A long running debate on a large writers discussion board is whether or not to copyright your work prior to sending it to an agent. Some say if you do, you are flagging yourself as an amateur to a prospective agent, some advise that not doing it is leaving yourself open for a writer with a block to do a bit of creative plagiarism. A published author added that your ms is copyrighted as soon as you put words to paper. So, our all-knowing Miss Snark - I toss it to you yet again. Do I spend the money on copyright or can I put my spare pennies into my gas tank? Thanks!
First of all, everyone is right. And none of them have quite ALL the story.
Yes, your work has the protection of copyright as soon as it leaves your feather pen and hits the page.
Your work must be registered with the copyright office within three months of publication in order to sue for damages if someone lifts your work. PUBLISHERS register a copyright on behalf of the author; it's boilerplate in every book publishing contract, no exception.
The question you are asking is really two fold: do I register the copyright and do I write (c) on my cover sheet so everyone knows not to steal it.
Answer: no and no.
It does mark you as an amateur. If you want to really look like an ignoramus you'll write: (c) 2005, all rights reserved, do not reprint without author's permission.
The FIRST thing that happens to a manuscript I want to represent is that it goes on the copy machine and gets sent to people. You think you want to hear from me EVERY time I want to xerox it? Not in this lifetime bucko.
Secondly, it's a bit like pointing out "a human being wrote these words"...publishing people understand when copyright attaches so pointing it out is unneccesary.
Third, the idea that someone is going to steal things from your MANUSCRIPT is like worrying about being hit by an asteroid. Yes it's possible but really, I'm not trading in my fetching chapeau for a miner's helmet anytime soon. Acceptable risk.
All the plagiarism we've been talking about here involved an author lifting work that has been PUBLISHED. If there has been a case of a novelist having sections of a book stolen from manuscript form, I'd like to hear about it cause absolutely NONE come to mind.
None of this applies to screenwriting which is a whole different industry. Control of the content is a huge issue cause ideas do float around and you want to be careful who sees your stuff. But, if you send stuff to a literary agent, we're talking books even if you harbor dreams of an Oscar.
Save your money. Don't put (c) on your cover sheet. DO make sure you put your name address phone and email though.
And while we're at it: every page has Author/TITLE in upper left and page numbers in lower right.