A week ago, I spoke at the Learning Annex in Los Angeles to a group of about 30 authors. During my talk, I told the authors that they did not have to copyright their book before sending the manuscript out to publishers.
First, putting a copyright notice on your manuscripts marks you as an amateur.
Second, some editors will not look at a manuscript that has a copyright notice because if the publisher ends up publishing a similar book, the author will accuse the publisher of stealing (when, in truth, there's a good chance that the publisher might already have a similar book in the works).
Third, publishers hate dealing with paranoid authors. I've seen manuscripts sent to publishers where there was a big copyright notice on every page. Yuk.
Fourth, publishers can buy authors for less money than it would cost them to steal the author's book idea. Why? Because most authors are desperate to be published and sign bad contracts. And because the publisher would have to hire a professional writer to rework the book if they were going to steal the book idea. That would always be more expensive than buying the rights from a debut author.
Fifth, every manuscript is already protected by copyright without a copyright notice or official copyright submission.
Note: When an author signs a contract with a publisher, they should make sure the book is copyrighted in their (the author's) name. A very few publishers do try to sneak in a copyright under their name.
Well, one of the participants questioned my advice about copyrights.
She wrote me the following:
One of my contacts through The Hampton's Writer's Table asked his editor friends at the following book publishers about whether it was considered amateur to copyright a book. Their responses follow. John, with all due respect for you and your success, I must comment that advising novice writers to avoid copyrighting their material is..., well, the overwhelming response from the table was that you really shouldn't tell people such things, even if it is common practice among some publishers.
Meredith Books — I can't imagine that would be a turn off, but I don't know for sure. Sorry.
Simon & Schuster — I wouldn't think so… I doubt that anyone would pay much attention to it.
Dutton — No taboo. It's fine for authors to copyright their work.
Well, I still disagree. My experience with many, many editors and publishers is that they don't like working with amateur authors and putting a big copyright notice on a manuscript submission is a clear sign of an amateur. Professionals know they are protected.
It doesn't mean that you can't copyright the manuscript if you are really paranoid. If you must, you must, but don't make a big production of it. One small copyright notice on the title page is all you need. No extra verbiage. No paranoid wording. Simply the standard copyright notice: Copyright 2007 by John Kremer. You can use the copyright symbol, but I don't know how to get blogger to enter that into a blog entry.
But, again, here is my basic point: Publishers will not steal from an author. It simply doesn't make sense. Authors are far too paranoid. That paranoia if too explicit will turn off publishers.
Having said all that, if you'd like to see a list of more than 400 editors at major publishers who have bought a first novel from a new writer within the past two years, go here: http://www.bookmarket.com/newnovels.htm.