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 An unpublished series of books can no longer be registered using the "Standard Application." Instead, a new application that permits registration of up to 10 unpublished works, the "Group of Unpublished Works" application, must be used.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.
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
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How far along having “written” the books do you need to be? I know you need to upload files to file a copyright. So, if I have four books in a series, none have been published, and book 1 is done, book 2 is in editing, book 3 is halfway done, and book 4 has a few thousand words, can I file the whole thing as one Group of Unpublished Works application?
Copyright Registration protects your creative expression. The best practice is to file an application for registration on completed works, not partially completed or incomplete works. Any changes you make to your creative expression after filing your application will not be protected.
Can I use GRUW for the first book in the series, even if I haven’t written the rest of them yet.
You do not need to use the group application for unpublished works if you have not written the other books in the series, yet. You can use the single application where you will have an opportunity to name the series.
What are the benefits of Publishing your book in a series separately vs all together?
This is a great article. I was traditionally published then turned to self-publishing in 2011. I have many books published, and I did not copyright any of them with the exception of my most recent works. I want to copyright all of my books, but I’m not sure how that works with books published years ago. Do I have to re-publish each with a new publication date and copyright it then? I’ve been searching for the answer to this question and haven’t had any luck. Thank you for any help you can give.
2 questions please.
1. I have a series of 3 books not published and want to copyright them together. I get that’s possible
Q: Can I add 2 other books (for a total of 5) by me that are not in the series but are similar on same application?
2. I don’t want to publish my series of 3 books (or my other 2 books) on one date but stagger them out.
Q: Is that possible since I keep reading “published on same date.”?
Thx so much in advance!
You can include up to 10 unpublished works on one application. They do not need to be in the same series. Once you file your application, you can roll out your work (publish them) on different dates. The “published on the same date” language refers to filing an application for copyright registration after the works have been published, not before.
Thank you for your guidance!
Can I copyright the idea I have for a children’s book series by creating an outline of each book and a description? I have the title of the series and the title of each book in the series and want to make sure they are protected, But I have yet to write one book in the series, let alone all of the books. Can I still ensure their protection by creating an outline of all of the books? Should I also trademark the name of the series, the book titles, and the characters I have created for each book?
Thank you so much for all of your time in helping all of us!!
I have an entire series that is copyrighted individually as it does take a while for me to write a book. I am wanting to put these into a box set now. Do I have to file a new copyright for the boxed set? I can’t seem to locate that anywhere.
You do not need to file a new application for the boxed set if each of the books already has its own registration. Remember, copyright protects the content, not the form, which is why you do not need separate registrations for print and ebook.
I have a series of children’s books going on, the title will remain the same, except that the book’s number changes. The book will be translated in a couple of languages and sold overseas. Do I need a Trademark and a Copyright, only a copyright or a Trademark itself?
I certainly recommend the you get a copyright on each book. It is possible to obtain a trademark registration for a book series, but not always necessary. It depends on your business plan.
Can I use the GRUW form to register a series of 10 craft how-to ebooks if each book only contains one craft design & everything (photo, illustrations, text) in the book pertains specifically to that? One attorney said yes because he felt they aren’t considered a collective work on their own. I spoke to someone at the copyright office and they disagree, but it states right on their website that ‘a single unified work that contains separate parts or elements’ is NOT a collective work and she could not explain this to me. She tried to push me into putting everything into one book and using the standard application. Can you please help? Thank you!
If I am publishing a book, but releasing it in short stories at a time (not all are written as of now), is it all protected under the GRUW application for copyright? Or do they each need to be copywritten separately?
We are a new bublisher-writters that we will sell through amazon our books, children’s book. 3 ready to be published (at once) and and 3 more will be realesed within the year, they are all part of a series. AS we are not from US but we will sell to US as well, the procedure above protects our work globally?
thank you So much for your help
Emmanouela, If you will be selling your work in the US, and are a citizen of a country that is a signatory to the Berne Convention, you have every right to use the US Copyright Registration system to protect your work in the US.
