Writing a book is a creative adventure, but the moment you decide to publish it-especially if you plan to sell it-you are stepping into the world of business, and businesses have laws they must follow. These laws address everything from how much you should pay in taxes for the money you earn from your publication sales to how you can protect your copyright for your published work.
In the United States, ignorance of the law does not excuse us from following the law, so it is much better to be aware of the laws so you can keep everything in order.
The main legal matters for you to be concerned with are those related to copyright law and tax law.
Before we go any further, I have to take a moment to explain that I am not a lawyer and that none of the information in this post should be considered legal advice. It is for informational purposes only.
Copyright Law Highlights
- In short, copyright law is about protecting the work that others have produced from being included in your published work and passed off as your own without compensating the author, and protecting your work from being used by someone else without your permission.
- The good news for U.S. authors is that copyright law protects your work from the moment you finish writing or typing your manuscript-even before it is published. It is still good practice to submit your book to the Copyright Office within the first 6 months because it gives you a financial advantage in case you ever need to go to court to defend your copyright.
- You can quote short segments of work that belongs to someone else under “Fair Use,” but to be safe it may be better to simply contact the author and/or publisher and get written permission to avoid any legal issues later.
- Copyright law also protects derivative works of the original, so if you plan to produce something that is a remix or spin-off of someone else’s original work, you may still need to get their permission. Bruno Mars learned this when he had to add the Gap Band as writers on his hit song “Uptown Funk” because of the similarities to their 70’s hit song “Oops Upside Your Head.”
Learn more about copyright law when you read “Legal Matters, US Copyright Law Basics for Authors”
Tax Law Highlights
- The moment you allow your published work to be sold, you become a business and you are subject to IRS tax law for sole-proprietorships unless you take the steps to form an LLC or other legal entity.
- Most authors do not need to form an LLC, but when you talk with an accountant you can find out if staying as a sole proprietor is right for you.
- Whether you self-publish or partner with a traditional publishing company, you are required to claim any income from your book sales on your taxes.
- You can claim money you spend on researching, writing, editing, producing or even marketing on your taxes as business expense tax deductions even before your book is published, but please talk with an accountant before you do it to make sure you do it correctly.
- If you are a self-publisher and you plan to sell your book online, through speaking engagements in other states or countries, or to people who live in other states or countries, you may be responsible for paying a sales tax to your state and/or to the home state or country of the person(s) you sell your book to. Traditional publishing companies manage this for their authors, but self-publishers are responsible for handling these payments. Please talk with your accountant for more information.
For tips on how to start and manage your writing business quickly and simply on your own, read “The Simplest Way to Start Your Writing Business.”
To find out how to connect with an accountant who understands the needs of authors and to learn more about tax matters for authors, read “Tax Deductions and Other IRS Matters for Authors.”
The information above does not list everything you need to know about the law and how it affects you as an author. To learn more, please contact your lawyer and/or accountant for specific information, but for general information purposes I also recommend that you buy a copy of “The Law (In Plain English) for Writers” by Leonard D. DuBoff and Bert P. Krages, II Attorneys at Law and “Business Tips and Taxes for Writers” by Carol Topp, Certified Public Attorney (CPA).