I have an odd habit born of being in this industry for four decades. Whenever I pick up a physical book, I look at the front cover, back cover, and then the copyright page. I know, it’s a rather nerdy thing to do; but you would be surprised what information can be found there and what it means.
The copyright page is placed after the title page and should always be on the left-hand side (called the verso page). Only a couple of things are critical to be included, but much more information is usually provided, including:
- Copyright notice and year of publication [an absolute must]
- Publisher name and address
- ISBN [a must if you plan to sell to the general public outside an entity like Amazon]
- Permissions, if needed
- Disclaimer, if needed
- Design, production, and illustration credits, if needed
- Country in which the book was printed
Copyright notice and year of publication
I suggest you start with the title of the book. It is then followed on the next line by the actual copyright notice.
This includes the copyright symbol ©, the year the book is published, and the person or entity who holds the copyright. For example:
The Best Book Ever Written in All Time
Copyright © 2021 by Steve Laube
If the copyright is held by a corporate entity, then that name is used instead of the author name.
Copyright © 2021 by The Steve Laube Agency, LLC
If you use a pen name, consider who actually owns the copyright. A pen name is not a real person, so the name used to register the copyright is what should match here. If you are protecting your identity with a pen name, consider creating a business entity LLC or INC and assign the copyright to that entity.
Publisher name and address
This identifies the publisher. If the publisher is an imprint of a larger corporation, this information can appear like this:
Published by Orbit, an imprint of The Hachette Book Group [address].
This is the 13-digit International Standard Book Number that must be included. It absolutely must match the number you have on the bar code on the back of the book. (Unfortunately, an all-too-common error.) If you indie publish and do not sell outside the Amazon sales channel, this is not necessary (because Amazon issues their own ASIN number). But if you plan to sell to libraries, bookstores, or any company outside Amazon, you’ll need an ISBN.
I wrote a lengthy article about the ISBN a few years ago. Please read it to understand its importance.
This is where the publisher or author declares the rights reserved for this particular book. This typically will read like this:
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, digitally stored, or transmitted in any form without written permission from [the Publisher name].
If there are exceptions to the above, they will be stated here.
If you quote from a Bible translation, its rights and permissions language should appear here. The correct terminology is easily found on the website for that particular translation. Each translation used should appear here. If you use the King James Version, you do not need to write anything more than “All Bible quotations within are from the King James Version.” Why? Because the KJV is in the public domain (except in England where the Crown holds the copyright).
If you have used a quotation (like song lyrics) where you’ve received permission, list it here. If there are a lot of them, list them on a page in the back of the book in a special section.
Many novels have language here along the lines of: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”
Memoirs will occasionally have a disclaimer along the lines of: “Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.”
Please be very careful here. Discuss your protections with an intellectual property attorney or your publisher.
Some publishers will even add their own disclaimer on this page. Example: “The story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone, not those of XYZ Books.”
Design, production, or illustration credits
While you can add their names in the acknowledgments and should (don’t forget your agent!), it is a nice thing to put those details here. For example:
Cover design by Fabulous Designer Inc., www.fabdesign.com
Typesetting and Interior Design by Even More Fabulous Designer, LLC, www.evenmorefabdesign.com
Country where printed
Printed in the United States of America.
However, if a book is published in the USA and no notification is posted here, it is assumed it was printed in the USA (if you are selling your book in the USA).
But, if a book is printed outside the USA and shipped into the US to be sold there, it should have the country of origin. For example:
Printed in Italy.
This statement helps the customs inspector. Believe it or not, there are stories where the country notification was not listed on the copyright page, so customs officials impounded the shipment, the publisher was fined, and the books were not released unless a sticker was applied to each copyright page, by hand, to reveal the printer’s country of origin.
It’s rare; but when you hear a story like that, you should pay attention.
There are other things occasionally added to the copyright page. These can include publisher trademark logos, environmental notices, ordering information, literary agency involved with the project, websites for authors and publishers, Library of Congress card catalog info (aka Cataloging-in-Publication notice), etc.
Why do I look at this page?
Here are a few things that I discover about the business of your book and even the content of your book when looking at the copyright page:
- I can quickly determine when the book was published. This is crucial if the book is on a topic that needs very current information to be relevant to the discussion but was published 25 years ago. It also helps to figure out the order in which I want to read a series of novels if the books are not numbered as books 1, 2, and 3.
- I can see if the author used a particular Bible translation. It is here where I often discover a book is self-published because they render the information incorrectly. I’ve seen authors cite the name of their study Bible as if that were a translation.
- I may recognize the designer. (Usually a good thing.)
- If the literary agency is named, I particularly find that fascinating.
- If the publisher’s name is new to me, I may discover it is a new imprint of a larger-known publisher.
Therefore, if you indie publish, make sure you pay attention to the details on this page. They can help set you apart as more professional if done correctly, according to industry standards. If you are published traditionally, make sure to read this page carefully in your galley to make sure they have everything correct.
DAMON J GRAY
It IS interesting that you go there right after the back cover. We are so habit-driven. In a similar fashion, I do Front Cover, Back Cover, Dust Jacket Flaps (if they exist), and then it’s straight to the Table of Contents.
As a 3-time book author (crafts niche market), I pulled out my books this morning and followed your list line by line. They got it right! (Of course they did; they are the tops in their industry). I also read book jackets, front and back. It takes a lot of work to distill the essence of a book’s content and draw me into buying and reading that book!
Steve, you truly challenged me this morning.
Permissions and production credits,
names and rights and ISBNs
all conspire to give me fits
as angels dance on heads of pins.
Let customs know where printed,
and forget not the disclaimer;
if these vital steps are stinted,
have attorney on retainer.
can get hipsters excited
especially where the focus is
that the paper is recycled,
so read the thing, and read it fast,
for the pages will not last.
Patti Jo Moore
Very informative article, Steve.
Thank you for sharing this with us!
Blessings, Patti Jo Moore
Sometimes book have seemingly random numbers on the copyright page, in a paragraph all by themselves. One book I have has this immediately above the cataloging in publication block:
10 9 8
Another (On Writing by Stephen King) has:
17 19 20 18
I’ve always wondered what these are. Do you know?
Those are print edition numbers.
The King example means this copy is from the 18th printing.
It’s not a first edition.
That’s fascinating, thanks.
Janet Ann Collins
When I check out a library book or prepare to re-read something that has been on my bookshelves for a long time I always check the copyright date before reading. That helps me understand things that were different when an older book was written than they are now.
Ann L Coker
For our last published book, hybrid publisher, I am listed on the copyright page as editor of my husband’s book. The format manager told me that since I was on the copyright page, I would have to be placed on the front cover:
Dr. William B. Coker, Sr.
with Ann L. Coker, editor
Foreword by Dr. Charles Lake
I found that interesting. Have you come across that regulation?
Your publisher is mistaken. There is no such “regulation.”
Look at other books on a library shelf. Stephen King’s editor does not share cover credit…ever.
I’ve edited hundreds of books in my career. I’m not on the front cover of any of them.