to your Amazon author page. When you promote your books, you can use this URL as your main website even if you don’t have an actual website yet.
- Continue to pile reviews onto your book. This should be an ongoing marketing strategy. Aim for a goal of adding two new reviews per week.
- Set up an AMS ad for your book. You can check out this free course right here: Book Advertising: Free AMS Advertisement Course for Authors
- Create free content (checklist, mini ebook, or audiobook) and give it away for free inside your book.
- Create a virtual bundle of your books when you get several titles published.
- Create a course based on your book. This has the potential to be a strong upsell. Take a look at Udemy and teachable for launching your course to these platforms.
- Create an email autoresponder series for subscribers.
- Create a SlideShare presentation using the best material from your book.
David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done the book that many refer to as the productivity bible. David has 35 years experience as a management consultant and executive coach, but he is best known as the personal productivity guru behind the Getting Things Done Method. He is also known as the GTD Guy.
David believes in having a relaxed balance of perspective and control, by getting things off of your mind, so you are free of stress and can achieve a “mind like water”. The GTD work-life balance system has helped countless individuals and organizations bring order to chaos. David is considered the leading authority in organization and personal productivity. Today, we discuss the GTD approach to book writing and the power of getting things done.
You can find David here:
Getting Things Done
@gtdguy on Twitter
Books by David Allen
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allen on LinkedIn
David Allen on Instagram
David Allen on Facebook
Ready for Anything
Making It All Work
[01:10] It took David 25 years to figure out that what he had figured out was unique.
[02:09] David decided to write the manual on what he had figured out.
[02:33] He spent a day with an advisory group. To talk about writing a book or manual.
[03:31] In 1997, he decided to get his life out of his head and write Getting Things Done.
[04:02] He had no idea the movement that his book would spark.
[04:48] He had high anticipation, but no expectation. There was still a lot of time management and organization information already out there.
[06:12] Making his vision available for the rest of the world.
[06:38] First, David did research about how to write a book. How writing the business plan for the book was agonizing and productive.
[08:56] How a publisher suggested that a broad book would offer more value. He also suggested that David get an agent. He still has the same agent today.
[10:08] David had been capturing ideas with mind mapping software. Then he wrote a business plan. Then a crude outline of the book and content which included his earlier notes organized.
[12:12] It took a year to make it a real project. The next year was writing the first draft that didn’t work.
[12:58] David discovered that books and seminars are different. He also wrote reviews for his book first and raised the bar too high for what he needed to create.
[13:55] He threw away his first draft and started again. He wanted people to see the methodology sooner. Then he wrote the book in three parts: methodology, implementation, how cool the outcome could be. This took another year.
[15:06] The fourth year was spent creating the title, book cover, etc.
[15:55] One of the most impactful things David did was let a line editor clean up his work. He rewrote his book with their edits to learn to think about simplifying what he was saying.
[17:15] Editing was the art. This changed his writing from then on. He now tries to simplify and say things in the shortest way.
[18:02] How a book is a very intimate thing. You need to reach readers with an idea of nurturing and support and making things easy and fun.
[18:46] Talking with a reader as if you have your hand on their shoulder.
[19:26] Writing requires bandwidth and freedom of time. David needed at least four hours with nothing else to do to get into the flow of writing.
[20:22] Structuring time to write depends on your life, but everyone needs to block out time when they can think best. You need freedom of consciousness to write.
[22:06] Writing takes dedicated time. It can’t be done between the lines.
[22:25] Get everything meaningful out of your head and clarify actions. You can only feel good about what you are not doing when you know what you are to doing.
[23:27] Have a place to capture any idea that might be relevant. From mind mapping to Word docs. Don’t lose your raw data.
[24:21] Have a process for a trusted capture system to get to a rough draft. The rough draft gets things going.
[24:48] Build quality time take your raw data and blueprint and follow the path.
[25:15] Redrafting edits can teach you a lot. Using as few words as possible.
[28:31] How it was fun working with a ghost writer on David’s second book Ready for Anything.
[29:35] How most business books are ghost written they aren’t usually written by the guru.
[31:25] Finding a format with categories or common themes and how they tie together.
[32:56] You can’t write a book without blocking quality time. Create a marketplace with the idea for your book and have one place for your ideas. Ask yourself why you want to do it.
Links and Resources:
Getting Things Done
@gtdguy on Twitter
Books by David Allen
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allen on LinkedIn
David Allen on Instagram
David Allen on Facebook
Ready for Anything
Making It All Work
We’re going to look at something that petrifies most authors: how to copyright a book. Why is this scary topic worth delving into? Well, if you don’t copyright your work you could find yourself in this nightmare scenario:
While waiting for your flight, you step into the bookstore to kill some time. You pick a book off the bestsellers shelf, flip to a random page and start reading. All of a sudden you realize there’s something wrong. Every word on this page feels eerily familiar. You flip to another page, and sure enough, the dialogue between the characters is very similar to stuff you’ve written. In fact, certain parts are exactly the same word for word. Even the plot is the same as your literary work, except instead of the main character being a thirty-one-year-old lawyer named Blaine, he’s a thirty-one-year-old lawyer named Wayne…
Don’t let this be you. Copyright laws, copyright infringement, and the world of angry lawyers can be intimidating (alright…maybe the lawyers aren’t too angry and the situations aren’t that dramatic,) but it is important. As an author, it’s best to know what you can and can’t do in regards to copyrighting when self-publishing your own book.
