Posted on August 14, 2021 at 12:00 PM by Guest Author

Are you planning to publish your next book on your own? Make sure to protect yourself and your work. Discover five self-publishing legal issues to be aware of. 

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Understanding Your Responsibilities as a Self-Published Author

Although taking the self-publishing route to get your book published offers several advantages, it also requires you to shoulder additional responsibilities.

Being an indie author means not only writing but also editing, formatting, designing, distributing, promoting, and marketing (if you don’t hire outside help, that is).

Without a publishing house backing you, your role becomes a lot more complex. 

Knowing everything you need to handle beforehand is essential. For starters, it puts you in a better position to achieve success. Further, it ensures you don’t make any mistakes that could cost you once your book goes public. 

The good news is many aspects of publishing your work solo are easy enough to address. Unfortunately, some are much harder to navigate — such as the legal side of things.

With self-publishing, there’s no legal department there to provide a safety net. It’s up to you to figure out copyright, licensing, tax filing, and other challenges on your own.

That’s why you need to be aware of potential self-publishing legal issues and take the necessary precautions to avoid any missteps. 

5 Self-Publishing Legal Issues to Keep in Mind 

If you’ve never self-published a book before, chances are you’ll find the legal aspect to be more than a little overwhelming (unless, of course, you have a legal background).

In that case, it’s worth noting that you’re not expected to become a lawyer. To navigate the legal side safely, you just need to have a firm grasp of your rights and responsibilities. That way, you can make better decisions.  

With all that said, here are some of the most common self-publishing legal issues to keep in mind... 

1) Copyright Registration 

Understanding copyrights is a must for any author, but it’s especially important when you choose to self-publish. As mentioned above, going this route means you’re on your own for the most part. Therefore, you need to take care to protect your intellectual property.  

Although copyright takes effect as soon as your book comes into existence, there is a process for formally registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office for additional security:

  • Go to the U.S. Copyright Office’s Registration Portal.

  • Choose “Literary Works.”

  • Select the option to “Register a Literary Work.”

  • Provide your information.

  • Pay the copyright fee.

  • Submit a copy of your manuscript online or via regular mail. 

  • Wait to receive your certificate.

What if you write under a pen name?

There are special rules for registering a pseudonymous work as well. So, if you write under a pen name, it’s crucial to review the guidelines the U.S. Copyright Office has set.  

2) Publishing Rights

There’s a lot of confusion among authors when it comes to copyrights vs. publishing rights. Many assume that they’re the same, but this isn’t the case. And it’s important to learn the difference so that you can avoid self-publishing legal issues related to the latter. 

Copyrights refer to the “right to copy,” whereas publishing rights refer to the “right to produce.” As an indie author, you own 100% publishing rights that cover the actual publishing, along with reproduction, adaptation, communication, and even public performance. 

There may come a time when a big organization such as Amazon asks you to prove your publishing rights. To avoid having your account terminated and book removed from the platform, you must provide certain documentation showing that you hold the publishing rights.

This may include your copyright certificate, an email from the address listed on your website, or a screenshot of your ISBN account displaying your name as owner and the imprint name.  

3) Non-Disclosure Agreements

In general, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) aren’t a staple of the traditional publishing world. And they’re even less common in self-publishing. With so few outside parties contributing to your work, you probably won’t need to give NDAs any thought.     

However, there are some cases when you may want a signed contract for your peace of mind — specifically when working with beta readers and cover designers. 

In such instances, having an NDA in place can prevent your book from being spoiled before it goes public. It’s not so much about keeping someone from stealing your work as it is about keeping things under wraps until you’re ready.  

4) Trademark and Brand Name Usage

Another one of the self-publishing legal issues to be mindful of is trademark and brand name usage. Although you can mention names in your work, you need to be careful about the way you use them. That means checking to make sure you haven’t violated a trademark in any fashion, including the following:

  • Trademark infringement – This refers to the unauthorized use of a trademark (e.g., putting a company’s logo or tagline on your book’s cover without permission).  

  • Trademark dilution – This entails using a trademark in a way that lessens its uniqueness (e.g., using a brand name as a general term for something). 

  • Trademark tarnishment – This involves framing the owner of a trademark in a negative light and damaging their reputation (e.g., writing something disparaging about a real-life brand). 

5) Terms and Conditions for Publishing Platforms

Before clicking the “I Agree” button to use an electronic publishing service provider or platform, you must read the terms and conditions carefully. Moreover, you should be certain you understand them. Otherwise, you could be caught off guard when they make changes.    

Writer Beware® notes that self-publishing ebooks this way gives the platform control over your account and the ability to change the terms. So, it’s something to keep in mind. Retailers have removed self-published ebooks due to content guideline violations and reduced royalty rates in the past. 


Although there are many benefits to self-publishing, it’s important to remember that being an indie author involves wearing a lot of hats and learning about the legal side of things. 

Along with familiarizing yourself with some of the most common self-publishing legal issues, it’s worth following these best practices to avoid legal troubles:

  • Read over every document you’re required to sign carefully.

  • Get signed agreements from outside parties when necessary. 

  • Enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in publishing. 

In doing so, you can minimize potential liabilities, protect your work, and put your best foot forward. 

Categories: Behind the scenes

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