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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Seven Works Creators Can't Copyright—And Why Not

Copyright for Writers | Seven Works Creators Can’t Copyright

Over the last four weeks, I’ve covered various aspects of copyright and copyright law:

This week I’m discussing seven works creators can’t copyright—and why not.

Note: I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. You get legal advice by consulting a lawyer qualified in the specific legal area, and licensed to practice in your location. There are common principles in international copyright law, but the application of those principles does vary by jurisdiction.

Copyright law is a branch of intellectual property (IP) law, which applies internationally. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (part of the United Nations) defines intellectual property as “creations of the mind”, and divides IP into five types:

  • Copyright
  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Industrial designs
  • Geographic indicators

Copyright is covered internationally under the 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, while patents, trademarks, and industrial designs are covered under the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property.

These four types of works are protected under other forms of intellectual property law, and therefore can’t be copyrighted:

Patents

Patents protect inventions and machines, from the invention of the light bulb (one of Thomas  Edison’s many patents) to nanotechnology. A patent is a generally a new way of doing something, or a new technical solution to a problem. Patent applications are dealt with by specialist patent attorneys.

Patents must offer workable solutions. The idea of a perpetual motion machine has been around for centuries, but no one has yet invented and patented such a machine. Equally, the warp drive or faster-than-light engine is a staple of science fiction, but has yet to be invented.

Trademarks

Trademarks inform consumers the product or service comes from a particular company. For example, Nike manufactures footwear and clothing with the “swoosh” design. Coca-Cola manufactures drinks with the “dynamic ribbon device”.

Trademark law also includes service marks, which identifies and protects the provider of a service.

Industrial Designs

Industrial designs can also be protected by intellectual property law, including shape, colour, patterns, lines, features, or the ornamental or aesthetic aspect. Note that not all designs are protected. Many fashion designs are not protected, as they are not deemed sufficiently original. (This explains how chain stores can get away with selling cheap mass-produced copies of designer clothes).

Geographic Indicators

Geographic indicators inform consumers the product comes from a particular place, and the “qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin“. For example, champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Otherwise it’s sparkling wine.

What Else Can’t be Copyrighted?

Section 102 of the U.S. Copyright Act states:

Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression … In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery.

To be able to be protected by copyright, something must be:

  • Original
  • Tangible (i.e. written or recorded in a form that can be copied)

Copyright is therefore limited to the tangible expression of original works. This excludes ideas, titles and names, and recipes (among other things).

Ideas

Ideas can’t be copyrighted because they are not tangible. And they may not be original—how can we know if they are not written down?

As the US Copyright Office says:

You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.

Titles and Names

Titles and names (e.g. character names or pen names) aren’t subject to copyright. They are considered too short to be original.

However, you may be able to trademark a series title or a character name if you can show an original and unique use. For example, you might be able to trademark a unique word or phrase in a custom font, but you can’t trademark a word in common usage in your genre and expect to be able to enforce it.

Recipes

Have you ever visited Pinterest looking for a recipe? You find what looks like a good recipe and click through to the website, where you have to wade through what seems like the blogger’s entire life story before you get to the good stuff: the list of ingredients and the instructions.

Bloggers do this because the list of ingredients isn’t subject to copyright. Even the instructions are only subject to copyright if there is something creative about them (e.g. saying “cream the butter and the sugar” isn’t deemed creative, but posting a photograph or a video of creaming the butter and the sugar is).

What is subject to copyright is the blogger’s life story, and the accompanying photographs, which is why a Pinterest recipe is so much more than a recipe.

Conclusion

Copyright protects the author’s expression, but not the underlying facts, ideas, or theories, no matter now novel those may be … what counts is not quality or novelty but only that the work be original.
(Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, 4.5)

These aren’t the only seven works creators can’t copyright, but I think they are the most common. If you want to find out more, then click here to read Works Not Covered by Copyright from the US Copyright Office.

Copyright for Writers: Using Images in Blog Posts (Legally)

Copyright for Writers: Using Images in Blog Posts

Images in blog posts can be a great way to break up the text and make the reading experience more user friendly. But we can’t just use any images in blog posts.

(Note: This is not legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. I’ve never played one on TV. This is my interpretation of the doctrine of fair use, based on my reading of the Chicago Manual of Style, and blog posts written by lawyers. Caveat Emptor.)

Using Images Online

Many people will tell you that you can copy and use any image you find online. Others will tell you certain images or photographs are copyright-free.

They are wrong, as some bloggers have discovered at great cost.

All images on the internet are copyright.

Even photographs of old paintings. The paintings themselves are no longer under copyright, but the photographs are. Using these images without permission is a breach of copyright, in the same way as pirating a book or a movie is a breach of copyright.

Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It means the creator of a piece of content owns that content (apart from exceptions like a work for hire arrangement, which means your employer probably owns the copyright to any content you produce as a part of your normal employee duties).

As a blogger and writer, you want people to respect your copyright rights. You don’t want to find someone has pirated your ebook, plagiarised your paperback, or copied your blog post verbatim.

So it’s only fair that you need to respect the copyright rights of other creators—writers, illustrators, photographers, anyone who creates copyrighted material and shares it online or in real life.

This means you need to make sure you have the right to use any and all images.

Images You Can Use on Blog Posts

Your Own Photographs

If you took the photograph, you own the copyright, and you’re usually safe to use the picture. The exception might be if you’re using a picture of a famous building—some buildings are trademarked and can’t be reproduced commercially (e.g. on a book cover) without permission.

For example, the London Eye can be included as part of a skyline shot, but can’t be the main focus pf the photo. Nor can you use photographs taken from inside the Eye without permission. And while photographs of the Eiffel Tower in daytime are permissible, photographs of the nightly illuminations are not—they are copyrighted.

Note that you have to take the photo yourself in order to own the copyright and the right to use the picture. If a monkey takes a photo on your camera, the monkey may own the copyright on the image (Seriously. The court case is ongoing).

Photos You Own

You can use photos taken by someone else, but for which you have purchased the rights. If you plan to use the image commercially (e.g. on a book cover), make sure your contract includes commercial rights (and check the number of copies, and whether it includes Print on Demand). If the photo includes a model, make sure the photographer has the correct model release form.

