8 Useful Facts about Copyrighting Your Short Story

Sure, I know, you’re an author and you don’t want to have to bother with all that legal stuff like copyrighting.  You just want to write.  You don’t understand that funny little symbol (©), and you hate that your word processor comes up with it when you type (c).  You’ve landed at the right blog post.  I’ll make this easy.

CopyrightFirst the necessary disclaimer.  I’m no lawyer, let alone a copyright attorney.  For the best legal advice, hire or befriend one of them.

Definition time.  What’s a copyright?  It’s a granting to you by the government of exclusive legal rights to the distribution and use of the story you wrote, for a set period of time.  The rationale for copyrights is to forge a compromise between two desirable goals: (1) writers should get paid for their creative effort, and (2) eventually, all creative works should be shared without restriction for the betterment of humanity.

This blog post covers copyrights of short stories in the United States only.  For other intellectual property and for the laws in other countries, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

Here’s the stuff you need to know:

  1. If you wrote the story yourself and didn’t copy someone else’s, and if you have finished it in some fixed form, it’s already copyrighted.  Automatically.  (The only known case where lawyers and the government made things easy for you.)
  2. Your copyright gives you the following rights and denies them to others.  You can copy it, distribute it, perform it, display it, and create derivative works like sequels or adaptations in other forms.
  3. Your copyright is effective immediately and will expire seventy (70) years after your death, at the end of that calendar year.  That’s according to current law, but they change it every now and then.
  4. Since you wrote your story after 1989, you don’t need to add the copyright symbol, though you may do so if it makes you feel better.  The format is: Symbol (©), year, your name.  (Example:  © 2014 Steven R. Southard)
  5. You also don’t need to register your copyright.  If you decide to do so, (with the U.S. Electronic Copyright Office), then things are a bit easier for you if someone steals your story.  You won’t have to prove it’s yours, and I understand you can sue for greater amounts.  But there are fees for registration.
  6. If you’ve heard about mailing your story to yourself and using the postmark as an official way to establish the date of your story, forget it.  That so-called “poor man’s copyright” doesn’t give you any more protection than you had before mailing, and it isn’t a substitute for registering a copyright.
  7. When you sign a contract with a publisher, you’re selling some of your story rights to that publishing company in exchange for payment.  If you’re just starting out, these contracts are pretty standard.  Once you become more experienced, you can negotiate which rights you want to retain.
  8. If you post your story on the internet, you may be giving up some or all of your copyright protections.  (If that’s your intent, good!)  The site on which you post the story will have user agreements that specify the rights you’re granting them by posting there.

That’s it.  If you’re feeling more like a lawyer than a writer now, I suggest you burn any briefcases or suits you might have, and take a warm shower with vigorous application of soap and water to get the lawyerly residue off.  That’s what’s next in store for—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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Interview with the Adjective Expert

Recently I had the honor of interviewing Amber Wise Savage, President of the English Language Adjective Council (ELAC).* Following is the entire text of that interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: First of all, Amber, welcome to the world of Poseidon’s Scribe and thank you for consenting to this exclusive interview.

Adjective Expert

Amber Wise Savage: You’re most welcome, and many thanks for the superb opportunity.

PS: Let’s start with the basics. Please tell us about adjectives.

AWS: I’d be happy to. Adjectives are describing words. They modify or qualify nouns and noun phrases. They make up about a solid quarter of all English words. That’s only half the number of those over-plentiful nouns, so we have some catching up to do.

PS: Catching up? Do you think the language needs more adjectives?

AWS: Of course. The current number is meager, scanty, and insufficient.

PS: But don’t you think fiction writers should be sparing in their use of adjectives? Not every noun needs an adjective, after all.

AWS: I disagree. I’ve never seen a noun that couldn’t benefit from two or three choice adjectives.

PS: That used to be true, certainly, when authors used long and flowery descriptions, but don’t today’s readers prefer prose with unadorned nouns and powerful verbs? Don’t adjectives slow down the pace?

AWS: What a dreadful thought, and quite false. Fiction would be bland, barren, and dull without adjectives.

PS: But you’d agree that most adjectives tend to tell, not show, and writers are always being told to show, not tell.

AWS: Again, indisputably false. Writers whose fiction tells too much should not blame innocent adjectives. In like manner, in fiction that shows, you’ll always find well-placed adjectives there, shouldering their share of the burden.

