Sunday, May 29, 2016


After two book deals, I'm blogging about my experience in the traditional publishing world to help prepare you for your 'big break.' Because working with publishers is nothing like you might expect. This week, I want to talk about a surprising expense you might incur on your book deal.

And that is clearing copyright on anything you use in your work. 

If you read your contract carefully, you'll already know clearing copyright is your sole responsibility.

However, if you were (stupidly) celebrating your book deal and didn't read the fine print and/or were too drunk to listen to your agent going over the details, you may not know that any copyright clearance is up to you.

Including all the costs involved.

So a few months before your book hits the shelves, you're going to be up to your ears in doodles from your copy editor, probably high on something (Xanax, tequila, whatever!) trying to get a handle on that, while still dealing with a number of other things.

Like writing the summary for the book jacket (that's your responsibility), getting your author photo done, trying to get 'blurbs' for your book, reviewing other authors, writing catalog copy, and generally drumming up interest in yourself as a writer.

You'll also be trying to put together a proposal for your second book - or "Next Work" as it's called. 

Because both your agent and your editor are going to start bugging you about that long before your first book is off your plate.
Then just when you least expect it, you're going to get an email ...

from your editor's assistant reminding you that they need the paperwork for the clearance on those Beatles lyrics you used.

Or whatever other song lyrics, poems, movie quotes, other books or TV commercials you happened to directly reference in your book. You might think your publisher has a department to handle this kind of legality for you. But no.

It's your responsibility and it can be a really time-consuming process.

You have to hunt down publishers and copyright holders. Request permission to use said quote/lyrics/excerpts. There will be contracts and/or releases forms and, more than likely, some money is going to change hands (yours into theirs).

Depending on the complexity of it, you might even need a copyright lawyer. 

Different countries also have different regulations regarding copyright, so you have to keep that in mind too.

In my first book, I ended up dropping any direct quotes from songs or books to avoid the hassle.

Instead, I used only public domain quotations. Shakespeare, for instance, all clear! However, if you're hooked on using the lyrics from your favorite indie punk tune when you were in high school ...

... start the process of clearing the copyright now.

Even before you get a book deal because those aging punk rockers are going to want their due and it might take a while before you find them and get them to sign a release form. Your publisher won't be able to publish your book if there's anything that hasn't been properly cleared. I say 'get started' ...

... because you probably won't be able to complete the process until after you get a book deal. 

That's because most copyright holders want specifics in terms of audience and usage and you won't know that until you see whose publishing you and when.

But at least you'll have made the initial inquiries and will know who to deal with when the time comes. 

As I mentioned, there were no copyright clearances in my first book. All the quotes I used were in the public domain. In my second book, I did something interesting to avoid copyright infringement.

That book, BY INVITATION ONLY, is set in the Hamptons.

But the Hamptons are about much more than cool shopping, busy parking lots and nice beaches.

There's a long, fascinating history to the place and I wanted to be able to include some of that information in the book. But most of my research was from books that were published relatively recently.

How to work in that info without infringing on anyone's copyright?

So I 'invented' a book called The Guru's Guide to the Hamptons and, using my own words, I wrote about history, politics, art, writers, socialites, events, whatever, and pretended they were 'quotations' from that book. I used these 'quotes' at the top of the some of the chapters, working my research in that way.

Obviously, I did a pretty convincing job of it.

Because one day, a few months before the book came out, my editor's assistant called to say, "Oh, by the way, we're going to need the clearances for all those excerpts from The Guru's Guide to the Hamptons." I was happy to report that no clearances were necessary!

The book didn't exist - and I wrote all the quotes anyway!

It was good for a little laugh, something I desperately needed at that point in the process. ;) So if you've got lots of lyrics and/or quotations in your book, make sure they're either in the public domain or easy to clear.

And if you're at a total loss, remember you can't go wrong quoting Shakespeare. ;)
Clearing copyright a small thing, but it's an important part of the process and you don't want it holding up the publication of your book.

By the way, if you love using classic references, I'd recommend picking up a copy of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. 

The index is organized by subject so you can find quotes relating to just about anything you can imagine. It's been updated recently, so there are quotations that aren't in the public domain, but most are - and therefore, free for any author to use in their work.

Over the years, I've found it inspiring, invaluable - and a lot of fun.

Subscribe to the blog so you're prepared to turn your first book deal into a successful, longterm writing career!

btw still have some editing to do on my first indie novel HUNTER'S MOON! More on that later! Thanks for checking in!

1 comment:

  1. OMG, I love that you made up your own book to use as a reference. That is so, so brilliant! Even the title is brilliant: "The Guru's Guide to the Hamptons." Okay, that does it: I think I'm going to have to use some of my birthday money to buy your books. Cheers and have a great week.