When to Get Permissions

Dear Miss Snark,

First of all, thank you for your great blog. I've learned a lot from reading the posts. I'm in the process of writing my proposal. I will need to get three permissions; two from music publishing companies and one from the publisher of a book that's quoted. I thought that I might wait until I had an offer from a publisher before securing permissions. I don't want to pay for permissions unless I get an offer for my book. What are your thoughts?

I would also like to have simple line illustrations in my book. Should I go look for an illustrator or just let the publisher choose one? Also, what are the customary financial arrangements with illustrators? Please let me know.

No one is going to sign off on permissions until you have a publisher lined up, unless it's just a normal everyday person you're asking. They'll want to know all sorts of details that only your publication contract and editor can provide. You're going to foot the bill most likely, not your publisher. There's a standard clause in contracts about side material that says bascially "you get it, you pay for it".

Unless the illustrations are graphs, or photos, you don't want to even start on this till your editor talks to you. If they want illustrations, they'll make those arrangements. And they'll pay. Lots of publishers aren't too keen on illustrations in trade books cause it raises production costs.


the green ray said...

I've been wondering about permissions too. Do all song lyrics need permissions? There's this excellent novel, which got a rave review in the NY Times a few years ago, APPRENTICE TO THE FLOWER POET Z. She quotes Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" and there is no permission listed for this. How did she get away with that? I've got a bunch of song lyrics in my first novel, so I was wondering. Thanks, Miss Snark.

jta said...

Have your permissions basically arranged even before acceptance. The actual transactions can wait, but it's your responsibility to know that everything in the ms. is a go, and won't be prohibitively expensive. Permissions editors (only one of the desks your ms. will cross in the pub process) range from lackadaisical to full-clench anal retentive--for a very obvious reason: YOU are responsible, in the vast majority of contracts, for any infringement judgements against the book. These can be trivial or disastrous, ruinous, catastrophic. The safest course is to obtain permissions for all material you use that belongs to others, even that which you think is clearly "fair use." To do less is to leave your sweet cheeks blowing in the wind.

Barbjn said...

Not sure what kind of book you are writing, but if it is illustrated throughout (like a middle grade novel), the publisher will want to pick the illustrator. The illustrator may work for a flat fee OR get a percentage--usually between 2-3 %, even for B/W.

Termagant 2 said...

Better still, cheat.

You can allude to a song without quoting its lyrics. For example, you can use the term "blowing in the wind" because a phrase like that can't be copyrighted. If you quote directly from its lyrics, though, you'll need permission.

And then there's always the vast body of work that's in public domain. Try to use lyrics from those, if lyric use is a must for your work. Or make up your own tune (g).

'Course, the way my river's been flowing, someone will come & sue me for my own lyrics, feeling that I stole them...


Mark said...

I got permissions for an article as long as I didn't reproduce it in its entirety. They gave it. I do wonder about a song title and passage for interior thought? The fair use for these is much smaller.

Min said...

Termagant 2 said... And then there's always the vast body of work that's in public domain. Try to use lyrics from those

I'm curious, where does one go about finding out which lyrics are in this public domain of which you speak? Any suggestions? :-)

Bernita said...

Thought of using lines from a song for epigramical chapter headings, but soon gave it up because of the problems above cited.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, you should try to avoid song lyrics if at all possible. You do need to get permission for them, and it's usually at a very high cost, higher than if you were just quoting text or something. And, as I think Miss Snark pointed out, you are expected to pay for these permission out of your own pocket.

bookfraud said...

my agent brought up the measure of permissions, first thing. but i did not know that the author is largely responsible for payment for song lyrics. and just how much money is involved, even though i am as close to publishing the novel as i am to releasing a cd of my performance of rachmoninov's third piano concerto?

Anonymous said...

I am working on a non-fiction book in which I use about 10 quotations from a popular book by Stephen King. The book isn't finished, but in the meantime I want to use a small part of the book as a "stand alone" article for magazines (trying to establish a platform, don't you know?) In the article, I have one quote from the King book. Is it advisable to contact his lawyer about the one quote in the meantime? I don't want to seem to be tapping on his shoulder every couple months for this quote or that, but I want to get started on submitting this article legally. What's the smartest, most polite way to do this?

kathie said...

the green ray,
don't forget to email Miss Snark with this question, I don't know if she wades through the comments for questions anymore...There is a certain number of words that are considered fair use. And there's an issue of commentary vs using someone's words as though you've written them...you can google copyright and find the distinction.

December Quinn said...

Florence King wrote a very funny piece about permissions once-I think it was in Lump It ot Leave It. It took months for her to get a "no" from Nabakov's widow, and she had so much trouble getting Gay 90's song lyrics she ended up writing her own-and still had trouble about those from the Library of Congress, if I remember correctly.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I was at a talk given by a literary lawyer and she said that one of her clients was attempting to use a line from a chrisstmas song, and the owners wanted to charge much more than the total amount of her decently-sized advance for her to use the line. She decided to have her characters singing a Christmas tune that was out of copyright.

The lawyer suggested we forget about using songs in our written work. The music industry is pretty difficult on this issue.

Cath Smith said...

There's some useful information about public domain material on:




(sorry, I can't get the hyperlinks to work).

Anonymous said...

Publishers will not pay, and they're not responsible for getting the permissions for you!

So many authors & agents have tried to get me (editor) to pay for & arrange permissions (and author photos, but that's a different story) by conveniently forgetting that it's right there in the contract: author will obtain permission for any copyrighted material, yadda yadda. Occasionally when I was an assistant arranging permissions was foisted upon me, but after a couple years I trained my boss to make the author do it.

Do not mess with ASCAP. Cut song lyrics whenever possible.

And, more importantly: have a really, really good reason for using someone else's work in your book. OK, Bruce Springsteen may have said exactly what you meant in "Born to Run," but this isn't his book. Figure out how to say it yourself.