How to Write and Launch a Book in 2023 (Without Feeling Afraid)

Writing a book seems scary. And this fear triggers 4 major mistakes. How to write and launch a book in 2023 (without feeling afraid)?

The 4 most common mistakes:

  1. Writing alone
  2. Forcing a structure
  3. Unique knowledge points
  4. Focusing on the Big Numbers
Let’s break them down:

1) Writing Alone

The first thing I’ll tell you: Most people think writing a book is an individual endeavor. It’s not. The reality? When you talk to the most successful authors, they all start by talking about other people.
  • How they worked with a group.
  • How they collaborated
  • How they had a ton of help
And this is what I always tell people: Writing is NOT something you do alone. You do the typing yourself, yes. But you DON’T write a book as an individual. No… It’s a collaborative effort.

2) Forcing a Structure.

This is a big one for most people. They think they need: • a table of contents • perfect structure • rigid outlines All this stuff, before they ever start. But I would flip that around. Analogy:
“You start this process with a compass, not a map”
And when I had the chance to interview Daniel Pink (who also happens to be my neighbor), he shared something interesting: He starts with 2 things: 1. A notepad 2. A list of questions And then he thinks about who he can talk to about those questions. As I said earlier… Books are not to be written alone!

3. Unique Knowledge Points

This is for my non-fiction writers. I studied 150+ best sellers and found this: Stories account for 80% of their written content. NOT unique knowledge points. So if you want to write an exceptional book: - Identify - Teach - Tell All through storytelling It’s the proven formula for success.

4. Focusing on Big # ’s

People often worry:
“Is my book going to sell 1,000,000 copies?”
And that’s not the best mindset. Here’s why: Books are sold via word of mouth. You want to find your first 200 fans and friends, and have them help spread the word. It happens in phases. And that’s a good thing ( I promise ).

The 4 major mistakes authors make:

1. Writing Alone 2. Forcing a structure 3. Unique Knowledge Points 4. Focusing on Big Numbers   So let's break this cycle and utilize a community-driven approach for your next book project.

How Compassionate Rigor Changes Our Work Ethic

"I'm not ready yet." These are two words you need to be ready for anything new. Compassionate Rigor. Our fears lie to us: "I don't have the time." "I don't have the right idea." "I don't have the money to do that." You don't need to be "ready." You need Compassionate Rigor: "I will set milestones, checkpoints, and reviews, not goals." "I will set aside money every week to invest in myself." "I will join others to share our journeys." "I will set aside make the time." Stop beating yourself up for what you don't have. Young author with compassionate rigor Compassionate rigor is a commitment to yourself, to milestones, to objectives, to learnings, and to time... -- Rigor in your commitment, your investment, and seeking accountability. -- Compassion in your timelines, deadlines, iterations, coaching, and support. You not going to be ready... you'll get ready by doing things with compassionate rigor. Demand this in yourself and with everyone you involve in your journey.

Here's the good part: We launch authors, not books.

If being 'not ready' has held you back from writing your book... let's schedule a call and talk through how to leverage the power of Compassionate Rigor this summer with our next author community. You'll learn:
  • How to develop the book into workshops, keynotes, coaching, and more
  • How to use category design to make your book unique and create word of mouth
  • Why we don't write books, but build books
  • How to leverage the power of fans to market your book



See how the power of weekly coaching and a community of peer authors can help you develop and announce your book in the next 6 months -- all through the power of Compassionate Rigor.

Making Time to Write: 4 Steps For Busy Professionals to Create Books that Elevate Their Voices

"When do you find time to write?" You don't find time... you *make* time.

4 steps I teach busy professionals to make time to create books that elevate their voices

