As a self-published author, you file for your own copyrights and it's as simple as paying a thirty-five dollar fine and uploading your work to copyright.gov. Here's some things I've learned from filing a copyright.
1.) You can publish your novel as soon as you file.
For Medusa's Desire, I waited until my copyright was approved before I published the novel. But I read under the FAQs that this is unnecessary. You are protected as soon as you file.
Since it can take months of waiting before your copyright is approved, it's usually more convenient to just get it out there.
2.) You can't copyright an idea.
When you receive a copyright it's for the novel you wrote, not for the idea behind it.
If someone takes your whole novel and tries to publish it under their own name, a copyright will protect you.
If you write a vampire romance story like Stephenie Meyer did and other people try to write vampire romance stories, like many other people did, because of it, the copyright won't prevent this from happening.
3.) Don't get a copyright for the cover of your novel.
I tried to do this and was rejected. It was a waste of thirty-five dollars that I could have used on something else.
There is an exception to this. If you took the photo for your cover yourself and made the font yourself, then you should probably copyright it.
But if you purchased fonts and pictures and spent weeks editing them like I did, then they still don't belong to you, even though you put all that work into organizing them into a way that looks unique.
Just like you can't copyright an idea, you also can't copyright how you edited things together.
4.) Many self-published authors skip the copyright.
It sounds crazy. Why wouldn't you want to protect your work? But when you think about the logistics of it, it makes sense.
Regardless of whether you have a copyright or not, people are going to post your books on pirating sites and steal them in a variety of ways.
It does help when someone steals your work and tries to sell it under their pen name, which I've seen some people do to other authors. But the publishing companies usually know you are the real author because you published your novel first.
For the most part the copyright doesn't come up because it's unlikely that any of these issues will go to a court of law.
I copyright all my work under the pen name E.B. Black, just in case, but I don't blame people who want to cut costs by not doing this.
5.) Your information becomes public domain.
So anything you give them, your real name, phone number, e-mail, address, etc. becomes available to the public. This is so people know who the copyright belongs to and can contact you for permission if they want to use some of your copyright material.
Still, this may disrupt some of the privacy you were hoping to keep. It's easier to hide this information when you have a publishing company to back you that will use their information instead of yours when filing the copyright.
Some ideas for ways to keep your information private is by getting a P.O. Box or starting your own publishing company just for your books. That way you can give the P.O. Box instead of your real physical address and you can also use the publishing companies information instead of your own. You can also copyright things under your pen name.
The one risk of copyrighting things under any name but your own, is you must prove in court that you are the person who owns the publishing company or the person who the pen name belongs to, for your copyright to hold up when challenged.