Once you have finished your opus, do not apply for a Copyright until you know exactly what you are doing.
If you plan to self-publish or publish print-on-demand, then you will need to copyright your manuscript. (See the information below.) This may change in the future but at the moment, self-publishing and print-on-demand companies do not do this for you.
However, if you secure a copyright registration and then try to sell your book to a big house publisher, you may have doomed yourself. That copyright you took much time and effort to secure makes you the holder of 1st Rights. The big houses will want 1st Rights; they usually will not take any manuscript on 2nd rights.
In rare instances where a book has already been published, a big house will pick up the book under a new contract. However, any published book will usually have to have sold into the thousands of copies in order to be noticed by the larger publishing houses. If such a book is taken on by a larger publisher, they would accept 2nd Rights.
To protect yourself as being the creator of your manuscript, you may wish to register it at Writer’s Guild of America. They charge a fee; you send your entire manuscript, and there are various ways to submit. I use this organization myself. Filing with this group is not a form of copyright and you will later need a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office. Filing with WGA is simply another way to register a date that your manuscript was completed and that you are the owner. Should anyone try to plagiarize your story, you have proof of when you completed the manuscript and that you are the original owner. Make sure you read their FAQS and understand the process. They have east coast and west coast branches, so you should use the branch in your vicinity.
Should you choose to file with the U.S. Copyright Office, you will find them at
The U.S. Copyright Office also has an online submissions capability that I have used in the past.
My only advice here is that you know which way you will publish your book before you decide whether or not to seek a copyright.
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