to add a quote from a favorite author into your manuscript?
Stop holding your head and repeating, "Oh, the horror."
Getting literary permission is really not that scary.
Some writers prefer
researching related topics which may add depth to their work.
Whether the topics are crime statistics, village history, or
clothing worn in a particular era, they enjoy the process of
research because of the results they get. Research elevates
their manuscript to a more intriguing level. Most writers do
enjoy the research.
when the question of literary permission pops up, do they balk?
When put to the task of getting these permissions, why do some
writers quietly shake their heads and say, "The horror!
of blindly shaking our own heads and quoting Joseph Conrad's
famous line from The Heart of Darkness, we asked a
well-known literary light - Linda Blundell, who specializes
in this area - to rescue our members by giving them a few
If you like finding solutions and are a detective, then literary-permissions
research will certainly suit your temperament, Sherlock. Stop
wondering about how the process works and read this guideline
before you spend too many hours at the library or bury your
head in a copy of Shameless, the Saga of Copyright Infringement.
Or, The Heart of Darkness.
this article, you may realize that it is wonderful to have professional
literary detectives who will provide you with your hall pass
through a corridor of permissions.
Permission for your favorite quote.
Literary permissions research is like working on a jigsaw puzzle.
Eventually all of the pieces fit together, but it takes time,
patience, and careful attention to detail to make it happen.
publishers hire this task out to freelancers because there are
not enough in-house editors to handle all of the books they
publish every year. Currently most of my assignments are for
college textbooks and ancillary products, but the process of
obtaining permission is fairly similar for most works.
a publisher contacts me about a literary permission project,
I ask them to provide the manuscript, or at least the pages
of manuscript pertaining to the items requiring permission,
and a form letter stating the type of rights they would like
letter to the copyright holder, or grantor, must contain the
publisher's rights request and the basic information about the
work to be published (title, author, publication date, number
of pages, print run, price, and type of binding) in order for
the grantor to decide whether they will grant permission and
determine any fee that may be charged. The material to be reprinted
must be clearly identified in this letter, including the author,
title, and page number(s) of what is to be reprinted. It is
customary to send a photocopy of the material itself along with
the request letter. Publishing companies receive dozens of these
requests every day, and require as much information as possible
in order to respond in a timely manner.
researching permissions for a first edition, the initial task
is to determine what material needs permission.
author is usually required contractually to provide the publisher
with a list of items that need permission, but this doesn't
always happen in the real world.
the only available information is the author's bibliography.
The in-house editor may not know what needs permission, and
may request that I review the manuscript and work with the author
to clarify this.
If the book has been published as a previous edition, the in-house
editor may be able to provide a log of the permissions for that
edition. This document can be a godsend if the permission editor
who worked on the previous edition provided contact information
for the various grantors, and indicated those items for which
permission was granted for all future editions.
clients will send the freelancer the previous edition of the
book because it might provide information that is missing from
the log. It saves a great deal of time not having to start from
As soon as I have researched the grantors' contact information
and compiled a list of their names and addresses I send the
permission letters by fax or e-mail because they bring the quickest
response. Many publishing companies now have timesaving forms
that can be completed on their websites. Other companies will
only take requests by mail, which is frustrating when working
with a tight deadline.
track of the grantors' responses is critical to staying on schedule
because they may require further information from the manuscript
or additional clarification from the author, further slowing
the process. Occasionally they may ask to see the surrounding
manuscript to determine whether or not they will grant permission
for their material to appear in such a context.
a publication will grant reprint permission contingent upon
approval of the author of the piece, but will be unable to provide
any contact information for the author. It was once a time consuming
process to find contact information for the author of an article
on "the use of gallium-arsenide and Josephson junctions
in semiconductor circuits" in an obscure computing machinery
journal that few people have ever heard of.
the process is relatively painless because of the Internet.
Academic authors can often be found on Google or other search
engines, where it is possible to find a citation or some other
item mentioning their affiliation with a particular university.
It is usually simple to find them on the university's website.
With a quick e-mail, I normally have their response in a day
or so. I have found that most academic authors are willing to
grant permission as a professional courtesy to other academics.
there are situations where an author is deceased, and where
the author's estate or some long lost relative holds the copyright.
If you like puzzles, this is where things can get interesting
because it sometimes takes a bit of detective work to track
down the owner of the copyright.
usually phone or send follow-up e-mails on anything for which
I haven't received a response in a couple of weeks, just to
be sure my contact information is correct. Letters and faxes
sometimes go astray, and it's best to stay on top of everything
to be sure the correct person has received the letter and is
working on the request.
one publisher buys another, the rights to their works are usually
purchased, and the grantor may write to say they no longer hold
the copyright to the material in question. Due to the consolidation
of many large media and publishing companies in recent years
this happens all too frequently. When it does, the process begins
again. On a recent project I went to four different publishers
before finding the copyright holder for a book.
the event permission is denied, the in-house editor must be
notified immediately so that replacement material can be found,
or if it is late in the schedule, the item can be pulled and
the text may be rewritten. If the permission research was begun
late in the publishing process the book may be nearing the point
where it is shipped the printer. Print schedules for textbooks
are prepared months in advance and these are critical deadlines
for college publishers when books must appear in university
bookstores in time for a new semester.
list of credits, or acknowledgments, usually appears in the
back of the book, although in books with only a handful of permissions
the credits may be listed on the copyright page. Some credit
lines must appear on the page adjacent to the reprinted material.
Cartoons and some tables and figures are good examples.
payment of permission fees is usually the author's responsibility,
although many large educational publishers will pay the fees
up front and deduct them from the author's royalties. Occasionally
they will agree to split the fees with the author, and in rare
cases, perhaps for a particularly prestigious author, they will
pay for them outright.
It's always a nice feeling when the last response arrives. The
log can now be completed with information that will help the
person working on the next edition's permissions. A credit manuscript
is prepared and sent to the in-house editor, and this will become
the acknowledgment list.
the last request is granted, the log is closed out, and the
credit manuscript is finished, the puzzle is complete.
information on intellectual property issues, copyright, and fair
use, Stanford University (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/internet/)
and the University of Texas (http://www.utsystem.edu/OGC/IntellectualProperty/offsite.htm)
have links to many helpful websites. Another good source of information,
the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/copyright/)
has a free electronic mailing list called NewsNet, offering information
on copyright issues.
:: Finding a literary agent.
Attending a writing conference.