The people who most need and want to write a book tend to be the people who have the busiest schedules -- executive coaches, business owners, consultants, and C-suite executives. They know a book will be powerful -- most have tried in the past -- but often it's time that gets in the way.
  1. Trying a book in the past and it not working isn't signal you're not motivated. Trust me, if that were the case I'd be the poster child. It's usually a signal that you don't have a system.
  2. Writing a book is *not* like what you see in the movies. You don't go off to a cabin and spend six months at a typewriter... eventually emerging as a shell of yourself but with a manuscript. You don't write a book, you build a book. And that's the key mindset.
  3. You don't find time to write a book. You make it. Funny enough, we ran a test in our community about people who were going to use a "summer off" to write... that group who had more downtime were *less* likely to finish their manuscript on schedule. It's not about having oodles of free time. It's about having dedicated time.
  4. Making time requires two things: (a) your calendar; and (b) accountability to others. For most authors, I recommend 4-6 hours a week of calendared time... but the key is to share that calendaring with others. Could be your spouse, your business partner, your editor, or a writing friend. Has to be on your calendar and shared.
It's simple, and that's why it works.
"I'm proof that your 4 steps work. After 15 months, a retired “bean counter” is a proud published author of a 5-star book, called Checkmate!? - Greg Davis, Author of "CHECKMATE"
  Most authors struggle not because they don't have a great book idea or the motivation... they struggle without a process and system to make time. Do that, and I've seen 2,000+ people succeed in their books. It's the only way I've been able to do it too... Modern Author Accelerator Testimonial I'm starting my next book this summer as a part of the Modern Author Accelerator powered by Manuscripts. Why now? My summers are some of my busiest times -- I teach two MBA courses, I have a new cohort of authors, and I have four workshops/mini-courses -- plus I've got three hilarious girls to run around with to camps and summer fun. But I'm going to finish a draft manuscript and announce this new book in November. How? I am making time: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8:15 to 10:00 am ET are my writing time. Some days I miss, but most days I hold myself accountable (plus, I have shared this plan with my editor, my wife, and my fellow authors). That's part of the #NeverWriteAlone philosophy. And that's how I'll write a mediocre first draft that becomes an amazing book. If you're looking for a little summer accountability, shoot me a note, and love to have you join our summer group -- we're all announcing our books this November and then the fun begins. Ready to make time for something important?

Apply for Summer Modern Author Accelerator Program


Consideration and Protection to Avoid Copyright Infringement (Part 3)

Eventually, copyright protection expires, which depends on how long ago the work was originally created. Under current law, works created on or after January 1st, 1978 have protection for the lifespan of the creator plus 70 years post-death. If collaborative, the protection lasts 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. For pseudonymous works, however, and those anonymously created (“works for hire”) copyright protection lasts 95 years from the publication or 125 years from the original creation, whichever is soonest. But what about works published prior to 1978? According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “the 1976 Copyright Act retains the system in the previous copyright law—the Copyright Act of 1909—for computing the duration of protection, but with some changes.” For older works in this category, a copyright spanned 28 years from the date the copyright was first secured and could be renewed for a second term of 28 years, and if not renewed, the copyright expired at the end of the first 28-year term, and “the work no longer protected by copyright.” (1, 2) In all cases, when a copyright expires, work enters the public domain.

Public Domain

“Creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws” are considered in the public domain; they “belong to the public.” (3) Work can end up in the public domain in one of four ways:
  • Expiration of the copyright
  • Failure to renew copyright by the owner
  • The work is deliberately placed by way of “dedication”
  • Copyright law is unable to protect the work
However, while individual works might belong to the public, the work might be protected by copyright when compiled into another published work that is then copyrighted, such as a collection of poems, in which case there is risk of infringing upon a ‘collective works” copyright, or the work might be managed by an estate. Sherlock Holmes, for example, a character created by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 to 1930), is quite popular. His character or character likeness has been used in a multitude of fiction and film. He died in 1930, so does that mean his work is in the public domain? Not necessarily. Doyle’s work is managed by the Conan Doyle Estate, who work with creators from around the world to keep his character alive and portrayed for the foreseeable future as accurately as possible. To use any part of Doyle’s original creation, one must reach out to the estate to first obtain permission. “Collectively, we give unique access to personal knowledge, archive material and family connections,” so says their website. “Together we reveal the legacy and potential of Arthur Conan Doyle's endeavours, achievements and fictional characters.” Want to write Sherlock Holmes into a novel? It's best to reach out for permission to avoid a potential lawsuit. (4) Other popular writers and poets have similar estates established to protect and extend copyright on their published works long after death, including William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Marathon Man), William Golding (Lord of the Flies), Robert Frost (poet), and Pablo Neruda (poet), so before ever attempting to copy their words, even if suspected in the public domain, do a little research. If widely popular and quotable, it is most likely protected.

Material to Avoid Quoting / Referencing in Written Work

To protect the writer, avoid quoting from the following, unless researched to be in the public domain, or by first obtaining permission (preferably by signed contract) from those who own copyright, either the original creator or their estate:
  • Song lyrics
  • Poetry
  • Quotes from movies / television
  • Quotes from fiction / creative nonfiction (novels, memoirs, etc.)
  • Quotes from uncited material (without attribution)
  • Quotes from unreliable sources (Wikipedia, Pinterest, quote sites)
  • Graphs or charts created by others
  • Photographs or artwork created by others
  • Anything else created by others
There are always exceptions, but always thoroughly research beforehand. For a nonfiction book, for instance, a writer may want to quote a memorable line from a documentary series or nonfictional podcast, or include statistics or data. This is not a problem, as long as it is sourced and cited properly. Yet a hard “no” exists for what is acceptable to quote in fiction writing, so play it safe.

