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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Copyright covers original works, whether words, sounds, or images, and whether published or unpublished.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?


Introducing #NaNoProMo | National Novel Promotion Month

You’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is held in November each year, and is the time when novelists the world over challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in a month—the first draft of a novel.

There is also Camp NaNo, in April and July each year, where writers challenge themselves to complete some other project—writing fiction, writing non-fiction, or editing. Then there is NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month, and the challenge is to spend 50 hours in March editing your NaNo draft.

NaNoProMo National Novel Promotion Month

And now there is also NaNoProMo, National Novel Promotion Month, with 2018 being the inaugural year. This is the brainchild of Rachel Thompson of Bad Red Head Media, and will cover all things marketing.

There are no sign-up forms, cabins, lists, targets or badges. Just lots of great advice on publishing and marketing your novel (or your non-fiction book).

Rachel has organised daily guest posts and giveaways throughout the month of May, including a half-hour one-on-one Skype consultation with one of the biggest indie authors in the US, Hugh Howey.

Other giveaways include books, coaching calls, social media, website and newsletter audits, book formatting, and manuscript assessments. There are also discounts on VA services, editing, and cover design to be won. And a free enrolment in my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge!

To be in to win, comment on the relevant guest post each day.

Yes, my March Marketing Challenge is now ongoing. If you know you need to start developing your online brand and platform, or to refresh what you already have, visit Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge to find out more and enrol. Or comment on my #NaNoProMo post later this month for a chance to win.

#NaNoProMo is kicking off with an excellent post from Elizabeth Ann West, Who is the Reader You Save Every Night. She is talking about creating your reader profiles (or more than one), and how those profiles can inform marketing decisions such as pricing. Also, one commenter will win a free two-month pass to WhatAuthorsNeedToKnow.com, and a 25% discount code for everyone.

You can find the daily #NaNoProMo blog posts at http://badredheadmedia.com/nanopromo/. You can also follow #NaNoProMo on Twitter (https://twitter.com/NaNoProMo) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nationalnovelpromotionmonth/).

I’ll be sharing the top posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

(You already follow me, right? If not, click the links). But you’ll have to visit http://badredheadmedia.com/nanopromo/ and comment to be in with a chance to win each day.

Almost every writer I meet says they need to know more about marketing. #NaNoProMo is your opportunity. And it’s free.

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Do I Need an Email List

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need an Email List?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the author with the biggest email list wins.

Well, not quite.

It’s not exactly universally acknowledged. But successful indie authors use email lists and newsletters to build relationships with readers, then to sell. But the relationship comes first. Remember:

  • Attract
  • Engage
  • Convert

Potential readers may have been attracted to our website through a range of methods: social media (which I’ll talk about next week), word of mouth, advertising, a previous book. Email is a way of engaging with potential our target audience, and hopefully converting them into paying readers.

Yes, email newsletters sell books.

The BookBub List

Many indie authors are seeing huge sales success through accessing the giant of all mailing lists: BookBub. Their Christian Fiction list has over 800,000 subscribers. And that’s not even a big list—the biggest lists are Crime Fiction, Thrillers, Cozy Mystery and Historical Mystery, each of which has over 2.9 million subscribers.

This is why authors are prepared to pay big bucks to get a featured deal on BookBub: it’s getting your name in front of a lot of readers who have indicated they are interested in your genre. But BookBub also illustrates another truth of publishing:

Advertising sells books. But not many.

A Crime fiction paid listing will sell an average of 4,000 books—a little over 0.1%. So an advertising blast to 1,000 people (e.g. 1,000 Twitter followers) might sell one book.

Even a free BookBub Crime Fiction listing (the author paying to list a free book) will net an average of just 52,000 downloads—a little over 1% of those emailed. However, that’s still enough that most authors make back their advertising fee as people read the free book, then buy the next in the series.

But authors—indie, small press or traditional CBA—can’t afford to rely on BookBub or similar programs. For one, BookBub is inundated with authors willing to pay hundreds of dollars for an advertisement, so no one can guarantee a listing. The same goes for the other major ebook advertisers, such as EReaderNewsToday, and Inspired Reads. The answer: build your own list.

Build Your Own List

There are good reasons why authors should develop their own mailing lists, and the main one is control: you want to be able to control how and when you connect with readers, rather than being at the mercy of when BookBub will accept your book, or when your publisher will decide to promote you.

What do I Email?

Blog Post

Some authors email the full text version of each blog post. This is an easy feature to set up in MailChimp, and doesn’t even require you to write the email—MailChimp does all the work. I personally don’t like this approach as I’ve probably already read the blog post through Feedly. However, many readers report they check email more often than they check blogs, so this will work with some people.

Link to Blog Post

I’ve also found authors who send a link to their latest blog post, but with some extra information e.g. what motivated them to write the blog post. I rather like this approach – it’s not difficult (the hard part is writing the blog post), but it still gives newsletter subscribers something extra they wouldn’t get if they were only following the blog, something that makes them a little bit special. It also means you can alter your voice a little—I find newsletters often have a more chatty feel than blog posts.

Digest Email

Some authors send a digest of all the posts on their blog and guest posts they’ve written, in case you’ve missed any.

Exclusive Content

Some authors go to a lot of effort to produce an informative newsletter full of exclusive content (i.e. not something that’s previously appeared on a blog!). Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing newsletter is a great example of this (and if you don’t subscribe to Randy’s newsletter, you should).

