In this episode, we spoke to Maria Riegger, attorney, self-help writer, and author of fiction and non-fiction titles such as the best-selling Legal Issues Authors Must Consider, a book that provides information on starting your self-publishing business, legal liability considerations, advice on how to protect your copyrights, how to safely use copyrighted material, and more. We learned a lot from Maria and found this discussion of the legal aspects of being an indie author very interesting and informative!
Content note: Nothing discussed in this episode of the podcast should be use as legal advice. This episode is meant to be informative, educational, and entertaining – if you have questions related to copyright law and other legal issues surrounding your books, independent publishing, and publishing in general, please contact a legal representative in your area for more information.
In this episode:
- We ask Maria about her journey to writing, and how she started out as a fiction writer before leaning into non-fiction – and her specific interests in contemporary romancing, parenting, and spiritual works
- Maria talks about her legal background, and how difficult it can be to access legal advice and guidance – and how this inspired her to start offering more information to self-published authors
- We learn that Maria has lots of resources on her blog, and that this book – Legal Issues Authors Must Consider – is the first of many books she has planned to help indie authors out
- Maria gets into why setting you’re your self-publishing efforts as a business is important when it comes to protecting your personal assets – and how that can help you if you ever encounter legal issues down the line
- And much more!
Mentioned in this episode:
Maria Riegger is based in the Washington, DC area. She is a banking /corporate attorney by day, and an author by night. She writes contemporary fiction, including romance and romantic suspense; and parenting/self-help books.
Maria is a Gemini whose head has always been in the clouds. From a young age, her mother scolded her for not paying attention; when she was bored, she would make up stories in her head. Her worst fear is boredom. She has been writing since she was about thirteen years old. A lover of languages, she speaks French, Spanish, Catalan and some Portuguese; and has lived in the U.K., France and Spain.
She has been caught air-guitaring in public. She loves to laugh, and is the “go-to” person if a friend needs someone to laugh at his lame jokes. In true Gemini fashion, she indulges both her logical personality as an attorney as well as her creative personality. She loved law school and even misses it, which led her friends to conclude that she is certifiable.
As if all that isn’t eclectic enough, and because Maria is an overactive Gemini, she is also a practicing astrologer. For information on astrological signs and for help parenting based on your child’s zodiac sign, check out the Self-Help/Parenting page on her site.
When not writing or lawyering, she can be found doing a myriad of activities including reading, traveling, working on pro bono legal cases, political volunteering, and basically anything else that is not housework.
She has published several fiction novels, nonfiction books, and a book of holiday-themed short stories. She is currently working on several projects. Feel free to contact her at www.facebook.com/lawschoolheretic or on email@example.com.
Transcription by www.speechpad.com
Laura: Hey writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Laura, author, and engagement manager.
Tara: And I’m Tara, director for Kobo Writing Life. On the podcast this week we are talking to Maria Riegger who is telling us about all of the legal things that authors should consider when they’re creating their self-publishing business. Not only is Maria an attorney, but she’s also a self-published author. She writes fiction, non-fiction. She sort of does everything. I don’t really know how she finds the time, but she has a wonderful book out, “Legal Issues Authors Must Consider.” And we were able to sort of chat to her a little bit about what authors should be thinking about, what they shouldn’t, what’s covered in copyrights, and some stuff like that. And just a disclaimer, this isn’t legal advice. If you have further questions, we always advise that you seek local attorney advice, but we really hope that you enjoy this conversation.
Tara: Thanks so much, Maria, for joining us today. We’re really excited to get to talk to you. We’re gonna dive into a bunch of, I think super important, but people are kind of maybe like hesitant to talk about legal issues for the obvious reasons. But yeah, we’re excited to get to sort of pick your brain on this. But before we go into it, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you got your start in writing both fiction and the non-fiction that you’re writing?