Legally Acquiring Reprint Rights

“But Stephen King does it, all the time” one might argue. “I read a book in which he quoted song lyrics from the Ramones, and another time he—” Yes, because he is Stephen King. He most likely had his people contact their people and/or paid a lot of money to reproduce words that were not his; or, back when he was getting started, he most likely quoted without permission as many writers did before U.S. Copyright Law was created (or ignored) and his people later went through the trouble to correct such actions in later editions of his books. “Wait, Michael Bailey, didn’t you include an entire page of text from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury in one of your stories?” Yes, but I reached out to the Bradbury estate beforehand to obtain permission, and they requested to read the story before it was ever published to make sure it was indeed an homage and in likeness to Bradbury’s work as proposed. Later, before that same story was reprinted in a collection, I reached out to the estate a second time and they were again generous. The key is that a contract was agreed upon and signed by both parties prior to the work going into print, and with certain stipulations to protect the copyrighted material, such as proper acknowledgment on the copyright page of the original work that included the protected, reprinted work. In order to obtain reprint rights to Bradbury’s writing in my short story “Primal Tongue / The Fireman,” permission was legally required, requested, and granted. This is the process to reprint another’s words if not entirely in the public domain or if copyright has been extended. The Bradbury estate could have asked for a decent chunk of money. They could have also denied the request, leaving me with the option of not including his words or reprinting them without permission, but the latter would have landed me in serious trouble, even though Bradbury’s novel was published 60 years before my story and Ray was no longer alive at the time of publication. For another short story I wrote years later, “Time Is a Face on the Water,” I wanted to include five memorable words from a Beatles song. Like before, I reached out for permission, as all writers should do, and who owned copyright of the song came to an agreement on their end. They wanted $30,000 for five words and requested a limited print run of 1,000 copies of my work, which didn’t make sense financially. So, I politely declined, and instead wrote a fictitious song from a fictitious band and included those words in the story instead. This begs the question: Was the Beatles song ever needed? No. Had I tried to go “under the radar” and publish the story without permission, it would have surely cost more than $30,000 in legal fees and fines if those holding the rights to the song (even five simple words strung together, written 50 years prior) decided to sue for copyright infringement. It should also be noted that some intellectual properties have people (or teams of people) constantly searching for stolen work (it is, in a sense, theft). Disney and Led Zeppelin, for example, both seek and destroy regularly for copyright infringement. Want to include a lyric from The Lion King? Think twice. Use it to influence the writing, or to suggest theme, but then take it out. If the writing is solid and indeed inspired by the quote(s), that should show clearly through the finished product and render the quote(s) unnecessary. Before considering to include another’s creation, research what might be needed to obtain rights. It never hurts to ask, and is sometimes as simple as filling out a form on website (run by the deceased’s estate), but plan ahead because obtaining permission takes time. The Bradbury rights, for instance, took three months; the Beatles rights took over a year. And if lucky, as I was in obtaining permission to include a short essay by the late Jack Ketchum for my nonfiction book Writing Righting, it took only a few days. Is the desired song lyric or poem or string of text even needed? Probably not. It may be wanted by the writer, but most likely will not be needed by the reader.
1. U.S. Congress. United States Code: Copyright Office, 17 U.S.C. §§ 201-216. 1958. Periodical. 2. U.S. Congress. United States Code: Copyright Office, Copyright Infringement and Remedies, 17. §§ 501-510. 1982. Periodical. 3. Stim, Richard. Getting Permission: Using & Licensing Copyright-Protected Materials Online & Off. El Segundo, CA: Nolo, 2022. 4. Conan Doyle Estate. Arthur Conan Doyle - Licensing - Official Website of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Family Estate. Accessed April 10, 2023.
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and nine-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.

Consideration and Protection to Avoid Copyright Infringement (Part 2)

When listening to a memorable song, or reading a well-loved book, the words invoke feelings and emotions, which are much more important to character creation and portrayal than the actual words that sparked those feelings and emotions. But can a series of uncopyrightable words strung together, such as a book title, fall under any other type of protection? Is it possible to write a book called Harry Potter and the Stolen Franchise?


