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Digital Publishing for Creative Writers: FAQ

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Something writers need to be aware of is that once your work is in a fixed, tangible medium, you automatically have the copyright over your work.  However, you do have the option to get a copyright certificate for your work.

There are a few reasons why an author still may want to pay for the copyright certificate.  The U.S. Copyright Office explains, "Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law."  In addition to legal agency, having a copyright certificate will allow an author's work to be considered for libraries around the U.S.  Finally, the U.S. is partnered with numerous counties that will recognize the copyright certificate, but will not recognize the automatic copyright.

You have several options to publish, depending on your goals and what your project actually is are elements to be considered for deciding whether or not to publish traditionally, online, or through a literary magazine. First, you need to decide if your work stands alone or you would like it to be a part of a larger collection. For example, if you would like to publish a poem, would you like to use that poem in a future collection? If the answer is no, then you may consider submitting the poem to a traditional or digital magazine (some being Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, and so on). If the answer is yes, you may want to hold on to your poem a little longer. Many publishers do not want to publish a work that has already been published (although, this is not necessarily true for all). Further, some magazines/journals may obtain the rights to your poem, and you may not be permitted to republish the work based on the magazine/journal's policies. Therefore, before deciding to publish, be sure to consider your long term goals with your project

You may also want to consider how much money you're willing to spend to get your work published. For example, some writers may hire literary agents to help them in the publishing process; Other writers may choose to take on the task of publishing themselves. You should also consider the amount of time you wish to wait between submission and publication. While it is a rewarding experience, following a traditional publishing route can take months between submission and the final printing of your project. Digital publishing allows writers the opportunity to make their work available instantly and around the world. You also should ask yourself if you want to charge readers for access to your work, and the amount of royalties you hope to gain upon publishing. If you want open access to your writing, digital publishing is your best option. If you hope to make a profit, consider traditional publishing or a different digital publishing route (such as Kindle Direct Publishing).

Copyright, as defined by the U.S. Copyright Office, is "a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."  This is to say that copyright is a protection for your creations--and is very important for you to know!

To be clear, a person cannot copyright an idea, but simply the means of expression.

This question is tricky to answer in one way, because maintaining the rights to your work depends on who you choose to publish through.  For example, some platforms may allow you to publish your work elsewhere, while others may want exclusive rights to publish and sell your work, and even more publishers fall somewhere in between.  In order to know exactly what rights you maintain, be sure to read the user agreement of the platform you choose to publish through.

Please visit the "Website Policies" tab for more information about the policies of a few popular publishing platforms.




Before publishing anywhere, it's important to decide how you want your work to be accessed, and to read through the website's terms-of-use policy.  For example, you need to ask yourself: Do I feel comfortable allowing my work to be accessed for free?  How much of my work should be available, and at what cost (if any)?  Do I want to publish in the form of an ebook, blog, website, or onto a digital platform for creative writers?


The most accurate answer to this question is "it depends."  Some publishers are okay if the work has already been made available online, while others want to have first publishing rights to your work, and therefore will not publish what has been already featured online.  When deciding on a publisher, be sure to read their terms and determine for yourself if you have a good match.

One of the biggest reasons why writers will choose to provide their work online for free is for exposure.  By allowing your content to be accessed for little to nothing, you are more likely to have a larger audience.  Attorney and Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig explains the benefits of providing content online for free in his book Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity:

"Why would creators participate in giving up total control? Some participate to better spread their content. Cory Doctorow, for example, is a science fiction author. His first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was released on-line and for free, under a Creative Commons license, on the same day that it went on sale in bookstores.

Why would a publisher [who, in the case of digital publishing, is often the writer herself] ever agree to this? I suspect his publisher reasoned like this: There are two groups of people out there: (1) those who will buy Cory’s book whether or not it’s on the Internet, and (2) those who may never hear of Cory’s book, if it isn’t made available for free on the Internet. Some part of (1) will download Cory’s book instead of buying it. Call them bad-(1)s. Some part of (2) will download Cory’s book, like it, and then decide to buy it. Call them (2)-goods. If there are more (2)-goods than bad-(1)s, the strategy of releasing Cory’s book free on-line will probably increase sales of Cory’s book" (284).

Essentially, Lessig explains that you don't necessarily have to choose between allowing your book to be accessed for free or selling it for a profit; you can do both, and that may be most beneficial!  However, it is still important to keep in mind the stigma around publishing your work for free--some may view a free product as not being as "good" as one you would pay for.  Still, this is not a stigma that everyone holds.  Ultimately, the decision to provide your work for free will be up to you.

The Kindle has become one of the most recognizable and powerful platforms for digital publishing.  For more information about the process for publishing on the Kindle--Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)--please click here.