by Lesley-Anne Longo
Published at 2021-03-02
So, you’ve determined you do need to request permission for something you’re using in your book. It might be a poem, it could be an excerpt of text, or it could be a single quote. But what exactly are your next steps? How do you know who to apply to, or where to find their contact information? What exactly are you supposed to say?
Here are the basic steps you can take to seek permission for the work you want to reprint.
The process of identifying and finding copyright holders can be…tricky. You might think you’ve tracked a holder down, but then when you contact them, they direct you to another publisher, then that publisher directs you back to your original contact (yes, this has happened to me).
The best place to start is simply to evaluate the piece of content you’re borrowing from. Visit the author’s website, and see if they have any information there. Do they have an agent? Do they have a publisher?
Check the copyright page of the book as well, as it will likely give you more direction as to what your next steps might be. For example, if your book’s copyright page lists the publisher as Penguin Random House, you know you’ll likely need to contact them for permission, as it is usually (but not always) the publisher that controls the copyright of the work. If you google “Penguin Random House permissions,” you’ll likely see some pages come up detailing their permissions guidelines, location-specific sites (for example, sites for those seeking permission in North America or the UK), and, in the case of PRH, their permissions portal, where you’ll need to make an account and submit a formal request using the portal.
Other publishers, such as smaller houses or independents, might use a different method, or provide an email address to send your request to. If this is the case, they should let you know on their permissions website page what information you should include with your request (also, see next section!). The very best method is to try to track down the name of an actual person to submit your request to. You can try looking at “our team” pages on websites, or even using sitemaps to see if there’s a page that lists this information.
If you contact the publisher and they do not hold the copyright (perhaps the author does, or another publisher), they should give you some direction as to where to turn next, usually in the form of an email address for the person you need to get in touch with. If they don’t, just ask! Thank them for getting back to you, and ask them if they could provide contact info for the permissions editor at the other publisher, the author’s agent, etc.
If you’re sending out more than one request (as in, you’re looking to clear multiple items), it’s a good idea to create a template for what you want to send to each publisher. Whether it’s in an email or letter format, a good template can serve you well either way. If you’re a multiple-book author, you might find that having a template to refer back to for future requests can be helpful as well.
In the letter/email, you’ll want to state that you’re requesting permission to reprint a specific excerpt, and it’s a good idea to include the text you want to use, as well as the page numbers where that content can be found in the book. Also include the ISBN number and publishing year of the book (the ISBN can be found on the back cover of the book, or on the copyright page), as well as the edition, if necessary (which can also be found on the copyright page).
I am requesting permission to reprint 33 words from the following work:
Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Title: Cat’s Cradle
Year of publication: 1963
The text I would like to use is as follows:
The major point at which his reason and his sense of humor left him was when he approached the question of what people were really supposed to do with their time on Earth. (page 82)
You’ll also need to identify the major details of your project, as the copyright holder will want to know how you’ll be using the excerpted text. You should clearly identify:
The title of your book
How many pages it is
Whether it’s a print book and/or ebook (so they know if you need print/digital rights)
The price you’ll be selling it for
How many copies of the book you are printing so they know how many times the material will be reprinted — if you are printing 1,000 books, tell them that; if you’re creating an ebook, you can use the same figure
What kind of rights you want: Canada only? Canada and US? Worldwide?
* If you plan on selling your book via a website, you’ll need to request world rights
List these details clearly, similar to how the example text is formulated above (bullet point is fine). It’s also a good idea to include a blurb at the end of your letter asking that if the contact does not control the rights, that they provide you with the contact information for the person or entity who does, if possible. If you’re sending a letter (less common these days), make sure you include text that asks the holder to sign, indicating they agree to your request, and a spot for their signature and date.
If you agree with the terms described above, please sign, date, and return the letter to me as confirmation that you, the rights holder, are granting permission for the usage. Please also specify any fees, credit line, or other conditions you require.
If you do not currently hold the rights, any information that can help me contact the rights holder would be very much appreciated.
[space for signature and date]
If you’re sending an email, just remove the space for signature and any mentions of “signing.”
Lastly, when you’re sending out the email(s), MAKE SURE you have the right name and information attached to each email to each contact. When you’re using a template for multiple clearances, it can be easy to just copy, paste, and send, but it’s also easy to forget to change the name of the person you’re addressing. Go slowly, and be deliberate.
Now that you have the basics, you’re ready to start reaching out to request permission to use the content you’re hoping to include in your manuscript! It can be intimidating to get started, but remember, all you’re doing is starting a conversation by asking a simple question — it doesn’t have to be that scary! If you get the contact wrong, and they don’t hold the rights, that’s okay — just try again. Good luck!
Looking for more information on working with copyright and permissions? Check out the Permissions section of our blog!