While the Harry Potter example could fall under parody law protection (more on this later), the two words “Harry Potter,” as well as how those words are portrayed (format, font, logo, artwork) might be protected by a trademark. Protection from this is common for successful franchises to protect the brand. Trademarked words or phrases are signified with a ™ symbol for goods or a ℠ for services, which lets competitors know a trademark is claimed and/or in process. Once registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, only then can the ® symbol be used along with the name. The Horror Writers Association, for example, recently registered a trademark of the phrase “Bram Stoker Awards” to protect the highly regarded name of the award from being used elsewhere, so it is now commonly referenced as the Bram Stoker Awards®. Trademark laws do not allow for protection of individual book titles (or song titles, album titles, or any other creative title), but it does allow for the protection of a series. Examples include the Chicken Soup for the Soul, and franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, and the aforementioned Harry Potter series. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (, applying for a trademark is a (rather lengthy) four-step process: application, examination, publication, and registration. A trademark can be “any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things” to identify goods and services. “It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.” A common misconception is the legal ownership of words or phrases. When holding a trademark, the words or phrases are not protected in “general use,” but only when used for the registrar’s “goods and services.” Harry Potter, for example, would be protected from use in books and film and other relatable content, but would not stop someone named Harry from opening a pottery business under the same name since there wouldn’t be a conflict of interest, unless Harry borrowed / stole from the likeness of the Harry Potter franchise and planned to use it for gain. Since book titles cannot be copyrighted, can they be trademarked? Not necessarily. If planning to write a 7-book series of Glimmering Casket novels, or potentially lengthy series based on the title alone, protection could be useful. But if planning to write a single book called Hope or something similarly common, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would most likely not approve the trademark. As long as the creator of a work can prove they were the creator, and everything written is original, that is all that matters. If not the creator of the work and sources are not cited accordingly, then the writing could fall under plagiarism.


The definition of plagiarism is to take another’s work (or even ideas) and pass them off as one’s own. Synonyms include appropriation, copying, piracy, stealing, and theft, all of which are hefty, equally troublesome accusations. There are four common types, all violations of honesty.
  • Accidental: when misquoting or neglecting to cite sources, or unintentional paraphrasing of text by way of using similar words or phrases or structure without attribution; unintentional plagiarism incurs the same consequences as intentional.
  • Direct: when copying another’s work word-for-word without attribution and/or without quotation marks; a deliberate and unethical use of another’s work.
  • Mosaic: often called “patch writing,” this is when phrases are borrowed from source material and pieced together without using quotations or without citing; a type of paraphrasing (intentional or not) if too similar to the original.
  • Self: while it is highly likely a writer would give themselves permission to use their own work, self-plagiarism, which is possible, misrepresents the author and misleads readers; the Peer Learning Advisor team at La Trobe states that, “Self-plagiarism happens when you reuse your own specific wording and ideas from work that you have previously submitted.” (1)
With nonfiction, quoting and citing material written by others is a common practice, but doing so needs to be handled correctly and formatted to current publishing standards. And With fiction, quoting material written by others is not allowed unless without first obtaining permission, usually involving both signed contracts limiting use and a fee. The only way to legally plagiarize another’s work, in a sense, is by way of fair use or parody, but even that has limitations and must be handled with much precaution (and permission).