Thank you so much for writing this easy to understand article.
From my understanding, if a book is already published, the author has 3 months to register it for it to be protected. Is that correct? When can the author publish after receiving their register certification?
When filing to copyright a book, does the author have to send in a copy of the manuscript? Where and to whom should it be sent if this is the case? I write childrens’ books and they are usually 20 to 30 pages per book.
Work of fiction was copyrighted in 2012. In process of revising book going to self publish in 2020. Do I need to copyright 2nd edition?
If you are just making minor changes, it’s not necessary to file another copyright application. If there is new creative expression in the revision, you should think about filing a new application.
This is very helpful information. Thank you. Are you aware of a link to the equivalent rules and process for Canadians?
Hoping you can answer this one for me: I have a book that is about ready for publishing and there will be an entire series of these books. They are fact based and region based, thus I want to use a specific format that no one else can copy while I am writing about each region (something like the “For Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” did with same look and feel but different subject matter). What does this take in lieu of a copyright or are there multiple things I need to do in order to protect the idea?
Hi, I was under the impression that a sequel or trilogy is considered a “derivative work” and does not need to be registered with the Copyright Office, and is covered under the registration of the 1st book. Is that not the case?
The characters might be protected by the first registration, but the new plot/storyline/content in the next books in the series will not be protected by that first registration.
Thank you for your interesting advice. I would appreciate your comments. My friend and I collaborated on a children’s book series and she published the books her Indie publishing company. The series is very successful but she now wishes to write books for adults. Does that mean the series is finished? Can I continue writing the children’s series and publish it under my own Indie publishing company? There is no written agreement. Thank you for your time.
Ellie, Co-authors are equally able to use stories that they’ve written together unless you have a written contract that says otherwise. I always recommend that co-authors sign a collaboration agreement that outlines exactly what each author can do with the work that was created together. In short, you can continue writing the series if you haven’t agreed not to.
Hello, thank you for your help, Kathryn. Could you please clarify two more things. To be eligible for the group application, the works should be unpublished. But do they have to stay unpublished till I get the certificate (up to 11 months according to the Copyright Office)? Or can I file the application and start publishing them literally the next day? The seccond thing, can we file the stand alone works as the group aplication, provided that they all are unpublished and in the same genre, by the same author? Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you for your help, Kathryn. I have written an idiosyncratic foreign language dictionary, but only the first book of two (planned). Which form do I use? And if I revise them later, what do I do? Thank you.
If the first dictionary is finished and you are the only author and there is no creative work of others that needs to be excluded, you can use the form entitled “Register One Work by One Author.” Any other scenario requires use of the Standard Application. Slight revisions generally do not require you to file another application; significant rewrites with new content will require a new application to protect the new content.
Thank you so much, Kathryn. I received your answer in ONE day, and I’m very grateful. You’re a marvel.
Thank you. This article is very informative and helpful.
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.
You are correct, Phyllis. You need a separate ISBN for each book.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you very much!
Do the books need to be completed to get a trademark on the series name and idea before writing them?
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.
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.
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?
If they have all been written and are unpublished, they can be filed together on the standard form.
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.
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…..
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?
Go to Copyright.gov and click on register a copyright. Also, check out this replay of a webinar I did earlier this year: Copyright Application Step-by-Step. We went through the registration of a single work screen by screen. You may find it helpful as you register your book series.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
Imagine! I can register my series of 15 books for $55! Thanks for the tip, Kathryn.
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?
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.
Valuable! I’ve shared it on Facebook. Thanks, Kathryn, and fondest wishes. :^)
Thanks for sharing, Robert. I appreciate that.
Very helpful, Kathryn — thanks. I actually know authors that — amazingly enough — DO plan series ahead of time, such that they can use this info 🙂
I thought maybe there would be one or two out there. Most of the authors I know are the “Just in time” type.
Very informative; thanks for posting.
I get this question all the time, Mary Ann. The answer hasn’t been easy to find for most writers.