Rights to photographs taken by someone else may be exclusive—or not. An exclusive right means the photographer can’t sell that image to anyone else. Non-exclusive rights may mean “your” cover image shows up on other books.

Free Photos from Stock Sites

You can find free photos at sites like Canva, MorgueBay, Pixabay and Unsplash. These sites use a Creative Commons 0 (zero) licence, which means:

you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer

Other sites might require you to ask permission and/or provide attribution to the photographer and/or site. Check what acknowledgement is required the first time you use a new site, and get it right.

Canva has a list of 73 sites offering free photos. As an added bonus, they’ve ranked the sites in terms of the size of the gallery, searchability, and whether attribution is required.

Photos from Paid Stock Sites

There are many stock photography sites offering a range of images, at a range of prices. Most stock sites will allow you to download a watermarked version of the image for free, but you shouldn’t use this version for your blog post. When it comes to blog posts, you need to ensure you get the official version, the one with no watermarks.

Charges for photos vary by site, and depend on the size of the photo, and the intended use. A book cover needs a high-resolution photo, and needs a commercial licence that covers all formats of the book, and a large number of copies. A blog post only needs a low-resolution photo (which is quicker to load).

Most paid stock sites charge per download, and some charge more for better-quality photos. Some sites offer credits or bundles, with the unit cost decreasing the more you buy. Some sites operate on a subscription model.

StoryBlocks.com

I use StoryBlocks.com, which costs USD 99 for an unlimited annual subscription (there is also a USD 49 subscription which allows you to download five images a month). Their selection isn’t as big as some of the more expensive sites, and they don’t have many images that would be suitable for book covers. But it’s a great resource for images for blog posts or memes.

StoryBlocks offer a 100% royalty free worldwide licence in perpetuity, and $20,000 in indemnification coverage. Click here to view their full licence agreement.

Lightstock

I also use Lightstock—it’s great for cheese-free Christian images. It is a paid site, but you can sign up to their email newsletter and they’ll send you a link to their free download of the week. This is a cost-effective way of building up a library of photos suitable for Bible memes or photos to accompany devotional posts. The only catch is we all get the same free photo each week—there is no choice. But it’s free (unless you want to pay as you go or subscribe), and the images are beautiful.

The Fair Use Exception to Copyright Law

The doctrine of fair use is entrenched in copyright law, and does allow copyrighted content to be used under certain conditions. For example, it’s acceptable to quote from another author’s work or reproduce small amounts of graphic or pictorial material for the purposes of review or criticism.

The same fair use exceptions apply for images as they do for written content. But the application is a little different. I can’t copy someone else’s book cover. But I might be able to purchase the same photo from a stock photo site, which will mean our covers have a similar look. Yes, this is why big publishers spend big bucks on customised photo shoots for book covers.

Quote from The Space Between Words

I can (and do) use thumbnail images book covers in memes. I consider this fair use, as I’m promoting their book. If an author or publisher didn’t want me to promote their books, I would stop. (But that would be short-sighted: user-generated content is considered a sign of social proof, and many major brands actively solicit and promote user-generated content).

Do you use images on your blog posts? Where do you obtain your images?

Understanding Fair Use and Fair Dealing

Copyright for Writers: Understanding Fair Use and Fair Dealing

My previous two posts looked at Understanding Copyright and How and When Can I Use Copyrighted Material? As I mentioned, creators (including authors and bloggers) can use copyright material without permission when it falls under the doctrine of fair use or fair dealing. That’s what we’re discussing today.

As you read this, please note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. There is a lot of great information about copyright on the internet, but none of it is legal advice. To get legal advice, you pay a lawyer licensed to practice in your state or country.

What is the Doctrine of Fair Use or Fair Dealing?

The doctrine of Fair Use (US) or Fair Dealing (UK and New Zealand) permits limited use of copyrighted material without permission. The key word here is ‘limited’. You can’t copy everything.

But there are no clear guidelines as to how much you can copy.

When Does the Doctrine of Fair Use Apply?

The United Kingdom has three uses of copyright information that provides a defence for fair dealing:

  • For the purposes of research or private study.
  • To allow for criticism or review.
  • For the purpose of reporting current events (excluding photographs).

These are pretty straightforward yes/no questions for those who are using copyrighted content. However, the use also needs to be ‘fair’, which isn’t so easy to define. ‘Fair’ can include consideration whether the use of the work affects the market of the original work, whether the amount used is reasonable and appropriate, and whether the original creator receives sufficient acknowledgement.

US law considers four factors in a Fair Use defence:

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair Use and Fair Dealing

Overall, while the UK and the US use different language, the intent is the same: to prevent the inappropriate unauthorised use of copyrighted material.

But what does this mean for authors and bloggers? How can we tell if our use is fair? In my non-expert opinion, there are four main questions we must ask ourselves before copying information to use in a blog post or include in a book:

  • Is the original work covered by copyright?
  • Is my proposed use commercial?
  • Is my proposed use transformative?
  • How much will I use?

Is the original work covered by copyright?

This will depend on:

  • The date the work was first published.
  • Where the work was first published.

As a general guide, anything first published before 1923 is likely to be in the public domain.

Steve Laube has blog post with some handy information on how to find if a work is covered by copyright:

Note that these are US resources. These sources may not give correct information if the work in question was first published outside the US.

Is my proposed use commercial?

Copying or reproducing copyrighted material is more likely to fall under fair use if there is no commercial benefit to the user. This means churches can quote a verse of the week in a church bulletin, but can’t reproduce and sell the Book of Acts. A quote in a free blog post is more likely to be considered fair use than the same quote in a paid book or training course.

Is my proposed use transformative?

Transformative uses add something new to the original work, and this is more likely to be considered fair use. Common examples of transformative use include commentary and criticism, and parody:

Commentary and Criticism

The principle of fair use allows authors to quote from the original work for the purpose of commentary or criticism. This could include:

  • writing an article or blog post
  • writing a book review
  • writing a news report

The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review or blog post or news report, and that benefit is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material.

Of course, the original author may reap some benefit as well, especially if it’s a glowing five-star review.

Transformative use implies that there is more original work than quoted work. Quoting a hundred words from another author and adding a sentence of your own is less likely to be considered transformative than quoting a sentence from another author and adding a hundred words of your own (I may be wrong. But I don’t want to be the test case. Do you?).