Fair Use / Parody

The Stanford University’s online Stanford Libraries define “fair use” as “any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner.” Basically, fair use can be used as a defense against a copyright infringement claim. (2) The term transformative is vague, but keep in mind that every year numerous cases are brought to court to determine what qualifies as fair use with plagiarism accusations. The definition of fair use is both ambiguous and highly open to interpretation, as designed. Copying copyrighted material must fall under one of two categories:
  • Commentary and Criticism: when commenting or criticizing a copyrighted work, fair use allows for brief reproduction to serve that purpose; this includes quoting lines from songs in a music review, lines from a book in a book review, or copying a few sentences of an article or essay to use in an educational manner—although doing so still has its limits and is not an open call to plagiarize.
  • Parody: when ridiculing a well-known creator’s work by imitating that work in a comical manner; this typically includes extensive use of the original material to bring awareness to the original, such as with a song parody or a riff on another’s poetry—and to parody another’s work often requires permission beforehand.
The most popular parodist is perhaps “Weird Al” Yankovic. Along with creating original music, half his recorded songs are musical spoofs: “Beat It” and “Bad” by Michael Jackson (recorded as “Eat It” and “Fat”), “Like a Surgeon" by Madonna (recorded as "Like a Virgin), "Amish Paradise" instead of Coolio’s "Gangsta’s Paradise," or "White and Nerdy" instead of "Ridin" by Chamillionaire and Krazie Brown, riffing on the popular chorus of "Ridin’ Dirty." “My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call ‘fair use.’” Yankovic states on his blog article called “The Gaga Saga” about asking for permission to record “I Perform This Way,” a parody of “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, ”and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album . . .“ (3) Worth noting is that “Weird Al” is not copying songs, he is satirizing them, which protects him from legal issues; and although he always asks the other musical artists beforehand as a courtesy), that does not mean he is not often sued for copyright infringement. He makes a profit off his songs, after all, and fortunately the artists he parodies typically see a large boost in sales of their own work after his renditions are released. What falls under commentary and criticism? Consider articles and reviews published by places like Rolling Stone magazine, or places that offer book reviews such as Publishers Weekly. Brief quotations from copyrighted material may be used to provide the public a review (commentary and criticism) of original works. For the typical writer, fair use and parody only applies in an educational or nonprofit setting, and only if the general public benefits by including snippets of copyrighted work (like this article). If publishing a book, essay, or any other written work that results in receiving payments of any kind, such as royalties, flat fees, advances, etc., this could mean trouble. (4) Fair use and parody do not automatically qualify a work to be copied without permission. If a work is created and distributed for profit of any kind (not for free public consumption by way of commentary or criticism), protection against “fair use” and/or “parody” does not apply.
1. Whaite, Freya. “Self-Plagiarism: When Recycling Your Own Work Can Get You into Trouble.” MyLaTrobe. La Trobe, September 7, 2022. 2. Stim, Richard. “What Is Fair Use?” Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center. Stanford University, November 25, 2021. 3. Yankovic, "Weird Al". “The Gaga Saga.” Al's Blog, May 7, 2011. 4. Stim, Richard. Getting Permission: Using & Licensing Copyright-Protected Materials Online & Off. El Segundo, CA: Nolo, 2022.
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and nine-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.

Consideration and Protection to Avoid Copyright Infringement (Part 1)

Writers often want to include phrases from other writers in their own work, such as in epigraphs (a brief quotation of text at the beginning of a book or individual chapter to suggest theme), or quote a paragraph or memorable quote elsewhere because it was inspirational or meaningful. Some writers even attempt to have their characters relay material from other creators, but that does not make it legal. In creating an original piece of writing, is it possible to quote lyrics from a song, or include a stanza from a famous poem (or even an entire poem), or borrow a catchy line of dialogue from film, or use a wonderful section of text from another writer’s published work? Whether taken from a book, television, or from popular quotation engines—which are not always accurate—borrowing words can be dangerous. More often than not, quoting another’s creation is not legal without first obtaining permission. Some writers steal words and slide under the radar, ignorant to the laws or not, but copyright infringement is an ugly and incredibly expensive beast. The risk should always be avoided. Want to quote a line from “Hey Jude” by the Beatles, or a few lines of poetry from Robert Frost, or include a famous line from a television series or movie? Be prepared to pay a hefty fee, fine, or risk a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

What is Copyright and Who Can Own It?

According to, copyright is “originality and fixation,” a type of paraphrasing that can get a writer in trouble if not considered fair use. Copyright is thus an intellectual property to protect “original works of authorship” the moment the work is “fixed” in “a tangible form of expression.” Original works are independently created (or co-created by more than one party) with at least a minimal degree of creativity. It is something formed without copying. For a work to be considered created, there must be some form of “spark” and “modicum” of creativity involved, so says the Supreme Court in past copyright infringement cases. Consider Vanilla Ice's song "Ice Ice Baby," which left a mark on popular culture. The song also "sampled" the base line from "Under Pressure," another hit song by Queen and David Bowie. Robert Matthew Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) was sued soon after the release of his song. His "original" base line simply added a single note at the end of the riff in order to make it unique. The case was settled out of court for a large sum of money, the extra note deemed insufficient for the work to be considered original. If a single note of a popular base line in a song is untouchable, what might that mean for written works? Fixed works are created under the authority of the author in a “fixed” medium, such as being written down in a book or recorded by other means, published or not. Any single person, or even multiple persons, can own a copyright. As soon as something original is created and then fixed (no matter the medium), that person, or persons, own(s) the copyright. Companies and organizations other than the creator can be copyright owners if the work was made for hire. For instance, if John Doe works as a columnist for The Writer Life, copyright ownership of anything published The Writer Life would most likely reside with The Writer Life. When writing independently, copyright ownership starts with the author and stays with the author long after death, and even longer if renewed by their estate. If artwork is published by a more traditional press, the publisher most likely owns and controls copyright until it expires, with the author owning little to nothing.

What Constitutes Copyright Ownership?