Maria: Sure. Thank you Tara and Laura for having me. It’s very exciting to be here talking with you guys. As you said, I publish fiction and non-fiction books, so I got started on the fiction writing first and I’ve been writing stories my entire life since childhood. Actually, it was around the time I was in law school at some point I had so many stories in my head that I decided to put them down on paper and it was just a great creative outlet. It was very fulfilling after kind of working with drier techs and the type of writing I do is just not as fulfilling creatively. So, I found writing out these stories to be very fulfilling and I got a lot out of it and I enjoyed doing it. So, I had enough content that I began to publish the first kind of contemporary romance, romantic suspense. And then I do have a line of kind of parenting and spirituality books. I’m a parent too. And I’ve had to deal with a lot of like healing from past childhood trauma and things like that. So, I felt compelled to write about that and share that experience with other people. So, I have a line of books on that.
And then I’m also an attorney and I practice corporate law during the day and I found there was just a ton of demand among self-published authors for help with these kinds of basic legal issues that sometimes they’re very difficult to pin down and sometimes they cannot be pinned down all the way. But you know, self-published authors need some guidance at least. So, I started, you know, getting together some ideas for writing blogs on those issues that were of particular importance for self-published authors, how to set up your business, defamation issues, copyright, how to protect copyright, things like these. Especially for self-published authors who were just starting out that may not have as many resources as authors who have been doing this a long time.
So, that’s kind of how my book on legal issues for self-published authors came about. So, I have a good amount of blog posts on some of these legal issues that are free on my blog, which is lawschoolheretic.com. So, and this book is kind of a basic intro to some of the really big issues self-published authors should be considering. And it’s gonna be the first of several books because it’s just impossible to put every, you know, bit of detail on topics of interest in kind of one single book. It would just be too overwhelming that I find self-published authors are just really overwhelmed by these legal issues. So, I’m trying to break it down into really manageable chunks, right, so, they can protect themselves legally and not have to worry so much about the legal business side so they can keep writing, which is what we all wanna be doing.
Tara: Totally. Before we dive into some of the legal issues for authors, which I think we’ll probably talk about a lot today, I really liked your books that were legal romances. I thought that was a really intriguing genre.
Maria: Thank you.
Tara: My mind immediately went to “The Good Wife” and I wanna know how accurate is that to lawyer life. You know, was that an accurate representation?
Maria: So, generally I’ll say I love that series by the way. Generally and I love like “Law and Order” because it’s about procedural stuff that’s one of my like all-time favorite shows. So, generally, these kinds of legal fiction shows you see are really not reflective of how it is to practice law. A lot of the time, you know, attorneys are very limited on what they can do because of confidentiality and other issues, right? So, where these shows are sometimes accurate in kind of the demands of law firm life. Like you’ll see people working long hours. In some firms, in some cities, people even sleep at the office, things like this. So, it’s not the norm necessarily, but it does happen. So, it is a very, you know, kinda high fast-paced, a very high-pressure lifestyle. So, that’s kind of the part the series accurately reflects. But as far as kind of the procedural issues, lawyer-client relationships, and some of the judicial procedure, that’s generally not reflected accurately. I don’t wanna paint a broad brush, but that’s generally just the case. I mean they’re fiction shows for fun at the end of the day, right?
Tara: Totally. Thank you for humoring me.
Maria: Sure, no problem. Absolutely.
Tara: Nice. So, you talked a little bit about why you wrote “Legal Issues For Authors.” Is this your first non-fiction way? Like, was this the first sort of area of advice that you wanted to provide?
Maria: So, my first non-fiction books were the parenting and spirituality books. I did write a kind of a small self-publishing guide too, so it’s not my first non-fiction book but it is my first non-fiction book on this particular topic.
Laura: Do you have any tips that you would give to an author who’s going into self-pub for the first time and doesn’t know how to kind of protect themselves as they get started in a new business?