Parody

Parody imitates a well-known work in a comedic way (think Weird Al Yankovic or The Key of Awesome).

Parody permits extensive use of the original. Print examples include Where the Wild Mums Are and Where the Wild Dads Are.

The day Mum didn’t get dressed and went on strike, Dad called her ‘a Wild Thing’ and Mum said ‘Cook your own dinner’ and stomped off upstairs to have a bath . . .

I couldn’t possibly relate.

How much will I use?

The larger the proportion of the total work quoted, the less likely it is to be considered fair use.

This includes the quantity and the quality of the work. If you only quote one line, but that line is key, it’s less likely to be considered fair use:

Even a smaller percentage of the work can be an infringement if it constitutes the heart of the work being quoted. 

Source: Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, 4.79

This question of proportion is relevant with song lyrics. A book meme (i.e. non-commercial use) quoting ten words from an 80,000-word novel is likely to be considered fair use. A novel (i.e. commercial use) quoting ten words from a 200-word song is less likely to be considered fair use. A novel quoting an entire poem is not fair use.

Unfortunately, there are only guidelines. There are no clear rules:

Courts evaluate fair use claims on a case-by-case basis … there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission.

If in doubt, leave it out.

Do you have any questions or advice on copyright or fair use/fair dealing?

How and When Can I Use Copyrighted Materials?

Copyright for Writers: How and When Can I Use Copyrighted Material?

Last week, my post introduced the concept of copyright and how it applies to authors. The most common question in the comments was about legally using copyrighted material in our own work. Today I’m discussing when and how authors, bloggers, and other creators can use copyrighted material. 
As you read this, please note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. There is a lot of great information about copyright, but none of it is legal advice. To get legal advice, you pay a lawyer licensed to practice in your state or country.

When Can I Use Copyrighted Material?

In my research, I’ve found three instances where authors and bloggers can use material created by others:

  1. When the material is not under copyright
  2. When the copyright holder gives permission
  3. When the use falls under the doctrine of Fair Use (also known as fair dealing)

When the Material is Not Under Copyright

Public Domain

Not everything is covered by copyright. Works which are not under copyright are considered to be in the public domain. This includes works published in the US before 1 January 1923, or works by authors who died more than seventy years ago (although this “life plus seventy” rule is lower in some countries).

Facts and Ideas

Facts and ideas are not covered by copyright, but the original expression of those facts and ideas is. However, it’s still a good idea to disclose the source of your facts (especially in the modern era of fake news).

When the Copyright Holder Gives Permission

Creative Commons

Some work on the internet is covered by a Creative Commons licence—the best example is WIkipedia. This means people can copy without permission, although they should still give the correct attribution. Copying without attribution is plagiarism. There are several types of Creative Commons licence, and you can find out more at CreativeCommons.org/.

Crown (or Government) Copyright

Many government publications can be reproduced without permission in many circumstances. US government publications are public domain in the US, but copyright outside the US. Many Commonwealth countries use Crown copyright, although the specific regulations in each country are different.

In Australia, the Crown holds copyright to anything first published under direction or control of the government. Legislation and other “prescribed works” may be copied and sold, as long as the sale price doesn’t exceed the price of copying.

In New Zealand, all work produced by government departments and MPs as part of their work is copyright to the Crown. Legislation and certain other documents do not carry any copyright. Logos, emblems, or trademarks can’t be reproduced without permission, probably because that could lead to “passing off” (e.g. the scam emails with official logos claiming you owe money to a power company you don’t use).

Material covered by Crown copyright can be reproduced free of charge without permission, as long as it meets these three criteria:

  • Reproduces the material accurately.
  • Doesn’t use the material in a derogatory manner or a misleading context.
  • Acknowledges the source and copyright status of the material.

These make good guidelines for sharing any material produced by someone else, whether under copyright or in the public domain.

Creative Commons and Crown copyright are effectively forms of the copyright holder giving blanket permission for creators to use their material, as long as creators abide by specific rules. Bible translations are subject to similar terms, as I mentioned last week.

For everything else, creators need written permission from the copyright holder … unless their copying falls under what the US government refers to as “fair use” and the UK and New Zealand governments refer to as “fair dealing”. It’s too much to cover in one blog post, so I’ll cover fair use in my next post.

Meanwhile, let’s look at one more important question: how can we use copyright material?

How Can I Use Copyright Material?

Get Permission

If you want to use copyright material for commercial purposes (i.e. in a book you plan to sell for money), seek written permission from the copyright holder in advance, or ensure your use is covered by fair use/fair dealing (which we’ll discuss in my next post).

Identify Your Quotes

Make it obvious what is a direct quote by:

  • Including the quote in quotation marks.
  • Changing the look of the quote by using a different font, a different font colour, or a different font style (e.g. bold or italics).
  • Separating the quote from the main text by indenting it or placing it in a box.

Not identifying quotes is plagiarism—passing off someone else’s work as your own.

Identify Your Source

This is easy on the internet—you just need to add a hyperlink to the relevant article or blog post. It’s a little harder in a paper document, but that’s why Word includes a References section, so you can easily add captions, citations, footnotes, and endnotes.

Provide attribution to your sources even if they are out of copyright—passing someone else’s work off as your own is plagiarism. It might not be illegal in your jurisdiction (although it is in the US), but it is unethical.

Quote Accurately

Ensure your quotations are accurate—don’t change the meaning.

Keep Quotes Short

Keep your quote as short as you can while still making your point. The longer your quote, the less likely it is to be considered fair use or fair dealing. Note that there is no official formula (e.g. using less than 10%).

Additional Information

For more information on copyright and fair use in your jurisdiction, ask your favourite internet search engine. No, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, but here are some of the trustworthy source I found:

Government Sites

Copyright New Zealand
Australian Copyright Council
Copyright law in the USA
UK Copyright Service
New Zealand Intellectual Property Office

University Sites

Harvard University
Stanford University

Not-for-profit Sites

Creative Commons
Plagiarism.org

Individual blogs and posts from lawyers or publishing professionals

The Passive Voice Blog
Susan Spann
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

If you’re still not sure whether you can copy something … don’t.

Copyright for Writers—Understanding Copyright

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Copyright for Writers—Understanding Copyright

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

What is Copyright?

