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Pro-Tip: Copyright

3 Feb

Copyrighting is the legal process of filing your original creation (literary works for the purposes of this discussion) with the U.S. Copyright Office (or the office responsible in your country). This process of registration is the only way to fully protect your original content. By virtue of creating a text, saving it on your computer and/or keeping handwritten originals, publishing online through a blog or other platform, and/or publishing electronically or in hard copy for sale, the work is copyrighted in your name (or the pen name/alias used when publishing it) just because it exists. However, the only way you can pursue legal action against someone for violating your ownership of the text is if it is formally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Only a registered work can be defended in court.

Many people think copyrighting their work is difficult, expensive, and requires a lawyer’s assistance. Not true (at least not always). Now, take this information with a grain of salt, as it’s reflective of my own self-publishing experience, I’m not a lawyer, and certain projects cost more and risk more than my fiction novels. However, I’ve copyrighted two of my own projects so far, spending $35 each, and find it to be one of the easiest parts of the publishing process. I log in, choose the online form for literary works, answer the questions that determine whether my project is eligible for online registration (my type of texts-a single item, novel, with a single author/owner-always are), fill in information about the novel and my personal/business information, pay, and submit the text as an attached word document.

If you’re ready to start this process for your novel or other text, go to the U.S. Copyright Office website and make sure your text belongs in the literary works category. Then, begin the online application by clicking “Register a Literary Work” under the eCO section on the right side of the screen.

To file, you must be the creator/owner of the work or the legally responsible agent for the piece (meaning publisher, agent, lawyer, or other responsible party that has the author’s permission to file for and/or hold the copyright). In my opinion, it’s best that authors own their own copyrights. It gives more control over your intellectual property. This won’t always be a possibility in certain publication scenarios, so decide the level of involvement and ownership you wish to maintain as author before signing anything for anybody.

If you decide to proceed with the process, you must have the most current, closest to publication-ready version of the text as you can. You will be required to submit that text online as an attachment or by mail as hard copy (which they do not return to you) after payment (via credit/debit or direct withdrawal from a bank account).

A lot of people worry that they cannot make any changes ever to the text once it is copyrighted. This is a misconception. The general rule of thumb is that minor changes to your manuscript after it has been registered (things like editing for grammar and typos) do not require you to resubmit for updating. However, large creative changes, like adding a chapter or creating an updated edition with a new forward or new footnotes, will require re-submission because the copyrighted product then differs too greatly from the publication version of the product. At that point, they are no longer the same text. This is why it’s important to be as ready to publish as you can before submitting.

After that, it’s a waiting game. Assuming there are no errors with your application or file submission, there will be a long silence and then the copyright will appear in your mailbox. They say this takes around 8 months. My first copyright came in 2. If something is amiss, it will take longer, as you’ll have to resubmit to fix any errors. They’ll let you know if anything is holding up the process. Essentially, no news is good news.

If you have any questions about the process, I highly recommend visiting the FAQ page on the Copyright Office’s website. Everything I know about the process and have shared with you here I learned from reading the materials and guidelines they provide. You can also comment with your questions or advice, or email me:

As a writing services provider and fellow author, I can help familiarize you with this process and send you to helpful resources, but please remember that I’m not a lawyer. I do not provide legal services or advice regarding copyright infringement, libel, et cetera. I do not provide financial services or advice regarding marketing, sales, or the publication process. All information given is based solely on my personal experiences as a scholar and fellow self-publisher and is not to serve as the sole recommendation on which to base your writing and publication practices.

12 Years to Get to the Trash Can

7 Jul

I’ve gotten some amazing, useful feedback from the test readers who’ve returned their comments so far. I can’t wait to get the rest and to start rewriting Acephalous Book 1 (which very well could become a longer, single book that’s not part of a series).

Some items I plan on changing include:

-POV shift from 3rd person limited to 3rd person omniscient. Though I value the challenge the former POV presents to an author–successfully presenting all of the characters in a rich and emotionally arresting way without getting into the inner thoughts of most of them–I feel like I’m missing out on opportunities to better link my readers to the characters’ emotions, fears, and motivations, to add history and detail to a scene without narrating or telling.

-Structure/Order of Events. I’m looking to get to the action sooner than the current version does, and to reel people in with the mystery and intrigue of Breena’s situation by making the dreams she experiences carry more weight.

