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Advice for Beginners
Protecting Your Work

After spending weeks, months, or even years writing your manuscript, how do you ensure that it won’t be stolen? Although there are no guarantees, the odds of having your manuscript stolen are actually much less than you may imagine. However, peace of mind is worth quite a bit, so here are some things you can do:

  • Keep earlier, work-in-process versions of your work, as well as notes, outlines, and other such things. Should someone try to steal your work, being able to show earlier versions of the work is one way to “prove” you are the real owner.
  • Mail a copy of your manuscript to yourself. Take the sealed package to the post office and ask the clerk to hand-cancel the stamp. Make sure the postmark clearly shows the date. Leave this sealed package in a safe place. As long as the seal hasn’t been broken, this serves as “proof” that you had possession of the manuscript at that point in time.
  • Give a copy of your work to trusted friends or family members.

The odds of having your manuscript lost in a computer crash, fire, or ex-spouse rampage are much greater than having your manuscript stolen. Therefore, be sure to protect yourself. Regularly back up your work and store the backup at a friend’s house or in a bank deposit box. Between “official” backups, email copies to trusted friends and relatives.

Many writers worry about having their manuscript officially copyrighted. By law, the author of a manuscript automatically owns the copyright until it is legally transferred to another entity. Therefore, it is not necessary to officially file your copyright until your book is published. And, if you are publishing with a traditional publisher, you still don’t want to copyright, as your publisher will file it for you. If you copyright your work before it is completed, you create unnecessary work and expense for yourself.

So should you ever file for an official copyright? Yes. If you are self-publishing and you are “done” with a manuscript—meaning, you will have no further changes to it.  Then, you should place a copyright notice on the back of your title page. The copyright symbol (©) should be printed (or you can spell out the word “copyright”), followed by the year and the owner of the copyright (your name or company). It should also include the statement “All rights reserved.” An example of how this should look: “© 2002 Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.”

To register your copyright, you must first get an application from the Copyright Office website ( or by calling the Forms and Publications Hotline at 202-707-9100 (You will want Form TX). Once you’ve filled out the application, send it with a $30 filing fee and two copies of your book to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

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