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Writing Tips: Lit Permit

literary permission ::

Want 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.
Dip your pen into our Writing Tips

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.

So why, 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! The horror!"

Instead 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 guidelines.

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.

After reading 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.


Getting Permission for your favorite quote.
By Linda Blundell
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.

Many 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.

When 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 to acquire.

The 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.

When researching permissions for a first edition, the initial task is to determine what material needs permission.

The 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.

Sometimes 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.

Some 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 scratch.

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.

Keeping 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.

Frequently 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.

Today, 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.

Occasionally 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.

I 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.

When 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.

In 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Once the last request is granted, the log is closed out, and the credit manuscript is finished, the puzzle is complete.


For 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.





More Writing Tips

:: Finding a literary agent.
:: Promoting your book.
:: Attending a writing conference.
:: Fundamental Writing Tips.


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