Every now and again someone asks me if they should copyright a story before sending it to an agent or a publisher. Some even suggest taking the time to get a piece copyrighted before taking it to critique group.
“You mean that you don’t trust me not to steal your work?”
“It could happen.”
“And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get smashed by a meteor.” Oddly enough, I’m more popular with tween boys than I am with many of my peers.
You may think that filing for a copyright under these circumstances shows that you value your work. It is worth serious money, and you want people to see this from the start. Have you ever heard the expression “just because you think something doesn’t make it a fact.”
What filing for a copyright in these situations says is “I don’t trust you.” Do you really want to work with someone you don’t trust? Of course now. So step one really isn’t getting copyright. Step one is finding someone you trust. If you’ve heard questionable things about someone, don’t send them your work. Period.
Just don’t do it.
What filing for copyright really shows is that you don’t know industry conventions. It shows that you may very well by high maintenance and require a great deal of reassurance and hand holding. None of this makes you an appealing client or critique group partner.
Yes, I’m sure you can find a story about someone who had a piece stolen under any of these circumstances. But by looking at the shelves in your local library, you can find numerous examples of work that was not stolen.
I’m not saying that you should post it all over the place and leave copies strewn across your home town. Just learn the conventions of your industry. Write. Rewrite. Let the publisher file for the copyright. Because that’s the way it works when they pay you to use a specific set of rights.