How to Copyright a Series of Books | Creative Law Center

How to Copyright a Series of Books

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 An unpublished series of books can no longer be registered using the "Standard Application." Instead, a new application that permits registration of up to 10 unpublished works, the "Group of Unpublished Works" application, must be used.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. 

Menu of Copyright Applications.

Menu of Copyright Applications. [click image to enlarge]

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.

Title of Work screenshot

Title of Work. [click image to enlarge]

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:

List of Books in Titles Screen of Group Application

List of Books in Titles Screen of Group Application. [click image to enlarge]

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.

Title screen for the single form eCO application

Registering a book series one book at a time. This is the Title screen. [click image to enlarge]

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

About the Author

Kathryn Goldman helps artists, writers, and other creative professionals make a living from their art by teaching them how to protect their work and enforce their rights. She is an attorney who writes these posts to help you be more thoughtful about intellectual property and the law when you write your stories, create your art, and build your business.

  • Phyllis Parun says:

    I am moving in the series direction from the single book approach. Each of my single books has its own ISBN designated. In series would each book in the series have an individual ISBN? And does the copywriter application or the DVD attachment (if there is one required) have those on the Copyright pages in each book? I assume that one cannot cover and entire series of books with one ISBN but that is my question for your clarification. Thank you.

  • Thom Reece says:

    Very timely and valuable information. Thank you very much for the ‘heads-up’, Kathryn.

  • Thanks for keeping us apprised of the changes. Appreciate your informative posts. Very helpful.

  • Antony says:

    Hi, thank you for a helpful article. Could you please tell if we can register children’s picture books like this and in which form? A picture book is a combination of the text and the illustrations, so is it actully literary work or work of the visual arts? I want to register both text and illustrations. Thanks a lot.

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      Great question, Antony,

      Choosing the “Type of Work” in the copyright application for a piece that is neither one type of authorship nor another is important, but not critical. If you make a mistake, the good news is that the “Type of Work” is for classification purposes in the Copyright Office’s database only and has no effect on the validity or enforceability of the registration.

      If the work you are registering contains more than one type of authorship (like an illustrated children’s book or a comic book), choose the type of work that corresponds with the type that is predominant in your work. Then, when identifying the author list all the types of authorship being claimed.

  • Kim K says:

    Do the books need to be completed to get a trademark on the series name and idea before writing them?

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      The books do not need to be completed to get a trademark on a series name. You can file what’s called an “Intent to Use” application with the Trademark Office which gives you six months to file a Statement of Use of the mark. You can file up to five extensions, which will give you a total of three years to actually use the mark. Lots of time.

  • Abi says:

    Ms. Goldman, I have a question. I have a series of 6 children’s books but I’ve only finished two, fully illustrated, the remaining four may need about 6 months. Can I copyright the first two and add 2 at a the time under the same series tittle or can I register the 6 of them now, even though the last four aren’t illustrated just yet. The 6 stories are written already.
    Do I have to send the books as I apply or what would you recommend?
    Thanks for your wonderful work.

    • The books have to be finished in order to apply for copyright registration on them. Copyright registration protects the content, so the content must be completed before registration. You can use a group application on the series if none of them is published at the time of the application. Each book that is already published requires its own application. If you want to start selling the first two before the last four are finished, file on those and start selling. Then file on the last four when they are finished.

  • Paul Besancon says:

    In the future, I wish to self-publish 3 short stories for free and a novel that I have already written. I will be releasing them in intervals and they are all part of a series (I am author type two). So if I’m reading this correctly, I would I be able to do register them all on the standard form?

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      If they have all been written and are unpublished, they can be filed together on the standard form.

  • luv2grow says:

    So glad to have found your site – I’ve already learned so much! I have a large series of books (30) already published but some of them were published on the same days. Can I group them by date in the applications? thanks!

    • You can use one standard application to file for a registration on books that were published on the same day. Publication date is what determines how many applications you need to file. Your publishing style will let you save some money.

  • E. Anita Frett says:

    So Much Great Information/ Questions and answers very helpful! “I once was blind but now I see!” LOL! I feel good about what I need to do now to get my book copyright etc…..

  • Damon says:

    Hello Kathryn,

    I’m working on a series of books, and I have them all planned out.
    There’s only one issue I have with the instructions here…there’s no link to the application shown in the photos! How am I supposed to know where to go from here?

    Please forgive me if I’ve missed something. I’m eager to put this information to good use, but I don’t know where to apply. Help, please?

  • Eunice says:

    Kathryn, my book series title is “Mama & Me” and my book title is, “Mama, What If?” I know that we don’t have to worry about copyright infringement on book titles, but what about book series title like my “Mama & Me” which I made into a graphic. Can I not use this book series title if “Mama & Me” is trademarked already? Or do I not need to worry about that?

    • Eunice,
      I just took a look at the trademark record for “Mama & Me” at the USPTO (United States Patent & Trademark Office). Click here to see the record. The first thing to notice is that the mark has been abandoned, which means the entity that filed for the mark no longer has any federal rights to it. The second thing to notice is that the mark was being used to identify children’s play areas and art and movement classes, not a book series. You do not need to worry about this trademark.

      If you are investing significant resources (time & money) into a book series called “Mama & Me”, you ought to consider filing your own application for trademark registration. It’s a good title for a book series.