Maria: Right. This is a great question and there is a little bit of debate on kind of what’s the appropriate thing to do. So, how like you said, you have to kind of treat it as a business. You kind of have to think about you’re gonna be making a lot of money from books. For most self-published authors, there’s just some minimal litigation risk. It’s not great unless you’re writing about non-fiction books that are very high profile or biographies and things like that. Nonetheless, I’m a very risk-averse person. So, self-published authors who are first starting out, I recommend that you form a limited liability entity as your publishing company and self-publish your books through the entity. Because what happens if you are self-publishing under your own name, so your copyright page has your name essentially, you’re self-publishing in the United States as a sole proprietorship and if you were ever to be sued you could possibly have to pay out from your personal assets if the lawsuit is successful. And that’s what you want to avoid. You wanna protect your personal assets and income and limit your liability to the assets and income of the business. So, to do that you set up a limited liability entity.
Now, there are some lawyers who would tell you that it’s not necessary for self-published authors to set that up because the litigation risk is so low unless you’re writing high-profile non-fiction books. However, there’s always some litigation risk. I mean whether you’re using somebody else’s work in your own written works or you’re writing non-fiction or creative non-fiction, you’re never without litigation risk. So, my position on that is to set up the limited liability entity and in the U.S. the most popular format is the limited liability company and the cost to set it up is fairly low. Now, it’s regulated by the state. So, each state government has its own method for setting up the business and its own cost. So, I can’t speak to the cost for every state, right? But I go over how to set it up in my book. But in my residence state, Virginia, it’s about $100 to set it up one time and then every year you pay, I think it’s $50 to maintain the business active. And you can, you know, draft your articles of organization which, you know, represent kind of how your business is conducted day-to-day, it’s a pretty standard document, and your operational agreement, which is also a pretty standard document. And you can draft those yourself, or have an attorney draft them, but the cost is fairly low. But I think the benefits certainly outweigh the cost. The potential benefits outweigh the cost, so my position is to set that up, right, instead of publishing under your own name.
Now, if you are ever sued and even if you have set up the limited liability company, it’s never 100% guaranteed that a plaintiff would not be able to recover from personal assets because there are legal ways of getting around the limited liability protection. And again, I go over those more in detail in my book and it’s fairly hard to do if you set up the limited liability company well. But that’s always a risk, so you’re never 100% guaranteed anything but your risk is certainly lower as far as you know, your personal assets, a personal income if you set up the limited liability company. So, yeah, that’s definitely the first thing I tell new authors to set that up before you publish so it’s ready to go. Like, if you’ve published under your own name then set up the company and have to go back and republish your books under the company name, that’s more of a hassle. And then it becomes a question of well when did you set up the business? And if you’re ever sued at what point, right, would your personal assets and income be protected?
Tara: I guess it’s part of the step of authors viewing themselves as business owners, right? So having that sort of differentiator. This might be a silly question but is there a limited name that you can pick? Because some authors have sort of like interesting LLC names or some people use their own personal names. Can you choose anything or is there a registry? Like obviously, two people can’t have the same name.
Maria: Yes, you can theoretically choose any name but it has to be a name that’s available. Like you said, the states have registries and most of the states have online registries where you can search for the name that you would like. And the registry will tell you if that name is in use and active and if it is, you cannot use it. That’s right because that would create an issue of confusion obviously. And the kind of, one of the more important things to remember is when you’re using the name of your business, especially if the name of your business mirrors your own personal name, you wanna use the LLC abbreviation or if you have a corporation it would be Inc., because that puts the other people on notice that they’re dealing with a limited liability company. That’s very important to do. And that’s part of what we call respecting the corporate form of the entity. Again, I go over that in detail in my book, like how to do that. Again, maintain separate business accounts, separate business email, things like that. You wanna maintain the business, your publishing company is separate from your personal life and your personal accounts and things like that.
Laura: So, a new author who’s kind of just starting out like you said, might not think about having to do this. Like, they don’t have anything to protect yet. But you kind of talked about having an abundance mindset in the book. Can you talk a little bit more about that because I thought that was really interesting?