All writers need to understand the basics of copyright for two reasons:

      • So they know their rights in regard to the work they write and publish
      • So they do not infringe the rights of other creatives

So what is copyright?

In essence, copyright is the right to copy. (Sounds obvious, right?)

Copyright includes the right to reproduce, distribute, and display copyrighted works. It is a form of intellectual property, an asset that has monetary value. Copyright law is designed to protect the rights of those who create content.

What Does Copyright Cover?

Copyright covers original works, whether words, sounds, or images, and whether published or unpublished. This includes:

      • Books
      • Blog posts
      • Music
      • Lyrics
      • Movies
      • TV shows
      • Scripts
      • Plays
      • Speeches
      • Poems

Yes, copyright broad. Basically, copyright covers the creation of any original work, in any form.

There are a few things copyright doesn’t cover, such as:

      • Ideas
      • Book titles
      • Words

I’ll deal with these in a later post.

Who Owns the Copyright to a Published Book?

The author (well, they should). The author signs a contract with a publisher which licences specific rights. This licence gives the publisher the temporary right to reproduce, distribute, and display copyrighted works (i.e. to print and sell the book).

A good contract will specify what rights are included, e.g. the format of the book, the language, and the countries the book can be sold. It will also include how the author can get those rights back (e.g. so the author can self-publish the work). Never sign a contract that’s for life of copyright. That basically means the publisher owns the book, not you.

If you want to know more about the ins and outs of publishing contracts, I recommend Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog.

Copyright is Automatic

Copyright is automatic for work first published after 1 March 1989. Works do not have to have a © symbol or notice of copyright to be covered. The law is more complex for earlier work, so it’s best to assume a work is covered by copyright unless you have evidence to the contrary.

Copyright is International

All countries have laws relating to copyright. While there are minor differences (e.g. the length of copyright, whether you need to register copyright), the principles are the same, thanks to the Berne Convention.

There is a legal concept known as the long arm of the law. I thought this a cliché used in Western movies, but it apparently is a real thing. Author and lawyer Courtney Milan says:

you can be prosecuted by a state so long as you have “minimum contacts” with that state.

Milan was talking about online giveaways, not copyright law, but my unlegal interpretation* of long-arm jurisdiction is that anything you publish needs to abide by:

      • The copyright laws where you live.
      • The copyright laws where you publish.
      • The copyright laws where your readers live.

So a blog post (like this one) that attracts readers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US needs to comply with US copyright law. And Australian copyright law. And Canadian copyright law. And New Zealand copyright law. And … you get the picture.

Copyright is Universal

Fortunately, most of the principles are universal, thanks to the Berne Convention. Where things differ by country, my suggestion is to abide by the most conservative. So if a work under copyright in country A but not in country B, I suggest you treat the work as if it was still under copyright.

Here are two well-known examples:

      • The King James Bible
      • Peter Pan

The King James Bible

Most American Christians will tell you the King James Bible is out of copyright. However, it is still under copyright in the United Kingdom—copyright is held by the Crown i.e. HM Queen Elizabeth II. King James Bibles are published in the UK by the Crown’s patentee, Cambridge University Press.

So if it’s reasonable to assume your book might be purchased in the UK, it would be appropriate to include the appropriate copyright statement. (Not that I’ve ever heard of the Queen suing anyone for copyright infringement over the King James Bible. But it could happen.)

Note that it’s not the original text of the Bible which is subject to copyright, but the translation.

So all more modern versions of the Bible, including the New King James Version, are under copyright, because they are translations. Most modern translations allow authors to quote up to a specific number of verses without written permission as long as the follow specific guidelines. You can find up-to-date copyright and permission information by clicking on the relevant version at Bible Gateway.

Peter Pan

JM Barrie gifted the copyright to Peter Pan (the play and the later novelisation) to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in 1929. That copyright originally expired in 1987, but the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 includes a clause that specifically states GOSH has a right to royalty in perpetuity in the UK for stage productions, broadcasting, or publication.

But that doesn’t apply internationally. The novel is considered to be in the public domain in most countries, although the play version is still in copyright in the US until 2023 (so if Hollywood wish to produce a Peter Pan movie, the producers must licence the rights from GOSH).

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is a big deal. It’s against the law in the same way as stealing is against the law.

Plagiarism is quoting other people’s work without appropriate attribution.

Author Rachel Ann Nunes found her Christian romantic suspense novel, A Bid for Love, had been plagiarised by “Sam Taylor Mullens”. Mullens was later discovered to be Tiffanie Rushton, a teacher from Utah. She also indulged in identity theft, using the real names of her third-grade students to create fake accounts to review her own books. Yes, a real sweetie.

Rushton changed the point of view in A Big for Love from third person to first person, and added some sex scenes. Nunes started a GoFundMe page to fund her legal defence. It’s taken four years, but she’s finally been awarded the maximum statutory penalty, $150,000 (which doesn’t sound nearly enough for a case that’s taken four years).

Does This Mean I Can’t Use Copyrighted Material?

You can still use copyrighted material if you have written permission from the copyright holder (note that this may not be the original creator—Paul McCartney doesn’t own the rights to most of the 250+ songs he created with John Lennon).

You can also use copyrighted material without permission in certain specific circumstances, as outlined in the US doctrine of Fair Use.

I’ll be back next week to discuss Fair Use, and give some tips for using copyrighted material without getting into trouble.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. There is a lot of great information about copyright on the internet, but none of it is legal advice. To get legal advice, you pay a lawyer licensed to practice in your state or country. 

What questions do you have about copyright?

 

#WriteTip or #BadWritingAdvice: Keep Backstory to the Back of the Story

#WriteTip or #BadWritingAdvice? Keep Backstory to the Back of the Story

Keep Backstory to the Back of the Story

#WriteTip or #BadWritingAdvice?

There are many “rules” to writing good fiction. One of them is to keep backstory to the back of the story—specifically, don’t use any backstory in the first fifty pages.

Is this a good writing tip, or more bad writing advice? Don’t we need to introduce our characters to the reader at the beginning of the story? Don’t we need to give enough of their personal character history to enable the reader to understand what’s going on?

As with many pieces of writing advice, the answer is yes. And no. Or no, and yes, depending on which way you prefer to look at the issue.

What is Backstory?