  • M. Gee says:

    My novels are registered with the Copyright Office under my name. I have just signed a Joint Revocable Trust document, which includes an Assignment that transfers my current and future books into the Trust. Two questions:
    1. I will record the copyright of my next book with the Copyright Office listing myself as the author and the Trust as the claimant. On the copyright page of this new novel, would I list the Trust after the copyright symbol…or both my name *and* the Trust?
    2. Should I revise the copyright page of all my previous novels to also reflect this “change” in ownership or is just my name as author sufficient?

    • The proper form of the copyright notice is the (c) “c” in the circle followed by the year of publication then the name of the copyright owner. The owner of the copyrights in a work is the claimant in the application for registration. So, in your case, because of the transfer, the trust should be identified in the copyright notice (and as the claimant in the application for registration). As for your previous novels, there’s no need to go back and change the front matter in your books. The best practice is to record the transfer of the copyrights to your trust with the Copyright Office.

      You’ve chosen a good method of protecting your rights for your heirs.

  • Pam De Voe says:

    This was so interesting–and enlightening. How would I copyright a series of short stories, which would be published as a collection, but most (minus 2-3) of which had already been published in various anthologies, etc? Do I have to do each story separately or can I copyright the short story collection as one book?

    • Pam,

      The stories that have already been published will need separate copyright applications, one for each date of publication. The as yet unpublished stories can be included together on the same application. Good luck with your collection.

      Kathryn

  • Lexi says:

    Hi Kathryn,
    Your post has been most helpful to me, though the one part of the copyright process that confuses me is the limitation of claims. I am copyrighting the second book in my series and am unsure if I am to say that I should exclude the material of the first book and then check the box for material included in the new book? Or should I only exclude the text of the first book if I were to rewrite it and reapply for copyright? (I apologize if my question is worded weirdly – I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase it). Thank you so much for your time.

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      Lexi,

      If you are filing an application for copyright registration on your second book, there’s no need to mention your first book. The purpose of the limitation of claims screen is to identify material in the deposit copy that you will upload at the end of the process that should be excluded from the registration.

      I’m assuming that no part of the first book is contained in the deposit copy for the second book.

      I hope that helps.

  • Gwen says:

    I have three books unpublished for a series. I understand that I can file one application. I plan to keep adding books to the series and plan to also have them copyright before published. Would I have to file them at that time. Or, can I submit the titles of these books during the time I submit the first three?

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      Gwen,

      Copyright protects the content of your books, not the title or the idea. Whether you can file using a single application depends on the publication date of your books. You can register your completed, unpublished books with one application, as you noted. The books that you haven’t written yet will each require their own application at the time of publication. Or you can file an application on the next group in the series before they are published like you plan to do for the first three. Make sense?

      Great question.

      Kathryn

  • Alison Holt says:

    If I read this correctly, there is no way to copyright a series published one book at a time. So if I have published three books so far, one at a time, and someone wanted to write a book using my same characters, setting, etc., there is no protection from that? Or is there?

    Thanks Kathryn, your articles are always super helpful

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      Alison,

      You can still protect all of your books. But because they were published at different times, each book must have its own application. So there are no cost savings.

      Kathryn

      • alisonholt@alisonholtbooks.com says:

        I wasn’t actually asking about cost. I’m asking if there’s a way to protect a series from someone stealing your characters, settings, etc that you have created for a series.

  • L. C. Aimerie says:

    This was very informative! Thanks a bunch. In fact, I’m in the process of copyrighting a few comic strips that have not been published (yet). The comic strips all feature common characters but aren’t part of a ‘story series’. They are more stand-alone stories and I’ll be creating more in the future. Would it be safe to assume that I could go the same way, ie, in my copyright submission, create first a “Series Title” (e.g. Snoopy & Friends) and then label each comic strip under “Title of work being registered”( e.g. Snoopy goes to Work, Snoopy learns to Sit, Snoopy Learns to Fly etc.)?
    Appreciate your thoughts on this…. Thanks!

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      L.C.,

      That’s a good strategy for an unpublished group of comic strips. Be sure to check out this circular from the Copyright Office: Cartoons and Comic Strips.

      Kathryn

  • Munro Gaultney says:

    Imagine! I can register my series of 15 books for $55! Thanks for the tip, Kathryn.

  • Gillian says:

    What about a box set? Should you register each book separately? Or Register the box set as one book? Or what if you have none of the individual books registered but only register the box set?

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      I think the analysis for a box set would be the same as for a series. If the books in the set are, or have been, published at the same time (or not yet published), they can be registered using one application. If the books in the set have been published over time, each will need its own application even though they may have been re-released in the box set. Great question, Gillian.

  • Robert Devereaux says:

    Valuable! I’ve shared it on Facebook. Thanks, Kathryn, and fondest wishes. :^)

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      Thanks for sharing, Robert. I appreciate that.

  • Simon Mayeski says:

    Very helpful, Kathryn — thanks. I actually know authors that — amazingly enough — DO plan series ahead of time, such that they can use this info 🙂

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      I thought maybe there would be one or two out there. Most of the authors I know are the “Just in time” type.

  • Mary Ann Bernal says:

    Very informative; thanks for posting.

    • Kathryn Goldman says:

      I get this question all the time, Mary Ann. The answer hasn’t been easy to find for most writers.

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