Maria: Yes, absolutely. You know, if you’re thinking, like if an author, a new self-published author is thinking, “Well I don’t make enough money from publishing to warrant any of this,” right, business formation and whatnot, like you mentioned Laura, that’s a scarcity mindset, you know. And I want authors, especially if authors, you know, plan to publish, if you just wanna publish one book just to have it out there, that’s totally fine. But if you plan to publish multiple books and start a revenue stream, an income stream and maybe have this be your full-time job because it’s more fulfilling, gives you freedom of, you know, with your family life, those are all great things, that you wanna think long-term. And like you said, you wanna think about, “I’m gonna publish a lot of books. I’m gonna make a lot of money from this and I have to protect myself.” And that’s the abundance mindset I was talking about, right? So, that’s kind of like what you said as far as getting authors to think about this as a long-term business as opposed to kind of the apostle syndrome that a lot of us feel like, “Can I really do this? Will people read what I write?” You know, I want authors to think more positively about themselves and about their business and that’s only gonna be helpful. So, this is all part of that. Yeah.
Tara: And can authors have like multiple pen names under the one thing? Is that something as well? I know maybe I’m just getting too fixated on the name part, but maybe that’s something to consider if you do use one name and then you have another pen name that might be kind of some sort of issue of confusion.
Maria: Right. So, you can certainly publish under different pen names through the same company. So, in your book, you’re gonna have the name of the company, your limited liability company as the publisher. So, that’s perfectly fine. I mean if you could write different pen names, publish them under the company, you’re still publishing under the company, right?
Tara: Okay, perfect. So, with indie authors, a lot of people might see advice on different social media platforms, you know, like different Facebook groups and things like that. A lot of it is well-meaning for sure. But do you see a lot of misinformation on those sorts of platforms?
Maria: All the time. It got to the point that I had to stop responding because I was taking up too much time and then people would argue back with me and I would say, “Look, you know, I’m not gonna sit here and debate this all day with you. Go get a consult with a local attorney if you don’t believe me.” And you know, and obviously, I can only speak to the United States and I’m barred to practice law in Virginia so I really can’t even speak to practicing law in other states. Because most of the issues we’re talking about here are state law issues except for copyright, which in the U.S. is a federal law. So, it’s a federal court issue. But obviously, I can’t speak to practicing regarding like defamation and things in other states. I can give like the general elements and things to be aware of. But yes, I see a lot of misinformation and it’s disheartening. But again, you know, people are asking people online and getting these responses and they really need to be doing their due diligence and even payout to consult with a local attorney to know for sure because I would not want anybody to be in trouble because they followed bad advice.
Tara: Right. That’s a really good point is to maybe use it as research but definitely make sure you’re having someone with the legal authority to actually give you the advice at the end of the day.
Maria: Yes, absolutely.
Tara: So, you spoke a little bit about the state-level advice there. Do authors need to be aware of different geo-specific laws? So, I guess I’m thinking about, you know, in terms of the different privacy laws in like Europe and the California laws, how aware do authors need to be about this stuff?
Maria: They definitely need to be aware, especially if you have a mailing list with people from all over the world, which, you know, most authors do, you’re gonna have to follow the privacy laws. And that obviously, takes due diligence and extra research to do and some authors hire out for that, either legal advice or whatnot because you know, it’s too much to take care of or too much to, you know, monitor. But absolutely have to be aware of that. That’s tough because as you mentioned, different jurisdictions have different privacy laws. And with the GDPR, people had to incorporate that into their mailing list because you may not always know where people are located or people move too. But yeah, definitely have to consider that.
Laura: So, we were just talking about author Facebook groups a little bit and author social media. One of the things that we’ve seen coming up a lot in those groups is copyright cases, authors trying to trademark like certain words or phrases or series names. Do you think some authors are going about copyright in the wrong way?
Maria: As far as protecting their own copyright, their own works?
Laura: Yeah, or like people who are copywriting like certain phrases.
