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Getting Permission to Use a Quote from a Book or a Song - Not So Easy!

Yesterday I spent a lot of time figuring out how to ask for permission to use a few quotes I have in my book. I've always been into quotes. I write them down when I happen on them. You can see a few of my favorite ones on my Facebook page profile.

So, I thought nothing of it when I inserted a few in my memoir manuscript - actually one is the first line of one of the poems that will be in the book. Then I asked Janice, my Lucky Press publisher, whether or not I needed to get permission to use them. And, the answer was resounding yes.

So, I began down the path of finding out about the permission request process. First Janice suggested I go back to the two books containing two of the quotes and find the page numbers they are on. And, since I didn't have the books anymore, I decided to go to my local library. I actually thought I'd pick the book off the shelf, thumb through it, and voila, there would be the quote. It would just jump out at me.

Not so simple. The library didn't have a copy of one of the books on its shelves. So I had to order it. And, it took a full week to arrive.

Once I had both books in hand I had to methodically go through them page by page looking for the quotes. That also wasn't simple. I felt like I was rereading each of the books again. Sure I was just scanning, but that scanning too lots and lots of time.

So, there's a huge lesson. If you want to quote from a book, write down the page number the quote is on, and of course write down the title, author, publisher, print year, and ISBN number of the book from which the quote came. Needless to say I had done none of that when I originally decided that the quotes would make nice additions to my book.

Once I had all the pertinent information I went on line and looked up the publishers. In my case I looked up Random House and HarperCollins. It turned out one of the books was published by Anchor Books, a division of Knopf which is a division of Random House. Confusing, right?

And, each publisher has a list of requirements. They of course wanted to know about the book I was quoting from and even requested a photocopy of the page my required quote was on. Then they wanted particular details about the book in which the quote would appear like: title, author, publisher, publish date, format, and territory of distribution, price, and print run for each format. And, since my book isn't in its final form yet, Janice had to do a little estimating to come up with all the details. Again not so easy.

Anyway, after working most of a day I sent off letters, Random House's  permission form, and photocopies of book pages to each publisher.

But, I wasn't done. I had also decided to use a quote from a popular song. And finding out how to get permission for that was a whole education in itself. Janice suggested I call ASCAP or BMI, organizations that represent the music industry. Well, after calling ASCAP I found out my required song was represented by BMI. I then called BMI and was promptly told doesn't give out permissions. I needed to go directly to the song's publisher. So, I again went online and typed in the name of the song and added the word publisher, and voila it came up. The publisher's website had a query form so I thought how easy is this and went ahead and typed in my request and the actual text of the quote I wanted to reproduce. Again, not so easy. I received word very quickly that the publishing company didn't handle such requests. I had to go to their permission handling corporation. Luckily I could query them via email, and once I did that I received word I would have an answer in about three weeks.

Not so for the book publishers. They would not do business by email - only snail mail or fax. And I can't expect a response from them for at least six weeks.

But, with that done, I can go on to the rest of my writing work. And, when that's done, perhaps I'll develop a course in how to ask permission to use a quote - if anyone is so inclined even after reading here how difficult and frustrating the permission process is. Maybe they make it so hard to discourage rampant quoters like me.

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It seems so odd...

I would think publishers would be pleased by seeing a quote from their books in print--that it would be seen as a bit of free publicity.  But for some reason, I do not understand, this is not the way it is.  Good luck on your mission for permission.

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I agree

Thanks for your comment, Sue. I agree. One would think they'd like the publicity. But like most everything else, it probably has to do with money.

By the way, I got all the permissions I needed to go to press, so it's all good.

Best, Madeline