How to Copyright a Book Series

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.

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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.

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 as a collection before publishing any one of them, you must answer “no” to the first question on the opening screen of the electronic copyright application. What that does is move you from the single form (with a filing fee of $35) to the standard form (with a filing fee of $55).

With the standard 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 standard application is different from the Titles screen in the single application because you can list more than one title.

first screen of the eCO copyright application

Checking "No" in any box on the first screen of the eCO copyright application will load the standard form. [click 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.

First enter the name of the series by selecting Title Type: Series Title. Clicking save adds the series title to the application.

selecting series in title type screen in eCO copyright application

Selecting the series title on the Title type screen in eCO copyright application. [click to enlarge]

Now you can begin to add the titles of each book by clicking New, then “Title of Work being Registered,” filling in the title of each book and clicking save after each title is added. Here’s a screen shot of what the Titles section of the application should look like:

titles in a book series on one application

All titles of a book series in one application. The Titles screen will look something like this. [click 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.

Practice Tip

  • A book series of unpublished books can be registered on one application with an entry for the series title and an entry for each of the book titles.
  • If the books have been published, each book must be registered with its own application.

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 or were all published on the same day. This 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 able to answer “yes” to all of the questions on the first screen of the online application, the single application will load. This application costs $35 to file.

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 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.

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21 thoughts on “How to Copyright a Book Series

      1. ari

        Hi Kathryn! So I am writing a series of books… And i have three titles so far!
        I see you explain that above very clearly and I will do that immediately.

        Now, i have written one of the first books! finished! Do i need to also register that on its own separately as a single work? I want to make sure that I protect the entire story that i wrote?

        how does that work? Do i need to fill out two applications? 1) for the series with the titles and 2) of the one finished book?

        1. ari

          Also, If i want to copyright the series with the first 3 book titles but do not have all three books written.. I can still copyright the series?

          I have a series, that has 3 book titles so far but only one finished book.

          that is what I am confused about!
          Thank you so much

          1. Kathryn Goldman Post author

            Ari,

            If you only have one book finished and are planning to publish it before the other books are finished then you should apply for copyright registration on that book. When then next book is written, if you plan to publish it as soon as it is finished, file an application for that book. Separate applications for each book in the series as you roll them out.

        2. Kathryn Goldman Post author

          Ari,

          If you write all the books before you publish the first, then you can use one application to register all the book in the series. There’s no need to file an additional application for each title.

          Kathryn

  1. Simon Mayeski

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

    1. Kathryn Goldman Post author

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

  2. Gillian

    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?

    1. Kathryn Goldman Post author

      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.

  3. L. C. Aimerie

    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!

  4. Alison Holt

    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

    1. Kathryn Goldman Post author

      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

      1. alisonholt@alisonholtbooks.com

        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.

          1. Kathryn Goldman Post author

            This is a “fan fiction” issue. Sometimes use of another author’s characters is considered fair use. In other cases, it’s infringement. This is a question worthy of its own post. I’ll put it on my list for the future.

            Thanks, Alison

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