Do You Need Permission?
I work with a number of first-time authors who ask me about whether they need to gather permissions for their work. While I am not a lawyer (the first thing that I remind them), in most cases they do not need to get permission. Now if it is a poem or a song, then it is likely they do need permission because of how those forms are treated in the marketplace. If they are quoting a few sentences from a full-length book and refer to the source, it is unlikely that they need to get permission from the publisher.
Recently I read Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry's new book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It...Successfully! This book is loaded with sound advice on many areas of the publishing process--including permissions. As they write on page 212, "Don't start getting permissions too soon, because you don't want to waste your time or money. However, since it often takes a while to track down a pesky permission--and all permissions should be handed in with your finished manuscript--we suggest the following process:
"1. Break your permissions into three piles. Definites, Maybes, Unlikelies. Track down all sourcing and contact information for the Definites as early as possible. Get prices and any necessary forms. This will help you guesstimate total costs and figure out how much you'll have left over for the Maybes and Unlikelies."
"2. Don't pay for a thing until you're sure what's going in your book. This way, you won't wind up spending money on a Definite that turns out to be an Unlikely."
Then Eckstut and Sterry include a length section about what needs permission. This discussion is tied to the over 30 pages from The Chicago Manual of Style on the topic of fair use (a legal term related to the amount of material you can use from a source without asking permission. Here's the critical sentences on page 213, "It's okay for us to quote 122 words from The Chicago Manual because that's a tiny percentage of its total word count (the book could double as a doorstop). However, if you took 122 words out of a 200-word poem, you must get permission to reprint it--unless, of course, it's in the public domain. And don't forget, composers' and poets' estates are notorious for going after people who abuse copyright law."
Also Eckstut and Sterry include a fascinating story called The Pangs of Permissions: Acquiring permissions requires the patience of Job and the persistence of a pit bull. When she began writing A Thousand years over a Hot Stove, a book with more than 100 photographs and illustrations, Laura Schenone was ill-prepared for the amount of work permissions required. Not to mention the pounding her pocketbook took in the process."
"Laura was presented with an unexpected challenge. Many of the people she was dealing with would sell her rights only for the first printing of her book. 'My editor told me this would be 7,500 copies,' she says. 'When I bought the permissions, I wanted to up this number to 10,000 to 15,000 copies to be sure I was covered. But sometimes the fees as much as doubled.'"
"Laura's story illustrates the importance of understanding permission costs before signing a deal or developing a project. That said, Laura couldn't be happier that she wrote her book permissions and all. A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove went on to win a James Beard Award, the Pulitzer Prize of food writing."
Eckstut and Sterry include a sample permission form in an appendices (page 448). I've only shown one little area this book covers many other topics with great depth and valuable insight. I recommend this book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published--and in the process of writing this entry, hopefully I've shown you a little bit about the permission process.