-Character Behaviors. The characters are still hollow at this point, as is usually the case in any initial shell of a story. They aren’t fully independent, separate, complete people in the world of dreams or reality. They each have the beginnings of uniqueness, but undermine their own existences by contradicting their thoughts with their actions, cultivating dislike through unrealistic dialogue, or failing to display their importance to the story. The goal is for each character to sound like a real person, their own person, rather than sound like different variations of me as the author.

To accomplish all of this (and, doubtless, the many more decisions I’ll make as more feedback comes in), I plan on performing a total re-write of the test-read version. I’m going to work page-by-page to recreate each with fresh words. The plot will stay essentially the same, as will the basis of the current characters, but by rewriting in one stretch of time, I will have a more homogeneous text. As it is, I can still tell which sections I wrote as a high school student and which sections come from master’s degree me. It doesn’t mesh.

I’ve worked for a long time to get the story to a coherent shell to share with others for input. It’s a tricky stage where it’s complete enough to call a story, but too rough to call publishable. This version is a husk of what it could be, and it’s always hard to let people read something that I know is not finished. I always pray those reading realize it’s still just a draft, that I wasn’t passing it around as a sneak peek of the completed story. (Read: Yes, you’ll still need to buy the real one to find out what happens even if you test-read it.) The text that will go on sale by the end of next year won’t much resemble the one they read, and I’m thankful. Even Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” For me, while I’m much more proud of the story than what I put in the toilet, and while I wouldn’t store the book alongside your manure fertilizer, it is a first draft of sorts. It took 12 years and who knows how many full overhauls to get to the state where I handed it out for critique, but, in terms of publication readiness, the 2015-2016 version of Acephalous is the first draft. It’s the first draft I’ve had printed and bound; it’s the first draft I’ve let people see; it’s the first draft to be acceptable enough to consider moving forward.

Rewriting is the stage where many aspiring writers quit. We get through the feat of finishing something as huge as a novel and realize that, even though there’s a finished story with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s not acceptable in its current state. It would be easy to stare at the piles of commentary and say, “There’s still so much left to do…” and never say anything else about the project. It can feel overwhelming to think about how many little (and major) things need to change, but authors press on because the satisfaction of creating a viable beginning, middle, and end isn’t enough once people have read it. Viable doesn’t mean finished once someone points out what’s lacking. Personally, I’m thrilled to rewrite and leave the opinions of Mr. Hemingway in the dust.


Pro-Tip: Testing

14 Apr

Every novel goes through a test-phase. If it doesn’t, well, I think it should.

A test run of your manuscript means that you’ve pried your hands away from the keyboard, clamped down on your desire to continue editing and rearranging, and actually allowed others to read it.

I know it’s tough. You’ll want positive feedback, but the negative will be more useful.

This necessary step in the revision process affords you some time away from the text. When you come back, you’ll read with fresh eyes and new opinions. While it’s nail-bitingly nerve wracking to give something that you consider unfinished to others for the sole purpose of judging it, the feedback you’ll receive will be that last push you need to move toward completing the project. Finally.

Personally, this stage, which I’m about to embark upon myself, is exciting because I’ll get to hear from outsiders, both within and without my target audience, and who know nothing about the story, whether it’s as slow, redundant, cliche, or lame as I worry it is in certain parts. I’ll learn whether my jokes hit the right note, if my characters are relatable, and if I’ve classified the genre and age range correctly.

Help your test readers out by giving them a reader’s note along with the manuscript. Include your log-line and jacket summary. If they know what you intend to get across with the story, they’ll be able to tell you if you did or didn’t accomplish that. If they don’t know your intentions, they’ll find their own meaning along the way and assume you did a nice job. Include a bulleted list of concerns you have–things you want them to consider and report back on specifically. Include your prospective genre and age range to make sure you’re on target regarding content complexity and appropriateness. And DEFINITELY include a big thank you. Your friends and family have just agreed to do for free what editors charge enough to make a living doing.

And remember that no matter what kind of feedback you fear getting ahead of time, you will get to edit again because nothing in a manuscript is permanent.

Happy writing, happier re-writing!


Need Publicity? Write a Press Release

22 Sep

Here is a fantastic resource for writing press releases in order to publicize your book. I generally like to give my own take on writing advice, but this step-by-step instruction by Audrey Owen is too good to pass up.

Self-Editing Tip #8: Letter Format

23 Jul

Business Letter Format—For this one, it’s easier to show and tell simultaneously. Below you’ll find a mock business letter with instructions in bold print.