Maria: Right. I mean, so that’s a trademark law. So, you’re basically trademarking the phrase and that’s tough to do. I mean the end goal would be what? So, nobody else can use it. So, it’s a revenue stream for you possibly. That’s kind of a long-term view. So, titles of works are not copyrightable, right, in the U.S. So you could have, you know, in your book you can mention the title of another book and that’s not copyright protected. You don’t need permission to use that. You know, you would not be able to copyright. It would be hard or trademark the title of your book. It would have to be something so specific, right? There are a bunch of, you know, case law jurisprudence on this. But it’d have to be very specific to be able to trademark it and it would have to be something that’s not in common usage, it doesn’t have a history of common use and things like that. So, I mean authors who are considering that, need to think about what’s the end goal here. Is it just because I don’t want anyone else to use this? Is that a real practical use of your time and resources to try to trademark that? It’s a long process to hire trademark attorney and you know, apply with the federal government. It takes a long time. Or if your idea is to start a revenue stream, I mean that may be something to consider, but again, you’d have to talk to a trademark attorney, that federal practice attorney to know how to do that. And you know, they would also be able to advise you on the possible success or not of that trademark application.
Tara: On the flip side of that, what do authors have to be aware of in terms of trademarked items? So, I’m writing a book, the characters are in a restaurant and they’re both drinking Diet Cokes. Do I have to worry about the phrase Diet Coke being trademarked or how does that work?
Maria: No, so not usually. You could use trademark terms in the book and I mean some authors do put a disclaimer at the beginning like all, you know, trademark names are owners of the brand or owned by the brand or something to that effect. So, that’s usually not problematic, right?
Tara: Okay, cool. It’s, especially as we kind of refer to things like that buy their brand now more than anything else, you know, so, it’s good to know what we can and can’t do.
Maria: Right. Sure, no problem.
Tara: We also see like a lot of services out there for authors. I think if you try and Google another trademark word, if you search for like self-publishing advice, self-publishing services, tons of stuff comes up. So, do you have any tips or help for how authors can avoid scams or at least identify something that is maybe not legitimate?
Maria: Yes, that’s tough. It’s very overwhelming. It seems like, there’s just countless as you said, countless services for self-published authors. So, definitely what a good place to start is to get the Facebook groups that you’re in as an author that you respect, that you know are legitimate. You know, authors there will have recommendations, especially authors who have done a lot, who have published a lot, who are making an income from writing will be able to tell you, you know, this, for example. “This group that provides these services is legit and this group, not so sure about.” Certainly, if you’ve never heard of a group, you wanna do your research, do your due diligence, things like that, whether it’s for marketing or other services. So, I mean I go over all my blog a list of, you know, curated groups or sites that provide services to self-published authors that I’ve used, other authors used, like Reedsy for example, well-known, you know, Kobo Writing Life, obviously everybody knows them, those are all legit.
So, the question is then like the smaller groups that you may not have heard of are those legitimate? So, I would really caution authors with contracting with any service providers they don’t have experience with and, you know, they cannot have other people vouch for them. If you could have somebody else vouch for the service, obviously, you know, that they feel more confident about paying, but yeah. But it always, definitely go with the, I would start with the groups and sites that are just well known in the community. And you know, there’s a lot of authors that provide a lot of self-publishing advice like Mark Dawson, David Gaughran, obviously, anything they recommend, I would say as absolutely legitimate because they’ve vetted it and they’re recommending it. So, they’re associating it with their name, obviously, they’re recommending it. So, definitely start with the people that you trust and respect. Yeah, definitely.
Tara: And I guess if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Maria: Absolutely. Yeah. And nobody can really guarantee you sales or reviews, at least not legitimately. So, if they say we guarantee a number of X or… There are some groups that, I can think of one or two that would say, “We guarantee you X number of sales or you get a full refund.” And if that’s the case, I wouldn’t necessarily discount that service provider. But yes, Tara, in general, if they’re offering a guarantee on reviews or sales, definitely something you wanna pay attention to. Yeah, it definitely sounds too good to be true.