PS: I can see why you’re President of the ELAC. You must acknowledge, though, that some adjectives are used in a redundant way, pleonasms such as closed fist, exact same, and new invention. Also, there are some worthless adjectives that do nothing to modify a noun, weak and ineffectual words like comely, foolish, lovely, pleasant, pretty, stupid, and wonderful.

AWS: For every poor use of adjectives you could cite, I could give you a myriad examples of excellent adjectives that give crisp, focused meaning to their nouns.

PS: I’m sure that’s true. On that note of agreement, I’d like to thank you, Amber Wise Savage, for joining me today. You’re an effective advocate for adjectives everywhere.

AWS: You’re welcome. It’s been…interesting.

Well, that was something. You readers of my blog will have to form your own opinion. Other good blog posts about the use of adjectives in fiction are here, here, here, and here.   Amber and I disagree about the extent to which fiction writers should use adjectives. But you’ll have to decide who you’re going to believe, a paid proponent of adjectives, or—

Poseidon’s Scribe

* Not a real person. Not a real council. No interview took place. Some of the facts are true, however.

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Cliché Okay, or So Passé?

Every writer tells you to purge clichés from your prose (and I will too), but then those same writers go ahead and use clichés in their own books.  Sadly, I have too.  That’s not due to intentional hypocrisy; it’s just that the nasty critters are so darn hard to eradicate.

ClicheWhat’s a cliché?  It’s an overused expression or phrase.  Before becoming a cliché, the short collection of words started out being clever.  The original author discovered a compact, understandable, shorthand way of stating an idea.  The trouble began when others liked the phrase and repeated it.  Over and over.  Eventually readers got sick of it.  The expression lost its freshness and became annoying.

Apologies up front—I have used some clichés in this very blog post.  Again, it’s just because the infernal vermin can be difficult to spot and exterminate.

You can understand why it’s unwise to use too many clichés in your writing.  They mark the work of an unimaginative and lazy amateur.  Such writers just go for the easy, readily-available, (and perfectly apt) phrase instead of thinking deeper about fresh, new ways to express the same thought.  The prose comes across as tired, hackneyed, trite, and stale.

Your first draft may contain clichés by the bushel-full.  That’s because you were writing at full speed to get the basic thoughts down, knowing you would come back later.  At that fast pace, you’re more likely to grab the convenient phrase that comes to mind, the combination of words you’ve heard a hundred times—the cliché.  Make a point of hunting for them as you edit and proofread your later drafts.

The best place for spotting clichés is in descriptive passages, where you tried making a comparison between some object or situation in your story to a more real-world example familiar to the reader.  Many, many clichés are of that type, handy for relating one ‘thing’ to another in a few, image-enhancing words.

How do you know if you’ve written a cliché?  There are lists of clichés online, but by definition clichés are always being created and a few get forgotten through lack of use, so the real list is dynamic.

If you find one in your prose, what do you do?  Probably the easiest thing is to delete it and substitute some non-cliché that conveys the same meaning.  A more creative alternative is to give the cliché a clever twist, especially one that delivers your message even more exactly than the cliché would have.  Consider the twist imparted to the cliché ‘passing the buck’ by President Truman when he posted a sign on his desk reading, ‘The buck stops here.’  Of course, that saying became famous enough and repeated enough to become a cliché itself.

When is it okay to use a cliché?  I’d say it’s more acceptable in dialogue, since that’s the way people speak.  You can also use them in book or chapter titles, but make sure they fit and are appropriate to the book or chapter text.

At the end of the day (cliché), when all is said and done (cliché), you’ve got the gist (cliché) of clichés and been put in the know (cliché) by—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe


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FAQs About My Latest Book

RallyingCry72dpiEver since I’ve been dropping hint after hint about my upcoming book (Rallying Cry and Last Vessel of Atlantis), questions have been pouring in.  Flooding in.  Give me a break, I’m drowning here!  More questions came in than I could answer individually.

So I paid for some time on a supercomputer that compiled all the questions, sorted them, combined similar ones, performed complex statistical analyses, and spit out a list of the most frequently asked questions.

Below are those FAQs, complete with answers.

