Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Words that should never appear in your query...

...in this sequence: "Berne Convention copy write."

Unless you mean you're in Berne for the Convention of Punctuationists and you're going to send me a copy of  the new treaty regarding interrobang usage ("WTF is an interrobang?!" I hear you muttering.)

Sadly, that was not what a querier meant when he wrote "The title and all text are the sole intellectual copyright of the original author and recognized under the BERNE CONVENTION on copy write."

He meant "it's mine and you had better not steal it."


For those just discovering the joys of publishing here's a quick run down on why this guy was instantly disregarded:

(1) You can't copyright (note spelling) a title.

(2) "Sole intellectual copyright" doesn't actually make sense.  He meant it's the intellectual property of the author (not "original author") and wanted me to know it's protected by copyright (note spelling) so I won't  be tempted to turn it into fan fiction, publish it in Australia, sell it to Random House US and retire on my new-found fortune.***

(3) The Berne Convention was intended to have signatory countries recognize and enforce uniform copyright laws. It really doesn't have much to do with the copyright of an individual novel--that's the work of the US Copyright Office.

This kind of query is easy to discard with a rueful laugh. The faux ostentation and the bad writing pretty much make this a non-starter anyway.

But for those of you who are trying VERY hard to get the attention of an agent, the temptation to sound knowledgeable, with it, and in-the-know can be overwhelming. RESIST.

Resistance is NOT futile, I don't care what the Borg told you. RESIST!

I don't care how much you know about publishing, copyright, or intellectual property (other than you know your work has to be your own.) I don't care if you're under the impression the Berne Convention has something to do with Jason and his misplaced identity.

If you're just starting out you don't know what you don't know. Don't try to sound knowledgeable about publishing. Chances are good you're not. Like all industries we have our jargon, our abbreviations, our odd little ways.

Recently a telephone caller (yet another faux pas) to my office instructed me firmly that she'd had MANY meetings with agents at "The Book Expo America" and I was clearly a complete reptile for sounding the least doubtful about her experience.  (What she didn't know is almost everyone in the industry who attends "The Book Expo America" actually calls it something else.)

Here's what you DO know a lot about: your novel.

Here's what I care about: your novel.

Nice how that works out isn't it.

****ok, so I had to make a joke about THAT book, I did.


Jessa Russo (Stadtler) said...

Gah! So glad you referenced that book! :-)

And on that note, I just have to say that as an un-agented writer, who is TRYING hard EVERY day, the success of something like *that book* is a slap in the face. And then a kick in the shin with steel-toed boots.

And women everywhere are guzzling it up like its gold.


kregger said...

I thought interrobang was like hallway sex!?

My bad!

Chro said...

I wager someone trying to throw around language with you is a bit like my parents trying to throw around technical jargon with me.

"So, are you enjoying the ultrabytes and ramming of your new computer? I bet your broadbanding is extra-fast, and you can visit all the wet-sites you want without any leniency whatsoever!"

Kay Camden said...

I have a tiny bit of sympathy for this guy. This copyright business has had me baffled since day one. Google it and you'll get anywhere from "copyright any and all writing immediately" to "never copyright until you've signed with an agent".

Has anyone here gotten a copyright? When did you do it?

Richard Gibson said...

Kay - if by "gotten a copyright," you mean registering it with the copyright office, I have not done that. But I have gotten a copyright every time I have written anything. Instantly (at least since 1989). Agreed that the details are complex, but the basics are not. What you create in perceptible form is copyrighted, by you, when you create it.

Richard Gibson said...

P.S. - and you don't need to claim the copyright, nor place the symbol, or anything like that. You have and own the copyright when you create it. Period. (since 1989)

Rhen Wilson said...

I'm using interrobang all the time now. Thanks for the new word.

The Writer Librarian said...

I've done the "Poor man's Copyright", which involves burning your novel to a disc and mailing it to yourself, but never, ever opening it. The postmark is proof that you completed your novel in XXXX year. I'm not sure if this still holds legal water, but it's something I do whenever a finish a novel (even though the drafts of said novels have changed exponentially since).

Ann Landsberger said...

Perhaps Jason Berne (if that's even his real name) is sincerely concerned about his rights to what he writes, copy or otherwise. It is quite a leap of faith to pour your entire being (speaking generally, because who does that ... seriously) into a project and then mail it out to a hundred agents, some of whom may not have the best interest of "the writer" in mind. Not everyone is as true to fin as The Shark.