Laura: That kind of makes me think of vanity presses too. So, authors, if they’re asking you to pay them money to publish your book, stay away from those as well.
Maria: Yes, absolutely. Yep.
Laura: One of the other things that I wanted to mention was in your book you talked a little bit about how you’re allowed to use like the song name of like a song that a character is listening to, but it starts to become a bit more difficult if you wanna use actual lyrics. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that process works?
Maria: Yes, absolutely. So, Laura, as you said, if you wanna quote, use a quote from a song lyric in your written work, the general rule is you need to have copyright permission from the copyright holder to do that. And for song lyrics, you gotta request written permission from the copyright holder. That’s the general legal rule. So, there’s no like minimum you can use without permission. Like, you can use one line or two lines without permission. There’s no legal minimum like you have to request, that’s the rule. You have to request permission from the copyright holder. So, the procedure to doing that for songs is a little bit different for books and other written works. So, for songs, you need to find out who currently holds the rights to the song. And in the United States, there are three big music producers. So, you would search on their websites and you would find which one of them has the rights to the song and they’d give you an entry. So, the copyright holder is listed in the entry, it’s usually a company music producer. So, you have to write to that company directly to request copyright permission. And it can take a long time because these are big entities and they have departments within departments within departments to handle written requests for written copyright. So, you’ll probably be bounced around, you’ll have to fill out a couple of forms and eventually you’ll get to the right person and there’s usually a fee involved with getting the permission. And then once you get the written permission, you wanna make sure you get a written permission and file it away so if there’s ever any dispute about that. You say, “No, I have permission to use these lyrics in this book.” And then you would wanna make sure you write in the front matter of the book that you’re using these lyrics with express permission of the copyright holder. It is a long process, I’ve done it and it took too long that I was like, “I’m not gonna delay publication of this book anymore. I’m just gonna go ahead and publish.” But it absolutely can be done and it’s not that difficult, but you just have to know there’s just a lot of steps. Yeah. But if you know where to look, it’s not that difficult.
Laura: I was gonna say at that point it becomes so lengthy that you kind of have to weigh like, “How badly do I actually need to use this song in my book?” But yeah, it’s very interesting that whole process.
Maria: Yeah, it could be a little convoluted. But yeah, if you know where to look once you get the entry, you can streamline it pretty well. Usually, you can send an email. Like, you don’t have to send a letter, email the company and just stay on top of it. If you don’t hear back within a couple of weeks, you can send a follow-up email and eventually you’ll get to the right person.
Tara: So, do you have any advice for somebody that might wanna use a real person or an event in their book? Like, you know, does it have to be inspired by…? Like, how does that work?
Maria: Oh my gosh, there’s a lot to say about this. So, this comes up usually the case, like you said, Tara, like of non-fiction books, right? So, you can write about real people. When you write about real people and it’s obvious you’re writing about X person, you’re opening yourself up to potential litigation risk with defamation. So, if the person, you know, doesn’t like what you’re writing about and can make a legal case for defamation, we can go over the general elements of that. Yeah, I mean you’re at litigation risk for that.
So, there’s a couple of things to consider here. So, if you’re writing a non-fiction book, one way to get around this litigation risk is to write a creative non-fiction work where you’re not writing in first person, you’re writing a third person, you’re writing about a character who’s maybe like you said, inspired by events from your life or somebody else’s life, but it’s not clear that it’s about X person, if you can’t say, “It’s definitely about X person,” you could say, “Well this could be this person, this could be this person.” You know, you can’t really make a case for defamation because you can’t say this is definitely about X person, right? So, you could obscure details about the person. You could obscure characteristics and make it clear that you know, this is not… If you can’t say, you know, this is definitely about X person, it’s really hard to make a case for defamation. That’s one way people get around that. Now, if you’re writing a biography about somebody or you just wanna write your autobiography and your characters are clearly from your life and that’s clear on its face, yeah, there’s litigation risk for defamation.