Your Address (You don’t need your name here because it is in your closing) Press Enter/Return once

Your Address Cont.  Press Enter/Return twice


Date- Press Enter/Return twice


Contact Name- Press Enter/Return once

Contact Address- Press Enter/Return once

Contact Address Cont. – Press Enter/Return 4 times




Salutation: (“Dear Sir or Madam” is considered outdated and in many instances, “To whom it may concern,” is seen as too formal, sterile, or general. Whenever possible, use the Ms., Mr., Dr., or whatever other title the person may have and the full name of the contact in your salutation. “Dear Mr…” or “Dear Ms…” is ok. When gender cannot be ascertained by the name, use the name only. It is better to leave it off completely than to offend in error. Also, this name has to be the same name you addressed the letter to above your salutation. Make note of the colon, NOT A COMMA, after your salutation.)Press Enter/Return 2 times


Body of Letter (Single-spaced and left justified) Press Enter/Return 2 times


Second Paragraph if needed


Third Paragraph if needed and so on (Notice that these paragraphs have one space between each and are not indented at the beginning. In many types of letters, especially query letters, cover letters, and other correspondence where you’re asking for something, it’s nice to include something like “Thank you for your time and consideration,” at the end of your last paragraph, right before your salutation.) Press Enter/Return 4 times  




Closing, (A COMMA follows the closing when a colon follows the salutation. The salutation needs to fit purpose of letter in terms of formality, goal for your letter, status of your contact vs. your status. Some examples include: Sincerely, With gratitude, Graciously, Respectfully. When the closing is more than one word, only the first word is capitalized like, “With gratitude.”) Press Enter/Return 4 times




Name (4 spaces left between closing and typed name is for you to sign your name by hand when you print it before mailing. For electronic letters, the four spaces are only necessary if you have scanned in your by-hand signature for placement there.)Press Enter/Return 2 times


Enclosures (This is an optional and sometimes not-needed space in a business letter. If you are sending additional documents in the same envelope with this letter, like a resume or transcripts, you would write the word Enclosures one line below your typed name. If there are many enclosures, you may type the names of those documents under the word “Enclosures.” It helps to ensure that all necessary documents are noticed.)


This is the end of the mock business letter. For even more detail on business letters and formatting of many other documents, I highly recommend the Purdue OWL website.

Self-Editing Tip #6: Using Comments and Track Changes in Word

12 Jul

Comments and Track Changes in Word—Is your desktop, computer screen, writing notebook, and every other surface of your workspace cluttered with sticky notes or scraps of paper? While physical tokens of changes you need to make in your writing are continuous reminders to actually do what the papers say, they are useless in certain quantities—think the one-eyed, one-eared, giant, purple people-eater of post-its. They’ll eat your space, your ideas, and your sanity.

Enter: Comments and Track Changes in Microsoft Word. You may have come in contact with these tools while taking a course that involves writing multiple drafts of papers. Teachers and peer reviews often use Comments to say what they’re thinking about the text in the margins as they read. Track Changes allows the reader to edit as they go. All editing marks are shown on top of the original text so that the writer knows what was changed. None of the changes are permanent. When you get the file back from the peer or teacher, there are valuable comments and suggested edits for you to consider.

These tools aren’t just for editing someone else’s text. You can use it for self-editing, too. Consider trading in some of that post-it clutter for Comments and Track Changes in your writing process. This way, your notes and changes stay with their corresponding text, tucked neatly away inside your computer. If you write by hand, I’ve got another idea coming for you in the next tip.

To use Comments in Word 2010, go to the Review tab, highlight the section of text you wish to make a note about or place your cursor anywhere in the text where you want to comment, and click New Comment in the Comments section of the Review tab. Type your commentary in the bubble that appears on the right side of your page. To delete a comment, right click and select delete, or select delete in the Comments section on the Review tab.

To use Track Changes in Word 2010, go to the Review tab, select Track Changes in the Tracking section, and begin making your edits as usual. The changes you make will appear in red. In the Show Markup dropdown menu of the Tracking section, you can select which changes appear in red and which changes are not logged. In general, it is helpful to log all changes, but this will vary with your personal needs.

Self-Editing Tip #5: Manuscript Formatting

10 Jul

For today’s self-editing tip, I’ve decided to point you in the direction of another writing expert’s advice: Glen C. Strathy’s Manuscript Format for Novels. It’s too good to pass up. The thorough checklist of formatting musts for new novelists is a tool I use frequently, and one I think everyone will find equally useful. Even if you haven’t started your novel, these tips are valuable ones to keep in mind. Why not start writing with the proper formatting? It beats having to go back through your entire book and correct everything (like I did).

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