Backstory is anything that happens before our story begins. The reader doesn’t need to know the character’s entire life history … although the author does. Yes, the reader needs to know some of the character’s personal history. The trick with writing great fiction is understanding what the reader needs to know, and when.

One of the first writing craft books I read was How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittlemark. One of the quotes I copied was this:

Know what the chase is, and cut to it. Do not write hundreds of pages explaining… why the characters are living the way they are when the story begins, or what past events made the characters into people who would have that story.

I thought this was ridiculous. Surely no author would be so … so … stupid? So naive?

But by some strange quirk of fate, the very next novel I read had exactly this problem. I’m not going to embarrass the author by naming them, or telling you the title, or even the genre. I don’t remember much about the story. What I do remember is that whenever a new character was introduced, the author took the opportunity to share that character’s life story.

And the story of how their parents met and married.

And sometimes even the story of how their grandparents met and married, and how many children they had, and when, and where, and why, and …

And none of this information had any relevance to the story at hand. It was well written. It was interesting. But it was irrelevant to the present story (which is probably why I’ve forgotten the basics of the actual story).

Yes, some authors have a problem with backstory.

That’s not to say you can’t use backstory at the beginning of a novel. You can introduce some backstory. In fact, you have to use introduce some backstory to give the reader an understanding of your main character’s goals and motivations, which influence their central internal and external conflicts. You may need to use backstory to give your reader a reason to care about your character.

But flip-flopping between the past and the present at the beginning of the story can leave you with a novel that confuses readers. Instead, ensure your opening clarifies:

  • Who is the main character?
  • What does the main character want?
  • Why does s/he want that?
  • When is this story set?
  • Where is this story set?

And answer these questions in the present timeline of the story.

Lay out actions in sequential order. Don’t jump backward or forward in the story. If you do, you’ll interrupt the flow of time and disconcert your reader .
– Janalyn Voigt, via WordServeWaterCooler.com

In Media Res

The use of backstory often relates to a common writing issue: new writers often start their story in the wrong place. Novels should start in media res—in the middle of the thing.

Your novel itself begins “in the middle of the thing”—the “thing” being the story. What starts on page one is the second half of the story, where the plot kicks in.
– Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Chapter 2

But characters don’t emerge fully formed on the page. They have personal histories, just like real people. They have likes and dislikes, just like real people. Some of that is directly relevant to the novel’s plot, and some is not. But without the backstory, there is no present story.

Your protagonist doesn’t start from “neutral”. He starts from a very particular place, with very particular, deeply held beliefs that your novel is going to force him to call into question.
– Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Chapter 3

Your character has a backstory.

In fact, all your characters have their own backstory, and that backstory is what influences their lives in the present (or in whatever “present” your novel is set, whether that’s the past, the present, or the future).

As a writer, you need to know this backstory. You need to know what has formed your protagonist and antagonist into the characters you are writing. In Story Genius, Lisa Cron recommends you do write three story-specific backstory scenes. But these aren’t included in the final manuscript. The information in the scenes might be, but the scenes themselves are not.

Margie Lawson uses the illustration of a pane of glass. Imagine writing all your backstory on a large pane of glass, them dropping the glass so it smashes into slivers. Then pick up those slivers, one at a time, and insert them into your story.

A sliver at a time. Not the entire window. At the time when it best serves the story to reveal that information.

An Example of Good Backstory

I’ve recently read A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden. Much of the first chapter is backstory, but it’s written well and integrated into the present scene (well, the novel’s present. It’s historical fiction). Here’s an example:

They lived on the fourth floor of a brownstone walk-up that had once been a prestigious building, but had fallen on hard times in recent decades. Much like her own family.

Just two sentences, but a lot of backstory. What do we learn?

  • The setting—where the point of view character lives (a brownstone walk-up in Greenwich Village, New York).
  • A brief description that hints rather than tells—once prestigious hints the building is in a state of disrepair without telling us about the peeling paint or the chipped bricks.
  • A sliver of backstory—her own family has fallen on hard times.
  • A hint at timing—the problem goes back decades.

Clever. Very clever.

It’s also shown in the voice of the character, not the voice of the author.

This paragraph illustrates that we can—and even should—use backstory in the beginning of the story. But we need to sliver it in, not dump it. The author could then have gone on to describe exactly how the family fell on hard times—and she does. But not here, because it’s not relevant to the story at this point.

So here are four tips for writing backstory:

  • Know the backstory of your main characters.
  • Know how their backstory contributes to the present story.
  • Include only what is relevant to the story.
  • Include backstory as slivers.

What tips or questions do you have about backstory?

Dear Editor: Should I Publish With a Small Press?

Dear Editor | Should I Publish with a Small Press?

This post was prompted by a question from an unpublished author who follows me on social media and subscribes to my newsletter. She participated in a Twitter pitch session, and an editor from a small press expressed an interest in her manuscript.

The author had two main questions:

  1. Did I know anything about the small press?
  2. Would publishing with a small press hinder her chances of winning a publishing contract from a bigger press in the future?

This author shows good judgement: she using her contacts to determine whether this is a good opportunity for her to pursue before going further.

This means she isn’t going to end up like another author I saw, celebrating the fact she’d just signed a contract with Westbow Press, who advertise themselves as an imprint of Thomas Nelson … and hide the fact they are a pay-to-publish press with all services provided by the notorious Author Solutions.

Do You Have An Agent?

My first question to this pre-published author was to ask if she has an agent. She didn’t, which is what I expected. After all, this is the kind of conversation I’d expect an author would have with their agent.

[Click here to read my post on how to find a Christian literary agent.]

An agent would be the best person to talk to regarding whether publishing with this small press would help or hurt your chances of getting picked up by a larger press in future. In this case, the small press’s author list shows several authors who have been published by larger publishers, but I think most of them have gone from the big publisher to the small publisher, not the other way around.

As a guide, large publishers don’t take direct submissions from authors, but prefer to work with recognised literary agents.

On the other hand, most small presses do accept submissions directly from authors. Some prefer to work directly with authors, while others will also accept submissions from agents. Some small presses only accept submissions from agents. Others prefer authors who have previously been published with one of the major CBA publishers.

If you don’t have an agent, then it might be easier to get one with a publishing contract in hand. If so, find an agent who believes you have a shot at some of the bigger publishers.

