Have you ever imagined what it was like to write that book you absolutely love? Reimagining the characters in a completely different setting, playing with the old writing, adding and adding modern elements and current issues to see how the story or message might have changed if at all? The public domain makes this kind of book publishing possible. Every 75 years, new works enter public domain once their copyright has expired and becomes a book that belongs to all, making it freely accessible. Copyright laws differ depending on where you are in the world, so books from different countries may enter public domain at different times.
Many of us have read republished classics from decades to centuries old, whether they were translated for more accuracy and clarity or written in an entirely different context for a new audience; perhaps a younger audience yet to encounter the classics. A reworked book in the public domain can attract a completely new and fresh perspective on the text through reimagined versions of the story. These works can draw in diverse readers who appreciate a new perspective. The introduction or the author’s note can provide a different context on the author, the era, and impact of the book.
What Is Self-Publishing?
It is helpful to have insight into the process of self-publishing and the public domain before reworking a text that is fully available to the public. The traditional publishing route would require you to submit your manuscript to a publisher. However, some publishers only accept manuscripts submitted through literary agencies, leading many writers to turn to self-publishing, as the resources to publish are available even though they are sometimes overlooked. Here are some tips on how to self-publish.
You also need to find out what your passion is and how much you care about the classic you want to work on. You’re not just contributing to a community of people who reworked the text, you are contributing to the message of the original work and its author. Think carefully about what you want to say, and find out what others thought it was that the author wanted to say; their interpretations may be different to yours.
Explore Your Story
Write a plan for your book—whether it is an outline, a few notes, or the entire plot. What is the message of the book? What do you want the reader to experience or learn? How would you like to express the content? You may start out with an introduction and be inspired to analyze each chapter or section ,or write a new story based on the classic. Whichever route you decide to take, make sure that you check in with the original text as you go along. Once you’ve done this, you can move on to stage two.
There really is no way around this; as hard as it is to translate your idea into a detailed manuscript, it is necessary. Working with a ghostwriter can help you look at the content from different angles and find different methods of depicting the message of the book.
Proofing and Printing
Once your manuscript has been edited and proofread, you will require typesetting for the spacing, the look of the inside of the book, and you may need to commission cover art. Also look at the sizing you require. Is it a large hardcover or a small paperback? This will guide the typesetting of your book as well. Once you have all these on order, you can send it off to the printers.
What Is the Public Domain?
Copyright law varies from country to country, so the way creatives operate in the industry will have to consider the region they are distributing, performing, or publishing in. The public domain bears works that do not function under these laws—they are freely accessible to the public. In the US, this is observed every 75 years, but the laws differ in other nations.
When publishing a book in public domain, it is important to understand that works enter public domain in more than one way. The owner could deliberately place it under public domain, the copyright may be out of date, or the author might have neglected to follow the correct protocols to acquire the copyright. After some time if the copyright has not been renewed, the works will automatically enter public domain.
Works under Public Domain
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written by Lewis Carrol
The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Peter Pan (Peter and Wendy) written by James Matthew Barrie
Little Women written by Louisa May Alcott
Great Expectations written by Charles Dickens
How to Access Public Domain
There are many places to access books in public domain. You can look up a variety of sites offering a database of books freely accessible to the public. Another avenue would be to look up works that were published 75 years ago or more and then cross-check them on the public sites to see if they have entered. There are literary figures, associations, and book-lovers who regularly post news about books being released into public domain. Following sites such as Creative Commons and Project Gutenberg for news on public domain can be very helpful. Some sites also provide interesting information on copyright law, the author, and the work itself.
News on Public Domain
On January 1st every year, we observe International Public Domain Day where works with expired copyrights enter public domain and become freely accessible to all. In 2021, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway came into public domain, and 2022 saw Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues and Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd enter public domain. It is worth keeping an eye out for this day across the world to see which texts from different eras become available to all.
Publishing in Public Domain
Reworking a book in public domain can be a challenge especially if you haven’t had experience in this particular area of publishing. Here are some guidelines that may streamline the process:
Add New Content
You may have decided to write a unique story based on the premise of a classic novel, or perhaps you are working on a different interpretation of an older work without completely changing the story or message. Either way, you should add a fresh perspective and new content to the book.
Editing and Formatting
As mentioned before, this part of the process is very important. You need to make sure that the content makes sense in the context of the classic; this will be noted in the editing and proofreading process. The formatting style will be different for an ebook, and different sites will have different guidelines on how to handle your ebook.
Choose a Publishing Site
Take a look at the target audience of the book. Who reads this type of content? Who will share it? Why are they reading it? Once you’ve identified who your audience is, you will need to start researching publishing sites and find out which sites cater to the audiences who would be interested in your book.
Working with Classics
There are many reworks, translations, and completely new novels written and published based on older works. Some of these publications offer lengthy introductions with analyses of the author and the time that the book was published. Interesting points can come through in terms of what copyright law was like at the time, what the publishing process was like, who was allowed to publish, and how books were released—whether they were published as full copies or released as chapters one by one.
The new content you are creating needs to make sense in the context of the classic. Read the book more than once to get your own perspective on it. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the text, find analyses and articles written about. If it is in public domain, there will be analyses on the book due to the amount of time it has been around.
Look at the era, the author, their origins, and the history of the time that they were writing or started formulating their ideas on the work. This research will help you form the message you want to depict and how it will be conveyed alongside classic writing.
The Public Domain
This world of books that is freely accessible to everyone is a strange and interesting place. Delve into it. Pay attention to International Public Domain Day and find out what has entered the public domain. The laws surrounding the public domain differ from place to place making it a slight challenge to find out when an international text will be available to the public. Once you familiarize yourself with the laws of the region, it becomes easier to pay attention to releases.
You need to learn about the time that the book was published, the era that author grew up in, and how it may have affected them and their writing. Find out why they decided to write and publish the book, and the obstacles that they may have encountered along the way. Read the introductions and author’s notes of these works to get a feel of how they position themselves, and most importantly, write.