Special News

Some authors only send emails when they have special news to announce, like a new book release or a sale. While this is great, I’m not convinced it’s sharing often enough to build any form of relationship with readers, which might mean people unsubscribe when you do email simply because they can’t remember subscribing.

Automation Sequence

The email marketing experts recommend sending new subscribers an automated sequence of emails as soon as they opt in to your email list. This can be between one and five emails, and they are designed to engage with new subscribers.

Sales and Promotions

Some newsletters exist simply to share relevant sales and promotions, such as AppSumo and Goodriter. I don’t recommend this as an approach for fiction authors, and non-fiction authors should only use it with caution—you don’t want people unsubscribing because they think you sold them a dud.

Some newsletters are a mix: Randy includes information on sales and promotions, for example. My Christian Editing Services newsletter includes a digest, some exclusive content, and I feature books I’ve edited which are now on sale.

Do you have a newsletter? Which provider do you use? How often do you email? What content do you send? What do your readers seem to like?

Best of the Blogs

Best of the Blogs: 16 September 2017



Laurence MacNaughton visits Fiction University to share (!) his SHARED model of 6 Ways to Make Readers Fall In Love With Your Characters.

Deep Point of View


One of the best ways of enhancing characterisation is to write in deep point of view. Nancy Stopper visits Romance University to share some excellent tops on Incorporating Deep Point of View into Our Writing … And Why Do We Care? She also recommends Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson, which I’ve read and also recommend.



David Kudler visits The Book Designer to share 5 Tips for Validating Your Ebook. I hope it’s more straightforward than this!


Reedsy have compiled a rated list of Book Promotion Services. Yes, BookBub is at the top in terms of both price and reach, but there are another 52 sites. They are also looking to expand the list—feel free to submit new promotion sites you know of.


Mike Duran is back stoking the fires of controversy in 5 Reasons Pastors Should Read Fiction. I thought this was a well-written piece that made good arguments (of course, I’m coming from the bias of a fiction reader, reviewer, and editor). It seems not everyone agrees with me, or with Mike.

Finally, how do you define success? Allen Arnold shares that for Christians, it’s more than just the numbers.


Interview by Christine Dillon

I’ve just been interviewed by Christine Dillon, a missionary and author who is currently in the final stages of publishing her first novel.


We discuss my journey into editing, and what an editor does. She also asks me about my own writing, and about my volunteer roles with Australasian Christian Writers and other writing organisations.


Click here to visit her website and read the interview.


And watch out for Grace in Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon, which releases in November 2017!

What Do I Do Next?

Last week, I answered a question from a client: is my manuscript publishable? Yesterday, I started to answer her second question: what do I do next? The one-line summary is I said to delete all adverbs and overused words. If you’d like to check that post out in more detail, click here.

Today I’m at Australasian Christian Writes again, looking at three more issues I often see in manuscripts: interior monologue problems, repetition, and creative dialogue tags.

Click here to join the discussion.

What Do I Do Next?

2013 CALEB Conference and Book Doctor Promotion

The Caleb Conference will be taking place on 11 and 12 October at Riverglenn, Indooroopilly, Brisbane. The conference is arranged by Omega Writers, a group of Australasian writers writing faith-inspired work. You can find out more about Omega Writers and the Caleb Conference at the Omega website.

The format of the conference is a little different this year, as it’s the first year it has been organised by Omega Writers. The programme is currently being finalised, and looks exciting. Attendees will be able to choose from a range of sessions on writing, editing, publishing and marketing delivered by Christian writing and publishing experts across Australia and New Zealand. I’ll be leading two sessions on editing, one with Anne Hamilton, one of Australia’s top editors of Christian fiction.

There is also the opportunity for writers to get in-depth feedback in a Book Doctor session with an editor, either myself or Nola Passmore.

Friday night will be the annual CALEB dinner and award presentation. The CALEB Prize celebrates the best in Australasian Christian fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and includes the Boom Prize (for writers aged under 21), and the unpublished manuscript prize (which includes publication by Even Before Publishing). I’m thrilled to have worked on three of the four books shortlisted for the fiction prize.

Book Doctor Sessions

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet one-on-one with authors during the conference in a half-hour Book Doctor session. These sessions are AUD 30 for Omega members (AUD 50 for non-members), which represents excellent value. I specialise in adult and young adult Christian fiction, as these are the areas in which I am most widely read, and therefore best able to give advice.  Nola Passmore is also offering sessions, and hers will be particularly valuable for those who write poetry, articles and devotions.

My sessions will be tailored to the requirements of each author, and could include:

  • A review of a portion of your manuscript, to identify areas to focus on in self-editing (e.g. point of view, dialogue tags, use of interior monologue);
  • A review of the synopsis of your completed or part-completed manuscript, to discuss developmental aspects such as plot and subplots, characterisation, and point of view; or
  • A conversation around potential genre, plot and characters for a proposed new project; and
  • Conversation and prayer around any issues you are facing as a writer.

All bookings are on a first-come, first-served basis. Once your session has been booked and approved, you are welcome to email me your synopsis or a sample of your manuscript. This will enable me to understand your writing style and prepare for our session, to ensure you gain the maximum value possible from our time together.

Please email advance materials to igoulton@christianediting.co.nz by 1 October 2013.

Conference Special

Christian Editing Services is offering a limited conference special: schedule a Book Doctor session with me at the CALEB Conference to discuss your adult or young adult novel, and I will give you a discount on your next manuscript assessment, content editing, copyediting or proofreading project. The discount will be 10% of the project fee, to a maximum of AUD 50. Projects must be booked by 1 December 2013, and submitted by 1 March 2014.