Before publishing with a small press, you do have to look at the quality of books they produce. There are good small presses, and bad small presses. Publishing with a bad small press might make it harder to find an agent, and harder to publish with a bigger publisher than it would

How do you tell a good small press from a less-good small press?

Editing

What is the standard of writing and editing? Have any of their books finalled or won any of the major industry awards? In Christian fiction, this means the Christy Award and the Carol Award, not Readers Favourite or any “award” that has as many entrants as winners.

And is the standard of writing and editing consistent across different authors? Some small press authors use freelance editors before submitting their work, which suggests the author is using the publisher for their distribution and marketing capability rather than their editing capability.

Distribution

I’m not in the US so don’t visit US bookstores. My understanding is that most small presses focus on Kindle and online sales. They are you’re unlikely to see their titles in a store (having said that, a local store may well stock small press books by local authors, if there is an interest in that). If your dream is to see your books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble or Walmart, then publishing with a small press isn’t likely to make that happen.

Marketing

All authors have to do a lot of their own marketing. Authors have to create and maintain an author platform, and communicate with their fans through their website, social media, and newsletters.

Debut authors from traditional presses can expect help with marketing:

  • Submitting their books to relevant high profile print reviewers.
  • Advertisements in the catalogues which are sent to libraries and bookstores.
  • In-store promotion.
  • NetGalley listings to help them get those all-important consumer reviews.

But small press authors can’t expect anywhere near that level of support, which leaves them starting from almost nothing.

[If you need to get started with your author platform, click here to check out my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge.]

Sales

Most small presses are cagey about the sales and earnings information they release. You can get a rough idea of sales by checking Amazon sales rankings—the lower the number, the better.

A publisher with books in the Top 100 of the relevant category or in the top 10,000 of the whole Kindle store is better than a publisher with titles languishing in the millions (or, worse, with no sales ranking, because that means the title hasn’t sold a single copy on Amazon).

But what about the alternative?

What about self-publishing?

What is the small press offering that an author couldn’t do by themselves if they chose to self-publish?

Authors can hire editors and cover designers and formatters. Authors can make books available for sale through Amazon and other online outlets (in ebook and paperback format). Authors can market their own books.

Signing with a small press means giving up control of your manuscript. You wont’ get to choose your editor or your cover designer. You might not even like your cover. Someone else will decide what stores your book is available in, at what price, and in what formats. Someone else will decide what categories your book is listed on at Amazon and other online stores. And you won’t have access to your sales data. You’ll get a royalty statement every month or (more likely) every six months.

That limits your ability to market your book.

Without real-time access to sales information, you have no idea whether your promotion efforts are working. Even monthly information isn’t good enough. You need to be able to see how an advertisement at site X impacts your sales vs. an advertisement at site Y. A self-published author has that information, so can make those decisions.

Conclusion

Big publisher, small press, or self-publishing? All are viable options, with advantages and disadvantages. But you are the only person who can decide on the right decision for you and your book.

What advice would you give to someone considering publishing with a small press?

How to Build an Author Brand (and why Genre matters)

How to Build an Author Brand (and Why Genre Matters)

In Sell More Books with Less Marketing, Chris Syme talks about different levels of author, divided by genre (fiction or non-fiction), by the number of books and series you have published.

Reading this was a lightbulb moment for me, because it explained why so much of the author brand and author marketing advice I read online felt “off” (yes, that’s a technical term).

It was because the advice was written for authors several levels ahead of me. Take Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers course (which I have bought), or Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course (which I haven’t). These authors are both multi-published thriller authors, and both have at least one long series of books available for sale.

I’m not, and I don’t.

Their information is excellent … but their tactics will work best for authors at that level. They are unlikely to work for authors who only have one or two books published, not one or two series. They are especially unlikely to work for pre-published authors, who are trying to learn everything at once. And there’s a lot to learn.

So what’s the pre-published author to do?

Does the pre-published author need to build an author platform?

If they want to be published, yes.

And that’s whether they want to be traditionally published, or if they want to self-publish.

I see authors out there building their platforms. Some are doing a great job. Others … not so much. They don’t know where to go to get good advice, so often it’s the blind leading the blind.

And a lot of authors stall their platform building efforts by concentrating on the wrong things. They focus on tactics, not strategy. They ask questions like:

  • Do I have to have a blog?
  • What social media platform/s should I be on?
  • What will I blog about?
  • Do I have to have an email list?
  • What should I email about?
  • Do I have to have a sign-up gift for my website?
  • What kind of website should I have?
  • How do I build a website?
  • How much does a website cost?
  • Do I need an agent?
  • Should I self-publish?
  • What marketing will my publisher do?
  • Do I need a logo?
  • What should my tagline be?
  • How do I get reviews?
  • How do I use social media to sell books?

These questions are all good questions, but they are all about tactics. Yes, we need to answer these questions, but they aren’t the first questions we should ask or answer. They aren’t the important questions (and for some of the questions, the answer is “no” or “you don’t”).

All the blog posts about how to grow your author platform are useless for someone who doesn’t have a platform to grow.

I did some investigating. I found books and courses on how do set up a website or how to sell books on Twitter or how to use Goodreads as an author. Those are all good things, but most treated Twitter and Goodreads as an add-on to an existing platform. They didn’t take the author-reader back to those early stages of creating that platform in the first place.

I found blog posts on how to use various cool WordPress plugins to add extra functionality to your website. But that’s no good for someone who doesn’t have a website. Or who only has a free Blogger site.

I found posts on how to use RSS feeds and scheduling programmes to curate, collate, and automate social media posting. But that’s no good for someone who doesn’t have social media, or who only has a personal Facebook page to share pictures of cats and children.

I even found courses on how to build an online platform. Expensive courses—a one-off cost of $399 or $499, or a monthly fee of $49 or more. And that doesn’t include website hosting or any other costs.

Most of the writers I know don’t have that kind of money.

Many are solo parents, retirees, stay-at-home moms, homeschooling moms. Cash is tight. Many haven’t decided if they want to do this writing thing, and don’t want to invest big bucks in case they change their mind. Many are apprehensive about putting themselves “out there” . Many are writing as a form of therapy or ministry, and don’t have the money to invest in an expensive programme.

The people I knew needed was a way of getting from absolutely nothing to the stage where the blog posts on how to build or grow a platform were useful.

So I developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge.