The U.S. Copyright Office states that “copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner. “ The Copyright Act of 1976 is a long and incredibly confusing article to digest, so, simplified, what constitutes ownership? (1) Once an original work is created (unless contracted “for hire”), whether fiction, nonfiction, poetry, a blog article, a recording of a song, a podcast, a taken photograph, a drawing / painting, or whatever it may be, ownership belongs to the creator at the moment of creation, not after the work is published. The copyright act also extends to all “original works of authorship,” which considers any new type of media that develops. (2) The above two paragraphs, for example, were created with original intent, but with a lot of influence from articles published by the U.S. Copyright Office, hence the need for citations. If nothing were researched before or while writing this article, and the information was something more commonly known or “old news” (ice is cold, sharks cannot swim backward), citations would be unnecessary. There seems to be much concern over copyright ownership with writers. Novice writers tend to ask early on, “How do I protect myself from another person stealing my work?” while at the same time also wanting to borrow another’s words to use alongside their own. Most use laptops or other electronic devices to create, so the moment something new is created it is time-stamped along with other collected date, thus protected. Sending an email is timestamped. Taking a digital picture is timestamped. Posting on the internet (social media, blog article, uploading a photo, posting a comment) is timestamped, and regularly includes metadata such as an IP address—a unique string of characters that identifies each device using the Internet Protocol to communicate. When typewriters or handwriting were commonly used to create original work, copyright concerns were more of an issue. Authors even went as far as physically mailing physical copies of their manuscripts and leaving the package unopened with its government postmark to prove ownership and date. Today, copyright for “creators of origin” is less of a concern because of modern technology and the internet. A digital copy of a manuscript contains enough code buried inside the file to prove one’s ownership (metadata). A completed manuscript could likewise be uploaded to a secure storage site, or emailed to the self to force a timestamp and produce metadata, but not even that is needed to prove ownership. Once a creation is shared publicly on the internet, it is considered “published.” This is important when dealing with written work. If hosting a series of blog articles or essays on a website, for example, and later compiling those individual writings into a book, the writing within that book is considered “previously published,” the same way a self-published book would be considered previously published if attempting to sell to a traditional publisher.

What Cannot Be Copyrighted?

In terms of books and writing in general, the basics of what does not fall under copyright protection are titles, names, short phrases, and slogans. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the following expanded list of items are not protected under copyright law (3):
  • Ideas, methods, or systems: making or constructing things, scientific or technical methods / discoveries, business operations / procedures, mathematical principles, formulas or algorithms, as well as concepts / processes / methods of operation.
  • Commonly known information: vague phrases with no known authorship (cliches) such as the “the ocean is deep,” or “the sun is hot” as well as calendars, charts pertaining to weight or height, phone directories, rulers or other measurements, or lists / tables from public documents.
  • Choreographic works: original or not, they are not subject to protection unless recorded or notated, as well as speeches or other such things not transcribed before or after the performance.
  • Names, titles, short phrases, or expressions: while not protected (other than with trademarks pertaining to business), this also includes descriptions, pseudonyms (fictitious names), and business names; it also includes recipes, formulas, compounds, prescriptions, or ingredient listings.
  • Fashion: “useful articles” such as clothes not pertaining to visual arts or fashion (clothing and accessories) is also not protected, although fabric patterns used in clothing are; however, unique designs can be patented.
If a writer wants to reference a band name or a song title in their work, those are fair game. The same goes for titles of published works (books, albums, essays, etc.) and author names. Likewise, if a writer wants to include a publicly known place such as a restaurant or hotel, street name, or building, or a public figure (President of the United States, basketball player, musical artist, etc.) they are also fair game, but consider how they are used in the writing. If described with mal intent or if negatively portrayed, how might it be damaging to others, or seen as damaging? But even if what is referenced is with good intentions, precautions must be taken to protect the writer. After all, whatever may have inspired one’s writing is not as important to the reader (or meaningful at all) as it was to the writer when creating the work. Inspirational words may have helped define a book or chapter’s theme, but if originally used to determine theme, wouldn’t that come across through the writing and no longer be needed?
1. U.S. Congress. United States Code: Copyright Office, 17 U.S.C. §§ 201-216. 1958. Periodical. 2. U.S. Congress. United States Code: Copyright Office, Copyright Infringement and Remedies, 17. §§ 501-510. 1982. Periodical. 3. Whaite, Freya. “Self-Plagiarism: When Recycling Your Own Work Can Get You into Trouble.” MyLaTrobe. La Trobe, September 7, 2022.
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and nine-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.