(Even though we use the word book a lot in this article, everything we discuss also covers the kindle & e-book world.)
Let’s get started.
Self-Publishing School Is No Replacement for Your Attorney (As Much as We Would Like to Be.)
Before we go on we need to include this disclaimer: as much as we’d like to one day be the one stop shop for everything to do with self-publishing, we are not a replacement for your attorney. Nothing we write here is a replacement for professional advice. We recommend talking to a lawyer when seeking legal advice.
However, with that disclaimer out of the way, we do want to make the topic of copyright as accessible as possible to authors. So we did our research and answered the most common questions authors ask when it comes to copyright protection.
It’s Not Only About How to Copyright a Book…
With the explosion of self-publishing, indie authors must be aware of what they can and can’t do when it comes to quoting, borrowing, and publishing artistic works from other authors. This post isn’t to “scare” you, but to give some insight into how you can protect yourself and your own original work from being misused or stolen.
In this post we will also look at the 10 most common questions authors ask when it comes to copyright concerns, for both their own works and when borrowing from other sources.
But first, it all begins with creating the copyright page in your book.
Your Copyright Page.
Open any book that may be sitting near your desk right now. What do you notice within the first few pages? The copyright page.
Whether the book is self-published or through a traditional publisher, there’s a copyright page inside and within the first few pages of every book. Typically, the copyright page will appear in your book right after the title page and just before the table of contents.
The main components to include in your book’s copyright page are:
- The copyright notice. This has the little © copyright symbol or you can use the word “copyright.” So, it would look like this: ©2017 Jane Doe
- The year of publication of the book
- The name of the owner of the works, which is usually the author or publishing house name.
- Ordering information
- Reservation of rights
- Copyright notice
- Book editions
- ISBN Number
- Your website (you want them to find you, right?)
- Credits to the book (cover designer, editor)
Take a look at this example from Chandler Bolt’s book Published. The Proven Path from Blank Page to Published Author.
A Note on Disclaimers.
If you’re writing a book on personal health, success as an entrepreneur, providing financial advice—anything that readers could fail at—you should consider an extended disclaimer.
For example, if you give advice on earning a million dollars this year, and the reader ends up losing money, you could be blamed for their misfortune because of a promise you made. However, an extended disclaimer could have protected you.
Consider putting an extended disclaimer in your book that comes after the copyright jargon to protect your opinions, advice and information. In other words, tell readers that they are reading your book and applying your advice at their own risk.
Here are some examples of disclaimers.
The characters in this book are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The advice and strategies found within may not be suitable for every situation. This work is sold with the understanding that neither the author nor the publisher are held responsible for the results accrued from the advice in this book.
What Rights Does Copyright Protection Grant You?
When you copyright your work, your ideas aren’t protected, but the expression of your ideas or facts is. Otherwise Star-Trek & Star Wars (and many science fiction novels) would have needed the permission of John W. Campbell, Jr. to feature the ideas of warp drives and hyperspace travel. Or George Orwell would have infringed on the copyright of We‘s author Yevgeny Zamyatin, when he copied the plot and conclusion for 1984.
Idea recycling is not copyright infringement, but someone copying the style and words you use to express those ideas is.
As a copyright owner you possess the exclusive rights:
- To produce copies or reproductions of the work
- To import or export the work
- To create derivative works
- To perform or display the work publicly
- To sell or cede these rights to others
Exclusive means that these rights are yours, and remain yours until you choose otherwise (for example when you grant a publishing company the right to print copies of your book), or the duration of your copyright expires. However,
- If someone sells your work without your permission, then that’s copyright infringement.
- If someone publishes your work without your permission, then that’s copyright infringement.
- If someone acts out your work in the theater without your permission… you get the idea.
Plagiarism vs Copyright.
Don’t mistake copyright infringement for plagiarism. While they do seem and sound similar, and sometimes can occur at the same time, they are two different things. Plagiarism is when someone copies another’s original work without credit, trying to pass it off as their own. Copyright infringement covers a wider variety of cases, as copyright protects you from someone copying the expression of your ideas and passing it off as their own original work.
The 10 Most Common Questions.
With the massive expansion of self-publishing today, it is more important than ever for authors and artists who put their creative work out there to ensure they are fully protected.
When we borrow work from other authors, living or dead, we have to consider:
- What can I actually use?
- When is permission needed?
Here is the golden rule when it comes to copyright laws: Never assume that anything is free! Everything out there, including on the internet, has been created by someone.
