I’ve been trying to come up with witty names for the people who write in with questions, but sometimes it’s harder than others. In those cases, starting now, I shall refer to the inquirer as “George.” If you’d like to avoid being a George in the future, feel free to give yourself your own nickname.
So, George asks:
I have two books that my wife wrote before she passed away. She wanted me to get these published so I’m going to give it a shot. Should I have the manuscripts copyrighted before I send them to publishers?
I’ve heard this question before from writers, and the answer is no. There’s no need. Most publishers and/or agents that you’d send your material to are already overwhelmed with manuscripts — they’re not going to reach into the slush pile to pull out an unknown’s manuscript in order to steal it. If you’re not convinced and want to protect yourself, put a copy of the manuscript in an envelope, seal it, mail it to yourself, and don’t open it. This is called a “Poor Man’s Copyright.” Registering for a full copyright protection is a waste of your time and, to be honest, your money. If the work is good and strong and catches the right editor’s eye at the right time, and they want to publish it, they’ll file for copyright in your name as part of the publication process.
And remember, as Justine Larbalestier recently blogged, you can’t copyright a story idea.