Can you register your book series with the Copyright Office on one application and pay only one fee? If you are a certain type of writer, you can.
Write a lot of books and write them in a series. That’s the keystone advice for a successful career as an author these days. When you write good books with compelling characters, characters with whom your readers fall in love, chances are good you’re going to sell your next book to those same readers.
How to secure copyright protection for a series of books depends on what kind of writer you are.
Note about this Post
This post has been updated to reflect changes made at the Copyright Office in March, 2019. An unpublished series of books can no longer be registered using the "Standard Application." Instead, a new application that permits registration of up to 10 unpublished works, the "Group of Unpublished Works" application, must be used.
When it comes to crafting a book series, there are two kinds of writers.
There is the ultra-disciplined writer who has strategically planned the entire series from the first word in the first book to the last word in the last book. This writer has all of the books written before the first is published. She follows a methodical marketing plan designed to hook readers in the first book. Then she maximizes revenue over the course of the series by systematically releasing each book just when her readers are clamoring for more.
Then, there is the writer who writes his first book and publishes it with perhaps nothing more than an inkling that there might be a second or even a third in a series. For this writer, the next book comes out as soon as it’s finished. Not a minute before.
Which type of Writer are You?
There is no question about it — we are in the era of binge reading books written by our favorite writers as much as we are in the era of binge watching our favorite episodes on Netflix or Amazon.
If you are a self-published writer, the responsibility for all aspects of your creative career falls to you. You need to develop a strategy of copyright protection for your series. Knowing which kind of writer you are — one who has all the books in the series written before the first is published, or one who writes, then publishes, then writes the next book — determines how to file registrations for copyright protection with the Copyright Office.
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Build Copyright Protection into Your Workflow
I am often asked whether all the books in the series can be filed together using one copyright application and paying only one fee. If you are that first type of writer, you can file your work as a collection before you publish and pay one fee. If you fall into the second category, you must apply for copyright registration using a separate application for each book in your series.
Copyright Practice Tip
- A book series of unpublished books can be registered on one application, the Group of Unpublished Works application.
- If the books have been published, each book must be registered with its own application, either the Standard or the Single application.
- If the books are published on the same day and available as a set only, they can be registered together using the Standard application.
For a prolific writer who turns out three or four books a year (if not more), the time and expense of the copyright application process can begin to mount. Actually, the cost of applying for protection for even the most productive writers, at $35 to $55 per filing, is not exorbitant but it does add up. The bigger issues may be making the time to file the application and properly navigating the arcane online form. The form is particularly obtuse when it comes to a book series.
Registering a Book Series Using One Application
The rule of thumb for building copyright protection into your workflow is to file a copyright application within three months of publication. But this rule obviously does not apply if you file before you publish.
If you are disciplined enough to write two or more books in a series before publishing the first, then you will be able to protect your work by filing a single copyright application with a single filing fee and designating your work as unpublished.
In order to register your series of books before publishing any one of them, you must use the Group of Unpublished Works application. After you log into eCO, you will see the application in the menu bar on the left side of your screen under Other Registration Options. The filing fee for this application is $55.
With the group form, you can list more than one work in the application. After designating the type of work as Literary, the online system takes you to the Titles screen. The Titles screen in the group application is different from the Titles screen in the single application because you can list more than one title.
As an example, I’ll use a hypothetical series called Juniper Mysteries. The titles of the three unpublished books in the series are: The Wrong Way Boys, Spyder Byte City, and List Trip.
Begin the application by selecting "Literary" in the Type of Work screen. In the Titles screen, click "New*" and add the title of the first book in the series. The Titles screen in the group application differs from the standard application in that there is no option to enter a series name separately. You can add the name of the series along with the title of the book. It's not pretty, but it does the trick.
Now you can begin to add the titles of each book by clicking New, filling in the title of each book along with the series name, and clicking save after each title is added. Here’s a screen shot of what the Titles section of the group application should look like:
Once you submit the application and pay the fee (which will be $55), you can release your books according to your marketing schedule without having to re-register your work after publication. If you change a book’s title after you register the copyright you do not need to refile. Copyright doesn’t protect titles, so there is no need for a new registration unless there is new material in the work itself.
If you give your work a new title after registration, there may be new cover art and a separate application can be filed for that. You may want to file a supplementary registration to note the title change. A supplementary registration will be cross-referenced in the records of the Copyright Office and will make it easier to search for the original registration on your book.
Copyright Registration for a Series of Books: One Book at a Time
A collection of written works can be filed with the Copyright Office using a single application and paying one filing fee only if the works have not yet been published as described above or were all published on the same day and offered for sale only as a set. This is called the "Unit of Publication" option. Meeting the criteria for the unit of publication option is an uncommon workflow scenario for most writers, at least the ones I know.
Typically, a writer completes a manuscript, polishes it, publishes it, and markets it for sale. Then he begins writing the next book in the series. That next book may not be published until months or even years after the earlier one was first offered for sale. If this is your style of creating, then you will need to file a copyright application for each work regardless of the fact that the books are related in a series.
Let’s take a look at how this process is different. If you are registering one book, all the material was created by you, and you are the author and the claimant, you can register your work using the "One Work by One Author" application. This application costs $35 to file. You cannot use this application if the work is a work for hire, if more than one person created any part of the work, or if the author and the claimant are different. In those situations, you must use the standard application.
The Titles section of the single application will only let you enter the title of one work. If you try to enter two titles, you will get an error message. You can enter the name of the series immediately following the title in the same text box.
If you are in the second category of writers, you may not know that this will be the first book in a series. If that’s the case, just add the series name to the registration of book two.
The online copyright application system is not elegant, but it gets the job done. Give your book series the protection it deserves.
featured photo credit: s v klimkin