1.  What is the book about?  In “Rallying Cry,” an aimless youth meets two old geezers who spin bizarre war stories. They tell of a secret World War I regiment in France with ship-sized helicopters and mechanized walking tanks. Just as an inspiring shout can move soldiers to action, perhaps all Kane really needs to turn his life around is a rallying cry. In “Last Vessel of Atlantis,” a ship captain and his crew of explorers return to find Atlantis gone. While facing violent savages, braving fierce storms, and solving internal disputes, they must somehow ensure their advanced Atlantean civilization is not lost forever.

2.  Why two stories in one book?  I was in a generous mood.

3.  Why are these two particular stories combined?  They seem so different.  Actually, they’re both perfect fits for the What Man Hath Wrought series, which contains stories of alternate history involving people grappling with new technology.  The tales are quite different, though, but that means any reader would be bound to like one of them, at least.  That makes the book a pretty good purchase, I’d say. 

4.  What inspired you to write these stories?  I’ve written about that before…here and here.

5.  That’s a great cover.  Who designed it?  It is a wonderful cover.  Charlotte Holley of Gypsy Shadow Publishing designed it.  The bearded soldier gazes at something while a huge steampunk airship glides overhead and a big explosion goes off in the background. 

6.  Where can I buy the book?  Right now you can get it at Smashwords and Amazon.  Soon it will be available elsewhere, too. 

7.  You wrote an Atlantis story before, didn’t you?  What a memory you have!  My Atlantis-based story, “The Vessel” was published several years ago in an Atlantis anthology.  “Last Vessel of Atlantis” is that same story, with a title change and a few other alterations.  Definitely worth enjoying again.

8.  When will you have a print version rather than an e-book?   When the What Man Hath Wrought series is complete, I’m thinking about having a print version of the series.  It won’t be for a little while yet, since I have more stories I’d like to add to  WMHW. 

9.  What’s the next story in your What Hath Man Wrought series?  But that would spoil the surprise! 

Thanks for submitting your questions.  I’d invite more, but the deluge nearly crashed the supercomputer last time and almost tripped a wide sector of our national electrical power grid.  Let’s avoid tempting that fate, shall we?  I suggest you read the book, post a review, and before long there will be another book by—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

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Technical Difficulties

I know I said my latest book, the two-story compendium of “Rallying Cry” and “Last Vessel of Atlantis,” would be released today, March 1st.  I’ve just been informed that due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the book launch will be delayed a few days, perhaps as much as a week.

Please Stand ByMy many fans around the world, and on other planets, and those in alternate universes (I know you’re out there and that you read my stuff) must be disappointed.  I assure you, no one is more distressed about this than I am.

Why the delay?  The fact is, publishing an e-book is a complicated business, so I’ve been told.  There’s the virtual ink to pour in, the imaginary rollers to align, the invisible type to set.  There are gears that turn, levers that snap, boots that kick buckets over, marbles that roll down inclines into chutes, balls that fall into bathtubs, cages that catch mice.  It’s very involved.

With all that bewildering complexity, it’s amazing that e-books get published at all, let alone on any kind of schedule.

Meanwhile, you were surfing to the various bookseller websites all day since midnight, searching for my book, ready to put it in your shopping cart and to hit ‘place order.’  And now you have to wait.  I know what a frustration this must be.

But think how much worse things are for me.  I’ve had to postpone the lavish book launch party, reschedule the reservations on the yacht, tell all the celebrity guests to come back in six days, delay the skywriter service and the fireworks team.

Still, I feel pretty bad about the whole thing.  As a service to you, I’ll make some suggestions for fun things to do while you wait, things to take your mind off the anticipation.

1.  You could buy and read any of my earlier books.

2.  Read them all already?  You could read one or more again.  They are all good for re-reading since you can pick up subtle and enjoyable nuances you missed on first reading them.

3.  You could peruse my earlier blog entries.  You’ll find some real gems there.

It’s sad this has happened, but we’ll get through this challenge together, you and me.  Think of it as just another of life’s little trials.  Are you going to mope around, wallowing in misery?  Or are you going to pick yourself up, shake off those blues, rise above your gloom and despair, and manage to make it through the day?  Be brave, be resolute, and be patient.

I’ll tell you just as soon as the book is available, believe me.  Soon enough your persistence and suffering will be rewarded and you’ll be the happy owner of the latest book by—

                                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

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