How to Use Public Domain Content to Write Your Book

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So many people think that writing a book is more difficult than it has to be. They think they have to have something original, unique and totally new or their book won’t sell. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sure, you have to say something in your own way, using your own voice; but that doesn’t mean that you have to start from scratch and reinvent the alphabet or the wheel. In fact, many great authors rely heavily on somebody else’s writings to get started and communicate their own message.

What’s their secret? They use public domain material. It’s something I teach in my 17 Day Book Challenge Program.  It’s a well kept secret, too. Virtually very few people know how to use public domain content as a way to write a book. That concept consists of taking previously written material and repackaging it in a different book.

Before we go any further, though, you need to know what public domain really is. It’s an intellectual property designation for the range of content that is not owned or controlled by anyone. These materials are “public property” and available for anyone to use freely for any purpose. For instance, the words “public domain” float around in computer lingo often to describe software code. These are programs that anyone can use at no cost—no purchase necessary. The social network site Facebook has public domain software called Dolphin which they make available for anyone to use. There are also books which in the public domain—books you can access for free, and you can repackage and repurpose them to meet your needs and call them your own. One historic book that has joined the public domain catalogue is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

How do you use public domain books and legally repurpose them? Well you can use programs which help you accomplish exactly that—one that comes to mind is a program by Yannick Silver which teaches what you need to know. Note, though, that using public domain books to write your own does not mean that you can copy or plagiarize anyone else’s writing and call it your own. But, you can take the message, the thoughts and the ideas and reword them so they’re in your voice. And believe me, that takes a large bulk of the work out of writing a book.  First, though, I always advise and strongly encourage everyone to make sure they follow all legal channels when doing so, and that means consulting an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law.

If the idea of repurposing public domain books to jump start your own sounds like something you’d like to explore further, consider the advantages you’ll get when you follow this path.

1)  It saves time. You do not have to write a book from scratch. Instead you can take the content as a base and add an introduction. You can adapt the work, copy it, and sell it. You can be really creative and make it your own.  In this way, you have the ability to do more than personalize it, you can even make it better, more interesting, or more in-depth by adding your message, ideas, stories, and suggestions.

2) You can copyright the adapted version. This is really cool. Although other people can go to the original source material and do the same thing as you, they cannot adapt your material because it’s not in the public domain – it is copyrighted material that’s protected. Keep in mind though, that only new portions of your book can be copyrighted. Any use of the public domain material will not fall under the copyright and you have no true ownership over that.

3) You can create derivative works based on the public domain, and profit from those. You can create audio, video, DVD, and coaching programs based on the original public domain material. So what your doing is using the public domain material and repackaging it in another format with your name on it, and, of course, any variations or additions you choose to make to the content. You’re creating a totally new product on the foundation of someone else’s writing.

Using public domain books to write your own is like building a house – rather than taking individual boards, cutting each of them and nailing them all together to frame your house, you’re starting with the complete framework totally assembled and ready to go. What a timesaver! You know what it’s going to look like and how to build on it but you don’t have to invest the time and the labor to get it there. Imagine how much faster you can complete your manuscript when the thoughts, ideas, and words have already been pre-assembled for you!

The biggest challenge you’ll have is finding the right material to use, but the search is worth your effort. You can find some really useful information and sources in Yannick Silver’s program. To get more detailed information on using public domain books, check out Public Domain Uncovered: Discover exactly how to find and use copyright-free works without fees or permission.  It tells you how to “borrow” an almost endless source of content (on practically any subject you could imagine).

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