Here are common questions authors have about protecting themselves, their works, and others they may have quoted in their books:
1. Do I have to register my book before it is copyrighted?
Your book (or e-book) is legally copyrighted as soon as it is written. This even holds for unpublished works. However, if you want to protect your material under the fullest extent of the law, register your book with the Federal Copyright Office. On the chance someone does attempt to pirate your book or portions of it, registering with the US Copyright Office will give you greater leverage if you need to take legal action. You will need to pay a small filing fee when registering.
2. How many words can I quote from another book or source?
There are no set rules on how much you can actually “borrow” from existing works. But, it’s best to exercise common sense here and keep it short. A general rule is to keep it under 300 words.
Paul Rapp, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights, says that “if the quote drives your narrative, if you are using an author’s quote in your argument, or if you are giving an opinion on an author’s quote, then it is considered fair use.”
What is fair use?
A legal concept that allows the reproduction of copyrighted material for certain purposes without obtaining permission and without paying a fee or royalty. Purposes permitting the application of fair use generally include review, news reporting, teaching, or scholarly research.
If you use something published by someone else with the sole purpose of monetary gain, this doesn’t constitute fair use.
3. Can I write about real people?
Especially in works of nonfiction, real people are often mentioned to express an opinion or as an example to clarify a fact or opinion. Generally, you can use the names of real people as long as the material isn’t damaging to their reputation or libelous. Stick to the facts and write about what is true based on your research.
4. Can I borrow lyrics from songs?
Stephen King often used song lyrics for his books including Christine and The Stand. He obtained permission for these works. Regarding Christine, King says, “Lyrics quotes in this book are assigned to the singer most commonly associated with them. This may offend the purist who feels that a song lyric belongs more to the writer than the singer.”
Song lyrics fall under strict copyright even if it is just a single line used. Try to get permission if you use a song. You can contact the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Once you find the rights owner, you have to ask for permission through writing.
5. Do I need permission to borrow material from a book that is over 100 years old?
Once the copyright on a book or material has expired, or the author has been dead for seventy years, the work enters into the public domain and you can use it without permission or licensing. BUT this does vary country to country. You can check the terms of a work’s copyright in the US here.
6. Are authors liable for content used in a book?
Yup. Even with traditional publishing houses, the author is still responsible for the content written and used in the book. In fact, traditionally published authors usually have to sign a waiver that removes the publisher from any liability pertaining to the material the author used if the writer included that material without proper permission. And you already know, as a self-published author, you’re on your own.
7. If I use an inspirational quote from another writer or famous person, do I need permission?
You don’t need permission to use quotes in a book provided that you credit the person who created it and/or spoke the quote.
“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream.” –Edgar Allan Poe
8. What is the best way to protect my work from being stolen?
Your work is copyrighted as soon as it is written. But you can register your work with the US copyright office. If you have a blog where you also post content, you need to have a Terms & Privacy disclaimer on your page. This would preferably be at the top where it is easy to see, although many writers and bloggers include this at the bottom of every page. You should also include your copyright on your blog that protects your content from being copied and pasted into another site without permission or recognition. If you don’t mind people copying your work online, but would like to be given credit, you can look into the creative commons license.
9. A royalty free stock photo means that I can use it for free and don’t have to get permission, right?
Wrong. Most stock photos have copyright, even if they appear in search engines and you can easily download or copy them. If you grab a photo off the net and think you can slap it on a book cover or use it for free in your book, think again. It’s recommended you purchase photos through sites such as Shutterstock or Depositphotos.
10. A friend told me I can save on the copyright fee and legally protect myself by mailing a copy of my work to myself. Is this true?
Simple answer: No.
This is known as “poor man’s copyright”. It’s sometimes suggested as an alternative to intellectual property registration, for people who want to save the hassle and cost of registration. The argument being that if you ever find yourself in court protecting your rights, having mailed your work to yourself, you created a legal and public record that you had the work in your possession at a specified date, thus allowing you to claim the work as yours. This can be useful in certain countries for protecting intellectual property, for example with patents in the UK.
But does this work under U.S. copyright law? No.
Here’s what the federal copyright office has to say about this on their website: “The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a ‘poor man’s copyright.’ There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.”
If you ever want to find yourself laughed at in a courtroom, it’s a neat trick. But if you want to legally protect your original work, then file your copyrighted work with copyright.gov.
Boring, Yet Cool Legal Terms You Should Know.
I know, I know…we would rather write books, rake in the cash, and sign autographs than worry about technical legal jargon. But the more you know, the more time you can spend writing without wondering, “Is this legal?” Here are some legal terms to keep you informed on your rights as a self-publisher and protect your works:
- Copyright infringement
- Intellectual property rights
- Public domain work
- First Amendment
- Indemnification clause
- Fair use
- Libelous writing
Before you publish your next book, take a few minutes to read over this “brief” report from the United States Copyright Office. You can also check out this handy guideline for authors on what needs permission vs. what you can use without asking.
A legally protected author is a profitable author (or at least they have the potential to be). The world of copyright can seem overwhelming at first, but as you’ve just read, there’s not much to it once it’s been broken down. As an author you only need to worry about two things: protecting your work and not infringing on the copyrights of others. If in doubt of whether you can use someone else’s work, ask permission, and make sure to register your copyright with copyright.gov.
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