*Colin, thank you and I used to be much more diligent until I came in tenth place in that other contest. Shattered dreams ... busted mouse ... same old story ...

Elissa M said...

You can't copyright a title. You can't copyright an idea. And agents really don't have time (or the inclination) to steal anything from your query. If they find your query so fascinating that they can't put it down, they will call you and ask to represent you.

People, especially unpublished writers, get stressed out by all the wrong things.

Write your novel. Write it well. Query agents. No one will "steal your idea". I promise.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

Writer Librarian, just so you know, the "Poor Man's Copyright" doesn't hold any legal water at all. Just be relatively confident that agents have no desire to steal your work. They'd rather represent you than try to be you! :)

For those interested in copyright law, check out www.copyright.gov for all the facts.

I've never registered a single copyright, but everything I've ever written (including this blog comment) is covered under copyright law. When I finally get to the point where one of my novels will be published (dreamy-eyed staring and sighing up at the heavens), then I'll apply for a registration.

Nate Wilson said...

I know unsolicited email attachments are another big faux pas, but because you mentioned the BCP (Berne Convention of Punctuationists), I'm really tempted to send you my short story involving Captain Interrobang.

But you have enough to read as it is, so I shall bow to proper writer/agent email etiquette (and the Borg) and resist.

BP said...

Yahahaha Jason Berne is almost as good as Copy Write. :D Holy donuts what the heck is a copy write? Is that the brand of copy machines that never breaks down? Or someone who copies what you write? Like a scribe? What store do we get these from? I need me one of them...

Janet Reid said...

Ok, guys, don't post stories here; I'll just delete them.

Publishers register copyright when the book is published.

Your work is protected from the moment you write it.

The Writer Librarian said...

Thanks for the corrections! I will no longer spend unnecessary $$ at the post office. :) Always like learning something new, and appreciate everyone the writing community for constantly educating me.

Wry Wryter said...

Okay, I've never had a problem admitting I don't know something but here, in this place it makes me feel all naked, 'butt', I'm going to ask anyway because I'm curious and obviously stupid, "the Borg", ah, what were you refering to?

DSH said...


Borg is a Star Trek reference. You need to up your geek titer. :)

Here's a youtube link.


Janet Reid said...

Wry, the Borg like to assimilate lesser beasts by saying "resistance is futile."

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I like how your comment about an interrobang ends with an interrobang. Nicely done.

Wry Wryter said...

Ohhhh, okay now I get it...actually I don't.

My Star Trek was with Bill Shatner, tribles and Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy. I can do the Vulcan salute without an accent, BOTH hands, does that count?

Wry Wryter said...

I think I've got it now.

The Borg defined, (insert interrobang) ?! sort-of

An outer-worldly derivative-cartilaginous skeletoned being assimilating lesser literaturistic beasts because to resist is to perish!?
I’m not sure this means anything but it sure was fun to look up all that crap.

In other words don't try to impress the shark or you're dinner ?!

Janet Reid said...

Kayeleen, I do love finding ways to do that. It feels like a wink to the reader! ;)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I was in trademark/copyright litigation for 6 years for my family company. It is an utterly misunderstood portion of the law.

And this example shows just how sadly misunderstood. I stopped another writer from doing something similar.

"Poor Man's Copyright" doesn't really mean anything.


If you write it, it is yours. With an unregistered copyright, you can possibly get a court to make the other person stop using it and disgorge illegally gotten profits.

A registration is needed to collect statutory damages and to ask for legal fees. It is also prima facie proof of the copyright.

Self-pubbed, you should probably register it yourself.

Professionally pubbed, the publisher will take care of it for you.

Janet Reid said...

Terri is right. I'd only edit out the "probably" of "if you're self pubbed you should register it yourself" You should.

Kay Camden said...

Whoa, I'm going to start asking more dumb questions in the comments sections of blogs. I had no idea I'd get such great answers. Thanks everyone! All my troubles are at rest... because now all I need to do is get published!!???!!??!??

Terri Lynn Coop said...

See . . . a great agent always does the necessary edits.

I'm a lawyer, we always pull our punches.

However, self-pubbers, don't register until you've made all your final revisions. Only the actual registered document is protected. All subsequent modifications are not.


Anonymous said...

So impressed! Both a Jason Bourne AND Star Trek reference in here! What a great post :)