by | Mar 14, 2020 | Book Writing

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A question we often get when mentoring book author clients to write their own books is, “Can I use quotes or information from books in public domain for my book?” This article is going to clarify what this type of book really means and share some insight into how you, as an author or entrepreneur, can benefit greatly from this type of book.

What are Public Domain Books?

Public Domain Books are books that are no longer protected under copyright law. Wikipedia has a good description if you would like to know more, but “public domain” simply refers to the fact that a book is available for any use (quoting of any length, republishing, rewriting, creating derivative works, etc.)

The exciting news is there are millions of published works that, for a variety of reasons, no longer have a copyright owner. Their contents are legally available to the public at large at no charge, under no rules or restrictions. This is amazing when you think about how many books still influence society today and how you can position yourself with the best of authors.

Just think of the possibilities! You could write a summary book of one of the greats like Lord of the Flies. Or a criticism of the writing style of William Shakespeare.

Author Napoleon Hill is a perfect example:

Public domain book - Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Think and Grow Rich is a great example of how entrepreneurs have positioned themselves with one of the most popular books of the early 19th century. And it’s still popular today.

Certainly, what has kept it alive is the plethora of books that have come out that are based on the original, summarized, critiqued, altered in some ways….

I highly recommend that you research all of the different versions of this book. You’ll not only be impressed, you will see the potential and perhaps be inspired to do something different with this book or with an entirely different one.

Here is one example of how one author summarized the public domain book, Think and Grow Rich.

Public Domain Books

Public domain books have for the most part been underutilized, not so much because they’re difficult to find but because they haven’t been realized for their value.

Free Books isn’t the only way to utilize these amazing books.

Most public domain books are listed on websites for the purpose of “free”. But whether free of not, these kinds of books are a potential goldmine to the entrepreneur-minded individual. Just think of the possibilities! You could:

  1. write a summary book of one of the greats like Lord of the Flies.
  2. write a criticism book of the writing style of Jane Austin.
  3. write a sequel to a book by Mark Twain.
  4. be inspired to write a book similar to a public domain book, but something better in your eyes or more current.
  5. take a non-fiction book and turn it into a fictional story with more embellishments and twists and turns—a “what if?” book. What if the fictional doctor Frankenstein lived in the 21st century? What if Tom Sawyer were a girl?
  6. write a screenplay for the big screen.
  7. write a script for a TV mini-series.
  8. write a pilot for cable TV like Prime Video or Netflix.

Treasure troves, literally, of stories, characters, and concepts await inside books in the public domain—all free for you to use as you like!

The possibilities are endless. And here’s the kicker—you are starting from a book that has already been approved by a mass audience. Talk about a head start with your book. The premise, the plot, the tempo, the setting,… you can take one or more aspects of a great public domain book and have at it.

What Books Are in Public Domain?

So, we know that books in the public domain are ones that have had their copyrights run out. But how can you know what books are in public domain? You can find them pretty easily these days. I’ve created a list of websites below that will allow you to search to your heart’s content. But remember, searching for them with greater insight than “a free read” will make it not only a lot of fun but inspiring and exciting. The potential is great! The inspiration and ideas you can get from these books is endless.

Just remember there are other ways to find these books—yard sales, estate sales, book swaps, the “older books” section in your neighborhood mom and pop (indie) bookstore,… and used bookstores and other places where used books are sold. You can tell what books are in the public domain by their date.

If you see a book that looks promising, open it to the copyright page. If it was published in the United States before 1924, it is in the public domain. Books published after 1923 but before 1978 are protected for 75 years plus 20 (95 years) from the date of publication.

Also know that the copyright laws changed after 1978. If a book was published/copyrighted after 1978, the copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. So you may have to come back for a second time around this world in order to reap the benefits of post ’78 books. But don’t fret; you have tons of books to choose from—the classics and more!

Public Domain Book List

Here is a public domain book list for you to start your treasure hunt:

Public Domain Books Database: The Gutenberg database has top 100 lists in different categories.

Audio Books: Here is a database of public domain audio books.

Best Books: Goodreads has a wonderful list of the best public domain books.

Classic Books: Feedbooks has a list of classic books.

Every January 1st is now a day for aspiring authors and entrepreneurs to celebrate.

Public Domain Day

Every year, more books in the public domain are becoming available. That’s because the 20-year copyright extension—lobbied for by Disney and passed by U.S. legislators in 1998—finally expired on January 1, 2019.

Public Domain Day 2019: There were some great books that became available in 2019. From an Arthur Conan Doyle whodunit set in America to the first Noel Coward musical and much more in between.

Public Domain Day 2020: Take a look at this year’s books in the public domain.

More books are coming into public domain every year. Just imagine, you could do a rewrite of Catcher in the Rye. Although, J.D. Salinger’s work won’t become available until 2080, so you’d better be young today, or science needs to figure out how to add a few more years to the average human lifespan. As today’s fiction feeds tomorrow’s science, maybe we should start writing more stories about living to 100.

Video Transcript:

Hello aspiring authors and entrepreneurs, I’m Robert Nahas, Founder and CEO of Writer Services. Today, we’re taking a look at books in public domain. Public domain books are books that, because of copyright laws and simply through the passage of time, are no longer restricted in how you can use them in books, movies, television scripts, and other intellectual properties. You’re able to even republish public domain books any way you like.

Around the world, there are millions of public domain book titles available to aspiring authors and entrepreneurs, and what’s in them are literally treasure troves of stories, characters, concepts and a whole lot more all just waiting for you to make them new and relevant again. Whether you want to make a new audiobook with your own voice or a talented narrator with exciting character voices, write a screenplay for a new film or cable series, or simply gain inspiration for a totally new novel, the possibilities are truly endless when you source books in the public domain.

And, as always, if you like this video and article, please click the thumbs-up button below, and click on subscribe to catch all our new videos and articles being released every week. I’m Robert Nahas. Thanks, and see you again soon.

Also be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed as I will be sure to keep you updated for the coming years.

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