14 March 2008

From the Mailbox: Copyrights

When I began this blog, I didn't really have a agenda or even more than a vague idea of sharing my experience self-publishing. My goal is really to just hit topics as I deal with them. If you have a self-publishing question that you want answered then feel free to ask me. You can post at Digital Webbing (see my links), here in the comments (that I just enabled), or send me an email (ljamal@ljamal.com).

Today (as the title says), I'm going to dip into the mailbo. So let's jump right in....

From LG in Illinois
I came across your blog on making your own comic and the advice is great, especially on printers and scanners. I have a couple questions in regards to copyrights? A friend and If are making a series of graphic novels. I want to know:

1) Does the complete series have to be all done to get published or can we submit book by book?

2) Should I have an attorney handle the legal side?

3) Should I have my work copyrighted?

I'll answer these questions in the order they are asked.

1) This isn't really a question about self-publishing, but more pitching a series to publisher. However, I will answer this question in multiple ways.
a) If you are planning to submit to publishers, I recommend being familiar with the publisher's current body of work and finding their submissions policy. Once you know their, submissions policy, following it. Usually, you'll only need a premise, a synopsis and 5-10 pages of finished art.
b) If you're self-publishing and talking about submitting to a distributor, then it's best to have as much finished as possible before orders come in for that first issue, especially if you have a limited series planned.
c) If you're being published by someone else work at a pace that allows for editing. If you finish the entire series and then the editor wants to make changes in issue 3 of 6, then you've painted yourself into a corner.

2) Attorneys are not entirely necessary, but if you're not comfortable reading and understanding legalese, then you should have an attorney. If you're putting together contracts, then you can save money on an attorney by just having them look over the final contracts after you've written it. If you're lucky you know an attorney personally who may be willing to help you out. If you're not so lucky, then you should look for a contract and copyright attorney.

3) Once you put any information in a fixed format, it is automatically copyrighted (not copywritten because that's not an English word). If you want legal protection, then you need to file with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (if you're here in the US) and pay the fee. This isn't a necessary step, but improves your chances of successfully winning a legal challenge (is you find yourself in such a position). There are many different forms to file, so be sure that you file the correct form for your work. The basic cost is $45, but if you file online you can save $10 (and the cost of a stamp).

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