Instead of starting with whether you should use MailChimp or MailerLite, WordPress or Wix, we start at the beginning. Strategy, not tactics.

  • What do you write?
  • Who are you writing for?

In other words:

  • What genre do you write?
  • Who is your target reader?

These questions inform our high-level marketing strategy, because:

  • An author who writes fiction is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes non-fiction.
  • An author who writes articles or devotions or short fiction is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes novels or book-length non-fiction.
  • An author who writes picture books is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes adult thrillers.

If we understand what we write—our genre—that will help us identify and understand our target reader.

Our customer. Then we can build a brand that appeals to that reader or buyer. Part of that includes how we look—our visual brand. But it’s also how we act. Our values and beliefs. Who we are behind the pretty visuals.

Author brand isn’t about being everything to everyone. Author brand is about:

  • Understanding your genre.
  • Understanding your target reader.
  • Being true to yourself.
  • Choosing the parts of yourself to show online.
  • Being consistent.
  • Connecting with your target readers.

I’ve developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge to do just that. The objective is to help pre-published and just-published authors develop the bones of their marketing platform. It’s an email Challenge, with one email a day for 40 days.

By the time they’ve completed the Challenge, participants will have:

  • A better understanding of their genre
  • A better understanding of their target reader
  • A branded author website
  • Branded accounts on the major social media platforms
  • An email list with a sign-up freebie
  • A list of topics to blog about, and share about on social media
  • Ideas for finding and connecting with their target readers
  • A network of writers

Interested? Click here to find out more information and sign up.

What is or was your biggest challenge in developing your online author platform?

Introducing Write!

Introducing Write! (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop post)

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

Introducing Write!

You know how you sometimes read product reviews where the influencer got given a free copy of the product, and they keep it a couple of weeks and maybe use it a couple of times, then write a glowing five star review?

This is not that kind of review.

I was offered a free copy of Write! to trial and see if I’d like to write a review. I liked the idea of the product, so I agreed. But I’ve taken a little longer to review Write! Ten months, and I’ve been using Write! constantly in that time.

Write is a minimalist online text editor (what we used to call a word processor back when I started using computers).

Write! is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s easy to learn, simple to use, and the autosave facility with online backup makes it almost impossible to lose your documents.

First, a bit of background. I’ve been using Microsoft Word since around 1993. My employer at the time sent my team on a two-day training course, so I’ve always been confident with the basic and more advanced features of Word, including performing mail merges and creating and using style sheets. Word later introduced features like Track Changes, which have been invaluable in my editing work.

If those are features you are looking for, then stick with Word. Write! is not for you.

Word is great for letters and reports. But it has a lot of extra functionality which means it doesn’t play nice with the kind of lightweight machine I like to use when I travel or write away from home. Light in weight, and light in functionality. So I wanted a matching lightweight word processor I could use away from home.

When I started writing, everyone said Scrivener was the best programme to use. There was the notecard feature. The ability to compile ebook and print files. The drag-and-drop feature which means you can move scenes easily.

I bought Scrivener. I bought the expensive training programme. But I’m not a Scrivener convert. The fancy ideas which sold me on the concept are all things I can do in Word using Styles. (Well, except for compiling print and ebook files. But I can do that for free through Draft2Digital.) Maybe Word isn’t as efficient as in Scrivener, but Word doesn’t have the Scrivener learning curve. It beat me.

If you’ve learned Scrivener and love it, then stick with Scrivener. Write! is not for you.

But I still wanted a simple word processing programme I could use when I’m out and about. Something easy to learn that I could use on my very basic travel PC. (A cheap 32GB tablet-with-clunky-keyboard that replaced my Microsoft Surface, which had Microsoft Office … but no memory left to download Scrivener or store files).

I didn’t want to use Google Docs, because I often want to write somewhere with no internet connection. That helps me not be distracted by Facebook and endless cat memes. I also wanted a product where the letters appear on screen as fast as I type them … not my experience with Google Docs.

So when I was offered a review copy of Write! I was keen to try it out.

The first test was simple: could I load it on my machine?

Yes. I have Write! loaded on the world’s cheapest and ugliest Microsoft tablet. If it loads on this, it should load on anything.

Is Write! easy to use?

Yes. It uses the same keyboard commands as Word and other word processors, which makes them easy to remember (e.g. Ctrl-B or Cmd-B for Bold text).

That was a real plus for me. I don’t want to have to learn another programme. Write! is perfect for me, because it uses the commands I already use automatically.

Basic Formatting

Write! also has basic formatting tools:

  • Cut, copy, and paste
  • Left, centre, and right alignment
  • Bold, italic, underline, and strikethrough font
  • Heading and subhead styles

You can’t customise the heading and subhead styles in Write! the way you can in Word or WordPress, but that doesn’t matter—I see this as a drafting tool, not a publishing tool. An H2 heading in Write! will convert to the customised H2 heading in Word or WordPress. That’s all I need it to do.

SpellCheck

Write! has a basic spellchecker. It’s not as sophisticated as the Word spellchecker (no grammar), but I find the Word spellcheck isn’t right all the time, especially not when it comes to whether a word should have a hyphen or not. And I’m not interested in a grammar checker. I don’t want my computer to question my artistic decision to start a sentence with a conjunction, split an infinitive, or use a sentence fragment.

Autosave

Write! is cloud-based, and everything automatically saves to the hard drive, and to the cloud (when the machine has internet access). Each document is therefore available on all the PCs you have Write! installed on. The screens even look the same, unlike with Windows Online (where I’d lose files because I couldn’t remember where I’d saved it, or Windows “accidentally” saved it to the wrong place).

The fact all files are automatically saved is a big plus for me. Yes, yes, I know Word has an autosave function. But it doesn’t always work (says the sad voice of experience).

Additional Features

Write! also has some additional features which are both simple and useful. There is a focus mode, which lowlights everything except the paragraph you are working on:

Screenshot from Write!

You can also collapse and expand headings to make it easier to navigate through a long document:

Screenshot from Write!
With heading collapsed …

 

… and with headings expanded.

And there is that (optional) handy little side bar on the right which highlights the part of the document you are currently working on.

Can you use Write! for long documents, like a manuscript for a novel?