Righting Your Writing: How to Improve Your Craft by Working With a Developmental Editor

The job of the developmental editor is often referred to as substantive editing, with a goal of improving the writer’s potential by taking a deeper dive into the work and helping them improve with early constructive feedback and constructive criticism; helping to further develop not only the writing but the writer.
I recently finished a manuscript for a nonfiction book called Righting Writing, an exploration into the madness of writing, editing, and publishing. A book for those who need to write. It took a few years to complete, but I consider 2022 a great year because the manuscript went through multiple revisions and at the start of 2023 became a book. “Need” is used in the statement above because while many want to write, those who need to write almost always follow through, and those who want to write rarely do. Righting Writing exists because of my never-ending need to help other writers improve their craft. The title holds meaning in its tense: writing needs constant righting; otherwise, the title would be Writing Righted, or Writing Right, which, of course, means there is only one way. A writer, no matter their level of expertise, can always improve; their writing can always be righted. Every successful writer-turned-author relies on an editor to make them better. And there are many ways to better one’s writing, especially for novice writers, such as by seeking the help of a developmental editor. I am currently working with Eric Koester on his second book in his Pennymores series (and soon a third). My main focus is developmental editing, but I offer advice to help prepare his manuscript for later revisions editing, such as with point of view, show vs. tell, and tightening prose by way of immersive language. My other focus is to help him realize his full potential. Eric has proven time and again that his storytelling is a need, not a want, and he takes my honest and constructive criticism to heart. He has a desire to ever-improve, which is key. The words flow out of him not with a “my writing is great” (and it is) attitude, but with a mindset of “no matter how great it is, it can always be better.” As a developmental editor, I have helped hundreds of writers: nonfiction narratives, memoirs, novels, fiction collections, poetry collections, and even graphic novels. And every writer who shares that same mindset of self-improvement publish. Along with providing developmental editing for Eric, I help train and manage developmental editors at Manuscripts, LLC, and assist with revisions editing and other departments. We all experience one thing in common: our writers not only finish manuscripts, but they put in the work it takes to turn manuscripts into incredible books. And yet it still surprises me that some first-time authors do not seek help. I thought I’d share my experience working as a developmental editor for Eric Koester’s latest book in his Pennymores series and how we collaborate, as well my experiences working with other writers.

My Fear of Providing Feedback as a Developmental Editor

When I first became a developmental editor at Manuscripts, LLC, I was terrified of my critiques coming across as being too brutal. Before that, I had nearly twenty years of freelance experience editing for various publishers, and so I was (and still am) well aware of writers resisting feedback. The world of editing can be precarious. If my reviews of works-in-progress were taken as too harsh, for instance, perhaps writers would not take my reviews as helpful but hurtful. Their impostor syndrome was quickly becoming my impostor syndrome, despite what I knew I could offer. Years later, I have learned that the writers who utilize the many services offered at Manuscripts, LLC have the following in common:
  • They need to write manuscripts and publish books.
  • They want honest criticism from editors.
  • They have the passion (suffering) it takes to put their manuscripts through the gamut that is developmental editing, revisions editing, structural editing, and later copy editing.
  • They publish their books, successfully.
  • They typically go on to publish more books, successfully.
My own fears as a developmental editor dissolved as soon as I realized what I had known all along: writers who need to tell stories, although they may hesitate when first seeking or receiving feedback, are usually willing to learn what it takes to write to the best of their abilities. Once a writer realizes a developmental editor (or any editor) is on their side, and willing to work with them in all sincerity to improve, that’s when the magic happens. They not only begin to believe they are ‘good enough’ to write, but that they can become great (and they do).

