Thursday’s Pre-Publication Post: Permissions

My story collection, Quiet Americans, begins with two quotations (epigraphs) leading into the larger work. I’ve always wondered if I’d need permission to use them, but until recently, I didn’t have a particularly urgent reason to find out.

Well, now that my book is slated for publication, a reason has arrived! The press that will be publishing my book is too small to have a full-fledged legal department of its own, so my first impulse was to send an e-mail message to a group of lawyer friends. But I soon decided that I should just keep digging on my own. Directly.

Both of the quotations are quite short. One is taken from a translated novel; the other, from a translated Nobel lecture.

A few days ago, I contacted the U.S. publisher of the translated novel (a publishing company which is big enough not only to have its permissions/rights department referenced on its site, but which also requires several weeks to process these requests). So, I wait.

For the Nobel lecture, I simply e-mailed the specified contact in Sweden and explained that I was writing to find out what I needed to do in order to include the line from the lecture as an epigraph for my collection. The response was swift and sweet: “You do not need our formal permission to make quotations.”

Wonderful! Let’s hope that the other response arrives soon and proves to be equally uncomplicated.

I’d love to hear from other practicing writers with permissions tales to tell. Or perhaps some tips or resources to share?

7 thoughts on “Thursday’s Pre-Publication Post: Permissions

  1. Doreen McGettigan says:

    I have been trying to find out if it is legal to use newspaper articles that are 11 years old; in my book..the very newspaper is unsure…

  2. Theresa Milstein says:

    I thought it was okay to use about 2 or 3 lines. I think it's 3 lines with songs.

    Cornelia Funke uses book quotes in the beginning of each chapter, but they're relatively short.

    I hope you're able to use your quotes!

  3. Tara says:

    As a former book editor, I can tell you that fair use practice usually allows you to quote up to 300 words of another book without permission. (This is assuming you aren't quoting the same source multiple times, at 300 words each.) The only tricky areas are song lyrics and poetry, which usually require permission for any length of quotation (though not if in public domain, obviously). These are just general guidelines, but I hope that helps. There's more about all this in the Chicago Manual of Style.

  4. Barbara Krasner says:

    Rights and permissions for quotes can be extraordinarily complex. For a biography of a poet I just completed, I needed to know the deal for quoting lyrics and well as the person's letters. Yes, Fair Use applies, but in the case of the poetry, it depends on who holds the copyright. If I quote the poetry from the poet's 1880s publication, I don't need special permission. Whew! Sometimes, the rights and permissions can kill the book. Especially when photos are involved. Several authors I know have to pay for the rights and permissions from their advances, which hardly cover the costs. These authors have paid from their own pockets.

  5. Philip Graham says:

    I once quoted from a Peanuts cartoon, in my first nonfiction book, and just before publication we were informed by the lawyers of Charles Schultz that permission was being withheld.

    The reason? I'd quoted directly from Charlie Brown in two of the four cartoon panels, but merely paraphrased his words from the two others. As so I discovered that Charlie Brown–and other Peanuts characters –may only be quoted directly.

    So, emergency last minute revisions to the rescue to ensure that the imaginary character Charlie Brown would not be misquoted, and the pub date had to be set back by a couple weeks. And a hefty permissions fee was paid to the Peanuts empire–an irony, considering that 50% of the book's royalties were dedicated to poor African villagers.

  6. Susan Woodring says:

    I don't know anything about copyrights, etc, but I wanted to post a quick congratulations! So excited to discover you have a ssc coming out!

  7. Anne Whitehouse says:

    For my novel FALL LOVE, the Grove Dictionary of Music kindly gave me permission to quote free of charge, but I had to pay Macmillan to quote from W.B. Yeats' "Easter 1916.
    For my recent poetry collection, BLESSINGS AND CURSES, I received permission to quote from Ted Hughes' poem "That Morning."
    It sometimes takes a bit of digging to figure out who has the rights of the work you want to quote from, but it's important to be diligent and correct about it.

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