Yes, as long as you use the H1 and H2 styles to separate out the different scenes or chapters. But you have to do that in Word or Scrivener anyway … I haven’t used Write! for anything longer than 30,000 words. This is mostly because I found that while my H1 and H2 headings translate from Write! into Word, the reverse wasn’t true.

And yes, there is an export function: you can export from Write! to html, docx, pdf, txt, and other file types.

Can you use Write! for multiple documents?

Yes. I routinely keep all my draft blog posts open. You can click into a single document using the header bar, or use Ctrl-Tab to move through all the open documents.

Is there a Mac version?

Yes. Write! is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Is Write! free?

No. But at $24.95 for a lifetime licence, it’s a lot cheaper than many of the alternatives (and there is no requirement to upgrade to get the premium features, as with some “free” apps), and a lot cheaper than, say, Scrivener turned out to be. It’s user-friendly and there are regular upgrades. And you can get 10% off by signing up to their newsletter.

Write! also has an automatic affiliate scheme. The scheme pays a 20% commission, with a minimum payment of $20. (Yes, this post uses affiliate links. Here’s the direct link: www.writeapp.co).

Over the last year, I’ve used Write! to write the first drafts of almost all my book reviews and other blog posts. I can draft the post wherever I am, then paste my draft directly into WordPress. Write! brings across the basic formatting (e.g Bold, H2), which makes it quick and easy to format and publish a blog post.

No, Write! won’t replace Word for editing long documents. But it’s a great alternative for drafting, and it’s simple to learn and use. So if you’re looking for a simple word processor with basic features that can be used online and offline, Write! might be what you’re looking for.

Me? I use it all the time, and I love it.

Thanks to WriteApp for providing a free licence for Write!

Do you have any questions about Write?

How long will it take to edit my novel? And how much will it cost?

Dear Editor | How Long Will it Take to Edit my Novel (And How Much Will It Cost)?

(And How Much Will it Cost?)

This is another question from a Facebook group. An author asked how long it would take her to edit her 80,000-word novel before sending it to a professional editor.

My answer? It depends.

It depends on two things:

  • What level of editing you are doing.
  • The state of the manuscript

The Level of Editing

I discussed the different levels of editing in my recent blog post, Did My Editor Do Their Job Properly?. As a general guide:

  • Developmental editing takes longer than copyediting
  • Line editing takes longer than copyediting
  • Copyediting takes longer than proofreading

It takes me around four hours to read an 80,000-word novel when I’m reading for pleasure. It can take me up to twice as long if I’m reading as part of a Manuscript Assessment, as I’ll be taking detailed notes as I read. It can then take me another four hours to draft the editorial letter, run spellcheck, and proofread the letter before sending.

Actual on-the-page editing will take much longer. It can take me anywhere from 20 to 80 hours to edit an 80,000-word manuscript (depending on whether the manuscript requires line editing or copyediting).

How long it takes me will depend on how good the writing was to begin with, and how much time, effort, and knowledge the author has spent revising and self-editing. That could be anything from 20 to 200 hours. Hint: the more time you spend, the less time it will take a professional editor.

If my sample edit indicates the edit is going to take more longer than 40 hours, I will suggest the author start with a manuscript assessment and undertake more self-editing before engaging me or any other professional editor.

State of the Manuscript

Some authors have an excellent grasp of the basics of punctuation and grammar. Some do not. I’ve had manuscripts submitted for editing that range from almost publication standard to almost unreadable. It doesn’t matter how great your story is, how original your plot, how compelling your characters if you can’t use words and sentences and paragraphs and scenes to get that plot and those characters across to the reader.

I’ve heard writers say they don’t need to know basic grammar, how to punctuate dialogue, or how to correctly use a comma. Their editor will fix that.

Well, yes. But that will make the editing a lot more expensive than it could be.

It also means you’re not giving your editor the chance to do the best job possible—if your editor is focussing on correcting misplaced commas, and trying to work out who is talking so your dialogue is punctuated correctly, then your editor might miss more important errors.

The other problem with submitting a messy manuscript is that the editor might do the work you’ve asked for (e.g copyediting), without realising the manuscript actually isn’t ready for copyediting because one of the main characters has a personality transplant at the halfway point, the pacing is inconsistent, the climax falls fifty pages too early, and the final resolution relies on an eye-rolling “coincidence”.

Don’t be that author. Make sure your manuscript is ready for copyediting before submitting it for copyediting. The best way to do that is to use beta readers, or pay a freelance editor for a manuscript assessment.

How Much Will it Cost to Edit My Novel?

If copyediting an 80,000-word novel will take between 20 and 40 hours, then how much will it cost to edit my novel?

The Editorial Freelancers Association has a schedule of average fees charged by member editors. Editing fees range from $30/hour to $60/hour, depending on the level of editing required. I pitch my fees in the middle of this range, and don’t differentiate between the types of editing. My time isn’t worth any less just because I’m doing a less complex level of editing.

Editors may quote for a project based on a per page rate (a standard editorial page is 250 words), a per 1,000 words rate, or by the hour. But at the end of the day, they all charge by the hour—even those who quote a single rate for a full manuscript.

Remember, while this standard hourly rate might sound high, freelance editors are self-employed. Freelance editors don’t get paid for eight hours a day, or 40 hours a week—they only get paid for chargeable hours, which means they aren’t paid for administration or marketing time. Editors don’t get paid vacation, paid sick leave, or benefits such as retirement savings contributions, or medical insurance. Editors have to pay for dictionaries, style guides, software, computers, and an internet connection.

Those expenses all come out of the hourly rate.

Actual actual hourly earnings may be half their hourly rate or less. Editing is mentally straining, which means many editors are only able to spend five hours a day editing without starting to miss errors.

So if an editor estimates your 80,000-word novel will take them 20 hours to copyedit, the quote will be somewhere between $600 and $1,200, depending on their standard hourly rate. A longer manuscript will cost more.

A manuscript that needs more work will cost more.

The best way to keep your editing costs down is to present your editor with a clean manuscript with no basic writing errors. This means:

  • Writing in scenes.
  • Showing, not telling.
  • Using point of view correctly.
  • Use interior monologue correctly.

If you’re not sure what these terms mean, you’re probably not ready for copyediting. Instead, begin with a manuscript assessment that will reinforce what you’re doing well, and show you how to correct what you’re not doing well.

Or leave a comment, and I’ll cover your question in a future blog post.