One way you can get around that is to get signed releases from the people you’re writing about, okay? That they will hold you harmless for any portrayal of them in the book. So, that’s one way you could do it. Now, if you’re writing an autobiography or a biography, that’s something I’d recommend doing is to get a release from the person. If you’re writing a creative non-fiction work where it’s not really clear who you’re writing about, then I would not recommend you go to the person and say, “Hey, can I write about you?” Because now you’re admitting that you’re writing about them. And if it’s not clear on its face that you’re writing about them, you don’t want it to admit that. Certainly not in writing, because then they could bring a case later. And some people would say, “Well, this person would never bring a case against me.” Well, you know, I’ve seen a lot of strange things happen. So, I mean people could always sue, even if they don’t have a case, they can still sue and make your life difficult, right? You have to hire a defense attorney and all these things. So, yeah, but those are the considerations. If you’re either writing a creative non-fiction piece or if you’re doing biographical work, you’ll get a signed release from the person.
Tara: Speaking of like bringing cases against people, there seems to be kind of two frames of thought around, like, say if your book has been ripped off and is on the internet, a lot of authors tend to sort of see that that’s just price of publishing on the internet. You know, you should be flattered that your work is getting ripped off. Where the other school of thought is like, “No, that is what I’ve earned and I should be paid for this.” Just wondering what are your thoughts on that. Because it can kind of feel a little bit whack-a-mole, especially online.
Maria: Yes, absolutely. So, it’s all a question of how much resources and energy the author wants to devote to this, okay? So, if what you could get in damages and money damages is way less than what you would be paying out to an attorney to argue in federal court for copyright infringement, you may not wanna do this, it’s gonna be a huge use of your time. A lot of it’s gonna take up a lot of your time and your resources and your money and you’re gonna get very little back. So, that’s just for the practical side, you have to think about that. Now, there’s something you could do, and I know you guys have talked about this in the blog before is in the United States, when you create a written work, you have the copyright of that work because you’ve created it. You don’t have to do anything, you have copyright over that work, and you’re the copyright holder. So, if somebody is infringing your copyright and you sue, what you could possibly get would be monetary damages and lost income from the book. And if the book has not sold that well yet, the damages would be, you know, very, very low, and then that would discourage you from litigating.
But once you create the written work, if you register it with the U.S. copyright office as a copyrightable work, then if you need to sue someone for infringement, like if you’ve said somebody’s publishing, you know, your book online without your permission and if you sue for infringement, the monetary damages you could get are much higher because they’re statutory damages based on a federal statute, I mean they could be as much as $100,000 or more. So, in that case, if the damages are potentially much higher, I would say, yes. Then, you know, that’s definitely a reason why you should seriously consider litigating this because if you don’t stop this now, who’s to say that, you know, other people are not gonna infringe your books? So, then you’d have to talk to a federal practice attorney, or a copyright attorney and figure out how much this is gonna cost generally to bring the suit and then you can make a decision about if it’s worth doing it practically, right? But I mean you’re always gonna have to weigh that, the cost of your time and energy and resources on the suit.
But I always recommend to authors, especially newer authors, you know, when you have your finished work, it’s gotta be a finished work to be able to register it with the copyright office, register all your works online and there is a fee per work. But the potential benefit is great because then if you have to sue for an infringement later, the damages you could get are way higher, especially for a newer author. So, definitely, something to consider. You could register your books with the copyright office online and pay a fee online. So, you don’t even have to like, hire an attorney to do that, it’s something that you could do entirely on your own.
Tara: Nice. That’s really valuable advice. I can see how your time could just be spent answering author posts all the time and just giving your insights because it’s super interesting. But how do you balance that? How do you balance being an attorney by day, a fiction writer, non-fiction, and helping authors? What does your day look like?
Maria: Oh gosh.
Tara: And being a parent as well, you mentioned.
Maria: Oh my gosh. Well, our son is almost 13, so he’s fairly independent, so he doesn’t need as much attention as when he was younger. So, that’s a good thing. It’s tough. So, basically, I mean I take some time off, some time to dedicate to writing. Like, I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo in November, so I’ll be doing that pretty much every day. But yeah, I really try to pare down my life so it’s not full of extraneous stuff that doesn’t bring meaning to it. So, if that includes activities too, you have to really guard your time, you have to protect your time and your energy, you know, for your family, for yourself. And if it’s important to you, for your writing and you just have to protect the time. That’s the best way I can kind of describe it is you have to… You know, every time somebody asks you to do something or asks you for help, you really have to think about saying yes. You know, you don’t wanna say yes automatically to things.
So, that’s the thing is you kind of wanna, yeah, just protect your time and sometimes that means you have to schedule in periods that you’re gonna be writing or if you’re doing like stuff online, periods you’re gonna be online and you schedule time for marketing. And that helps a lot because then if you schedule blocks, you can kind of more easily move from one thing to the other. And you don’t have a lot of time, like unstructured time. If you’re like me, you’re distracted to do other things, right? Shiny object syndrome. So, you’re distracted by other things and then before you know it, three hours have gone by and it’s like, “Well, I should have done this.” And I have to kind of schedule time to keep myself on track. Like, you really should be doing this. If you wanna get your work out it has to be now, otherwise, you’re not gonna get your work out today. So, things like that, that’s kind of the best advice I have, I guess is protecting your time and energy, schedule stuff and then make sure you get your sleep because I mean you’re gonna need it to do all those things. So, to have the energy to do all those things that you wanna do.
Laura: That’s advice that I think we could all learn from, getting more sleep.
Maria: Yeah. It’s hard to do sometimes. I mean it is what it is, but to the extent that you could get restful sleep.
Laura: Definitely. So, what can listeners expect from you next?
Maria: Oh gosh. So, I am working on some more parenting content. I am actually on the kind of a parenting-reparenting side. I’m actually putting together kind of a coaching program because I have a YouTube channel that I give a lot of parenting advice on. I have people asking me for courses and coaching, so I’m putting something together for that. And I’m working on my next book on legal issues, which will kind of go more in detail with the copyright stuff because there are some questions about when you need copyright permission. I’m getting a lot of questions from people. “Well, somebody told me, or some lawyer at some big firm or big publishing company said this.” Like, well that’s not…they didn’t really explain it to you legally. Like, you know, so there are some murky issues that I think people could use some more clarity on. So, yeah, I’m working on my next kind of legal book, which will kind of delve in a little more detail on that and then some other legal issues, contracts, and things like that. So, yeah, that’s what I’m working on. And I am about three-quarters of the way through my next novel, so working on that too. So, I like to have a lot of irons in the fire, obviously.
Laura: And where can listeners find you online if they wanna keep up with you?
Maria: Sure. So, for my legal stuff, the best is my blog, which is lawschoolheretic.com. And my book is on Audible, it’s on Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble if anyone’s interested in that. And for my kind of parenting and spirituality content, it’s Maria Riegger on YouTube. And yeah, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all the main stuff. But yeah, my blog is definitely the place for the legal stuff.
Tara: Awesome. Thanks so much for chatting to us today. This has been really insightful and I hope helpful to authors to at least be able to access your book to get some more details on any legal questions that they may have.
Maria: Absolutely. Thank you, guys, very much.
Laura: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Maria’s books, we will include links in our show notes. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com. Be sure to follow us on social. We are @kobowritinglife on Twitter and Facebook and at kobo.writing.life on Instagram.
Tara: This episode was hosted by Laura Granger and Tara Cremin with production by Terrence Abrahams. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham, and our theme music was composed by Tear Jerker. And thanks to Maria Riegger for being a guest this week. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.