Expect More Than Editing

When collaborating with a developmental editor, know they are not there to simply edit what is already written. And don’t expect them to write if nothing is written. Developmental editors are not ghostwriters; they are mentors, coaches, cheerleaders, and sometimes even therapists if impostor syndrome kicks in (and it will, at some point). Developmental editors are sounding boards. They brainstorm. They work with writers to develop a book from the ground up, or, if an unstable framework is already established, they can help stabilize the foundation. They help turn ideas into stories, help turn stories into chapters, and help form those chapters into a workable Table of Contents. If a manuscript is already written, they can help develop that draft into something stronger. To quote a section in Righting Writing:
A developmental editor offers advice on basic writing fundamentals but does not necessarily correct spelling or grammar mistakes, although often points out such things. They can either be brought in during the book’s development—even prior to any writing whatsoever—or after the first draft of a manuscript is already written.
Developmental editing is thus more focused on a book’s structure rather than prose, such as with character, plot, conflict, voice, theme, and setting. Do chapters have enough hook to pull readers along? Do chapters have the right components? What about the 3 D’s: dialogue, detail, depth? What about the other fundamentals of writing that can be righted: intrigue, prose, pace, tense, point of view, show vs. tell, and imagery? Developmental editors work with writers to improve upon each of these areas, noting what is working well while also pointing out what is not. Working with any editor is highly collaborative, but think of the developmental stage as creating the architecture of a book. Consider the original idea and what it will take to turn that concept into a reality. Then realize there’s a professional on your side to make that happen. Questions to ask developmental editors prior to utilizing their services:
  • What is your experience / training?
  • What are your editing styles or how do you edit?
  • What are your specialties / strengths?
  • What are your expectations?
Questions to ask while utilizing their services:
  • What goals / routines should we establish?
  • What can I expect and what is expected of me?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What can I do to improve my writing?
Expect lots of communication. Schedule weekly meetings if at all possible. Ask for advice on impostor syndrome or writer’s block. If struggling, ask for help! Above all else, do not be afraid to share “ugly” writing, those early first drafts. Developmental editors have seen it all (and do not judge). They can help turn ugly writing into good writing, then good writing into great writing. When working with Eric, if he doesn’t ask the questions above, I bring them up. I offer my experiences to help him better his writing. I point out strengths and his weaknesses, but more importantly suggest ways to improve not only his weaknesses but his strengths. We establish weekly goals and routines. I expect his writing, no matter the quality, and he expects my critiques, no matter how harsh they may seem (although they are always positive). We always push forward.

Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Developmental Editor / Writer Relationship

Developmental editors are on your side. All editors have a desire to help other writers improve, which is why they became editors in the first place. And most developmental editors, specifically, are writers, so they know the importance of having the help required to complete a manuscript and publish a book. 5 tips to consider:
  1. Connect: Plan to meet weekly with your developmental editor by way of a video call, or at a minimum weekly messages. It can be daunting at first, so break the ice and then jump right into the writing / editing. It will get easier with time, and might become the highlight of your week. 10 to 30 minutes, depending on what’s needed, even if it’s a simple catch-up or to ask for advice. Are you stuck, overwhelmed? Your developmental editor can help.
  2. Communicate: Send messages over whatever platform you are using. Constant communication with your editor is key. Ask questions. Answer questions. Leave notes and respond by way of in-line comments and wrap-up comments within the document(s). Be precise, always asking yourself and your editor, “What can I do next to improve?”
  3. Collaborate: Editing is highly collaborative. For every hour your editor spends on your work, plan to 4 or 5 times that to further improve your manuscript, maybe even as high as 10. And remember: your developmental editor is not there to make changes or to write for you, but to suggest improvements with your writing. They may suggest sources for additional information, or point out what’s working and what isn’t with your writing.
  4. Set routines / goals: Work with your editor on weekly expectations. Take your word count (expected or already written) and divide that by the number of weeks working with your editor. 60,000 words and 16 weeks? That’s 3,750 words per week, which can be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of developmental editor time, and 8 to 12 hours for the writer, at a minimum. Keep in mind that you are most likely not your editor’s only client, so be respectful of their time. Punctuality for meetings is important.
  5. Have an understanding that writing / editing is tough: If you put in the effort, your editor will do the same. Your editor will spend a lot of time not only reading your work but suggesting edits (always with the overall book in mind), so also be respectful of their expertise. They know what they are doing. Ask questions if you need clarification.
Developmental editors work with all types of writers, so a big part of the editor / writer relationship is determining your writing style and figuring out what works best in terms of all 5 items listed above. They are experienced working with writers who suffer from impostor syndrome or writer’s block, so listen to their suggestions. The primary goal of the developmental editor is to help writers, no matter their level of experience, finish manuscripts, and become better writers. There is nothing an editor loves more than to experience a writer they have worked with succeed and become great. * * * I am first and foremost a writer, and it is my passion to consistently improve my craft. And as an editor (developmental or otherwise, as I wear many hats), helping other writers improve their craft is also my passion. As an editor, I need Eric and other writers who are motivated with their own work (and their own betterment as writers) to keep me motivated. I read a dozen or two books each year, but perhaps as many as a hundred or more unpublished manuscripts. And when I see one of those projects turn into a beautiful, published book, knowing the writer and their editors did everything in their power to make it wonderful? Nothing makes me happier. Nothing written is ever perfect, but why not get it as close to that as possible, and then make the next writing even stronger, and the writing after even stronger, and so on . . . A special thanks to Eric Koester for not only founding Manuscripts, LLC, which cranks out countless inspiring book each year, but also having the drive to showcase his writing and the books of so many others. Righting Writing is the title of my latest book, but also my mission. It’s an active statement, the continuous art of righting one’s writing, of taking the written word, no matter whose, and ever-improving upon it.
Even the best editors need editors.

Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and eight-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.