Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Ah, the legal deposit. A thing nobody knows they have to do, and yet must do by law.
If you're a new author and are UK-based, the responsibility for depositing a copy of your book to the British Library (UK) now sits with you.
But don't panic. You're not the only one who didn't know this was a thing. Lots of writers don't know they have to do this. You might think it's a pain in the arse (and you'd be right because it means heading to your local Post Office and forking out MORE money to post a copy of a heavy paperback—or worse, a hardback *sharp scary violin sound effects go here!—off Recorded Delivery).
This was me six years ago (2013), still learning the ropes. I did, as the photo suggests, feel like a publishing dummy.
But you don't need to.
We should never assume our printers/publishers will do this on our behalf unless they specifically state otherwise. It's always wise to send something yourself and request proof of posting.
What actually is a legal deposit, though?
Why do we send them?
Where should we send them to?
Have no fear, it's actually quite easy.
By law, you have to send the most recent edition of your book to the British Library within 30 days of its release. This is so they can collect, preserve and make readily available all published works within the libraries.
Each new edition of your book needs a new deposit, so if you have both a hardback and paperback version of the same title, send them both. If you change the cover this would count as a new edition, so send one of those as well—even if the library already have a copy of your story, if your book is re-released, a second deposit is required.
What constitutes a 'new edition' and how does this compare to a reprint? Well, a change of format, cover, language or content whereby there are significant amendments would need a new ISBN number and therefore, a new legal deposit.
Here's what ISBN.org by Bowker have to say:
"A reprint means more copies are being printed with no substantial changes. Perhaps a few typos are being fixed. A new edition means that there has been substantial change: content has been altered in a way that might make a customer complain that this was not the product that was expected.... Or, the book has been redesigned."
You should post each deposit at your own expense to the British Library, Boston Spa, Wetherby, LS237BY* and enclose a covering letter to state who you are and what the parcel's contents include. Within a few weeks you should receive a confirmation. Be patient, though. They have a lot of books to catalogue!
Up to a year later, they can also request further copies. This will most likely be via e-mail.
Always check via their website before you post anything as the address/requirements may have changed. Better to be safe than sorry.
"How about if I only produce e-books?" I hear you ask? Yep, those too I'm afraid, and here's a link to their guidelines for all digital material.
Go ahead and mail your copy today, or tomorrow... but you only have 30 days to get the job done. As Mark Twain said:
"Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow."
And that's it.
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Can I convince you to give my brand new publishing guide, 'The Universe Doesn't Give A Sh*t About Your Book' a browse? You can read all about first editions and legal deposits in my 'Publishing Basics' chapter. Alternatively, check out the book I'm holding in my photo—it's a great place to start if you'd like to learn how to write and publish a book. Here are some handy links for you to check out: