Wednesday, December 12, 2018

When an Author Should Seek Permission for Quotes

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

One of the backbones of nonfiction writing is research. For some of us that is the most fun part. For others, the additional record keeping and notations are a nuisance and often done poorly or not at all. For all of us, good notes are a necessity to properly get permissions, cite sources, and stay within the confines of the literary law.  

If you are working with a publisher, ask for their style sheet. Most have a certain preference when it comes to style guides. If you don’t have that information or are self-publishing, a good guide to follow is the Chicago Manual of Style. Just be sure to use the most recent addition because some guidelines change.

For many writers there are questions that come up when trying to discover the best way to credit sources and when to seek permissions. 

Someone recently asked, “If I need permission, should I get it while writing my manuscript or after it is accepted?”

The answer to that is good for all writers to know. Regardless if you are writing an article or a book, if you know you are going to need permission, begin the process right away. Obtaining permission can sometimes take weeks or longer so the earlier you can start the better. If you wait until your manuscript is accepted, the wait until actual publication could be prolonged.

Initiate the process by going to the website of the publisher or copyright owner. Many large publishers and other companies have permissions departments and you can find a request form on their websites. If you find that form, use it and follow exact instructions listed on their website. If you don’t find a form, you will have to write a letter. There are sample letters on the internet that will help you get started. 

If you are in doubt as to whether permission is needed, always check. “I didn’t know I needed permission to use this” will never stand up in court.

Sometimes only using a small portion of a large work falls under “fair use” laws. You may not need permission at all. “Fair use” will probably apply more to portions quoted from books because there is such a large amount of material in books. If you want to quote more than a sentence or two from an article, check to see if you will need permission. You can only use a certain percentage of a small work. It is better not to quote from poems since most poems are so short that you would exceed the allotted amount quickly.

When quoting a person, make sure your information is accurate. Always go back to the original source if possible. Even better talk directly to the person for a new, fresh quote. Just remember proper attribution is essential. 

Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine says, “I think it is important when I quote someone, to make sure I use the direct quote and put in quotation marks. Right after the author's name, I then feel it important to cite the place I got the quote along with the website address.”  

If you are unsure exactly how a certain magazine handles quotes, read through several issues, paying special attention to the direct quotes and how attribution is given. 

What about your current work-in-progress? Have you added quotes from several sources to enhance your writing, increase your credibility, and expand your reach? If you have other questions, leave them in the comments.


Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Her passion is helping others discover the joy of communicating with excellence. In the midst of all the busyness, Linda’s favorite activity is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material!

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