Protection of an Author’s Idea: How to Make the Most of Publishing Your Books

by Joslyn Chase | 0 comments

One of the first idioms I remember learning as a child came when my mother told me I can’t have my cake and eat it too. After she explained what it meant, I started fantasizing about a magical cake that would regenerate the slice after I ate it. I never imagined I would actually find such a cake, but in a way, I have.

Protection of an Author's Idea

That’s why, when Dean Wesley Smith told me about the Magic Bakery, it resonated with me. He uses the analogy of an enchanted pie to discuss aspects of copyright and intellectual property (IP). For a more in-depth look at the subject, check out the book, the workshop, or the podcast interview he did with Joanna Penn.

But to whet your appetite, I’ll touch on a few basics here.

What Is Copyright?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.” As a provision of the Berne Convention, adopted in 1887, most countries around the world agree to honor this definition of copyright.

Essentially, copyright is the protection of an author's idea.

When you write a story, you’ve created a piece of intellectual property to which you own the rights—for your lifetime and seventy years beyond, in most cases.

I am not an attorney, and I don’t play one on TV. I don’t even have a main character who’s a lawyer, so please understand I am not giving out legal advice. I’m simply outlining a few of the coolest features of copyright. Here’s one—you can pass control of your copyrights to your heirs.

The Breadth of Copyright: The Magic Bakery Analogy

Imagine you own a bakery, and a customer comes in to buy a slice of pie. You hand over the slice, take his money, and it’s a mutually beneficial exchange with both parties receiving something of value.

But then, the slice magically reappears in the pie plate, because when you sell a copy of your book, it doesn’t diminish the pie. That slice can be sold over and over again. It’s like the cake of my childhood dreams.

In terms of digital versions of a book, this is a pretty pure analogy. When it comes to the print book, think of the physical pages and cover like the packaging, the carton in which you place the pie. The actual property you’re selling is what’s inside—your story.

Here’s the hitch: you’ve got to have more than a single pie. If a customer walks into a bakery and sees empty shelves with only one or two pies on offer, they’re not likely to stick around for long. Keep baking those pies and stocking the shelves so customers will enjoy spending time in your bakery and trying your wares.

Sharpen Your Knife

Another thing about that enchanted pie is that you can slice it into a thousand pieces by exploiting or licensing a large variety of rights. A single piece of IP can be split into ebooks, audiobooks, paperback, hardback, large print, book club edition, author-preferred edition, workbook edition, foreign language translations, radio plays, movies, TV, board games, T-shirts, toys, video games, and on as far as your imagination can take you.

Just be smart, and don’t sign away your rights. Keep in mind the best protection of an author's idea, and instead, license them for a limited time.

Tom Clancy learned that the hard way when he sold the rights to his character Jack Ryan and The Hunt for The Red October. He had a fight on his hands to recover the right to use Ryan in subsequent novels.

As the IP creator, you are the one with the valuable property. Don’t get in a hurry to sign on the dotted line without doing your homework.

Freshen Your Pies and Create More Doors

Magic pies don’t spoil, but they will gather dust. You’ll need to keep your bakery tidy, and refresh your pies periodically.

By that, I mean checking to see if your covers need updating, the sales descriptions need revamping, the keywords have grown stale, or you simply need to promote some of your backlist to get it moving again.

The more doors you create for customers to enter your bakery, the more pies you will sell. That means more formats and more platforms. You build your readership one person at a time, but it all adds up.

And, of course, keep making more pies.

Have Your Pie and Eat it Too

There’s a lot more to the Magic Bakery than what I covered here, but isn’t it an exciting concept? It’s the fulfillment of fantasy.

As writers, we have a lot to learn—about our craft, our genre, our market, our business, our rights and responsibilities. Add copyright to your list, and educate yourself about the possibilities and limitations involved. Get a copy of The Copyright Handbook, by Nolo Press, and visit these websites to learn more:

And, of course, check out what Dean has to say on the subject in his book, workshop, and podcast on The Creative Penn.

Build your bakery. Open the doors, spiff up the shelves, and keep those pies coming!

How about you? Are you excited about the prospect of a Magic Bakery? Have you been serving up slices of pie? Tell us about it in the comments.


Just for fun, let yourself fantasize about the magic bakery you’re building. Write a few paragraphs about how you’ll stock the shelves and create the doors.

In other words, write about the series, or multiple series, you plan to publish, the stand-alone books, the short story collections, the fiction and the non-fiction. Tell us about genre and all the many formats you might employ for your books.

Where will you make your wares available for sale? How will you keep your bakery up-to-date?

Write for fifteen minutes about your plans for your bakery. When you are finished, post your work in the comments, and don’t forget to provide feedback for your fellow writers!

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Any day where she can send readers to the edge of their seats, prickling with suspense and chewing their fingernails to the nub, is a good day for Joslyn. Pick up her latest thriller, Steadman's Blind, an explosive read that will keep you turning pages to the end. No Rest: 14 Tales of Chilling Suspense, Joslyn's latest collection of short suspense, is available for free at


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