I’m almost done with the maps (only fifteen left to draw), and I’m bracing myself to face the permissions nightmare. The Norton guidelines for clearing permissions say that every direct quote from an outside source must be cleared if it exceeds “fair use” guidelines, which are:

300 words or less of prose
Any amount under 300 words of prose if it equals more than 10% of the source work
2 lines or less of a long poem

of any work which is still under copyright. Works published before 1923 are in the public domain; so are works published between 1923-1963, if the copyright was not renewed (if the copyright WAS renewed, the term of copyright lasts 95 years from the date of first publication). For works published 1964-1967, the copyright lasts 95 years from date of first publication. Then there are lots of small exceptions. (“If a work was created but not published before 1978, the term of copyright is at least until December 31, 2002…” and so forth). Government documents are always public domain (not that I’ve had the opportunity to quote many of those). Photographs, illustrations, and drawings never fall under fair use guidelines.


I really hate this part of the process. For one thing, a book this size has got so many quotes in it–and even those works which are ancient in origin I’m quoting in translation, so I have to get permission from the translator (and I can only quote Dryden’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives so often before I have to revert to a more modern version). My wonderful assistant Nancy (who has made my life orderly) went through the MS for me and made a chart of quotations which is 29 pages long. Here’s the first page:

Now I’m going through the chart and totalling up words for each source and locating the publisher. Then Nancy will help me write each publisher (or fill out their online permission form) asking for the right to quote from the work in question. Here’s a typical set of requirements for asking permissions, this one from HarperCollins (see http://www.harpercollins.com/templates.asp?page=permissions, if you’re interested in the full document):


Requests to use material from HarperCollins Publishers General Books [adult trade U.S. publications] should include the following information:

Title and author of OUR BOOK AND title and author of YOUR BOOK.
Imprint of our book
Your publisher’s name. You must have a publisher in order for your request to be considered.
Format [hardcover, softcover, etc.] Territory of distribution for your book [U.S., North America, world, etc.] Print run [total number of copies to be printed] Publication date of your book
Price of your book
Your complete postal address and e-mail address
Note: Incomplete requests cannot be considered. Include all information.
Requests may be made by writing to:

Permissions Department, 6th floor
HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53 Street
New York, NY 10022
We cannot accept requests by telephone, fax, or to personal e-mail boxes. Please allow enough time for your request to be handled. It may take four to six weeks or more for a response, which will be sent by mail. Do not submit duplicate requests.


I realize this is probably the most boring blog post I’ve ever made, but there you have it; it’s a boring process, one of those tasks that takes hours but doesn’t FEEL as though you’ve accomplished anything. And the reward, of course, is that you get a lot of letters back saying, “Certainly you can quote from our book, as long as you shell out $300.” Multiply that by 29 pages of permissions, and you’re talking about a fair amount of money. Fortunately Norton pays the up-front costs and then deducts it from the royalty statements later on, so I don’t have to come up with the cash–but it hurts plenty when that first royalty statement arrives.

Okay, so much for that. I promise that my NEXT post will deal with more thrilling matters.

Not that there’s a huge amount of thrill connected with this particular stage of book-production…

Oh, and it’s February, and I want to go somewhere warm. Or have something exciting happen. Or at least eat cookies unendingly with no thought of the consequences.

Showing 7 comments
  • Denise

    Yikes that does sound like a nightmare. I feel for you!

  • Staci in MO

    My dh and I watched one of our favorite movies, Finding Forrester, last night. Your post reminded me of one of Sean Connery’s lines about writing:

    “You know what the best part is? When you finish your first draft, and you sit down to read it, all by yourself.”

    He then goes on to give a rather colorful and unflattering (albeit accurate) description of literary critics.

    Connery’s character wrote fiction, but I’m sure if he had written a book on ancient history, the line would have included: “before you have to sit down and write an endless number of permission letters.”

    Sending virtual chocolate your way.

  • Kolbi

    Quick Reminder:

    Large Guest Bedroom(s) for Travel Stay Purposes Here in Orlando, For Free and With Food Included!! Bring the Kids!!! Visits to a Multitude of Orlando Theme Parks Optional!!! Photos of Rooms Will Be Provided Upon Request! 🙂 Legos and Playmobil Scattered Throughout Home So As to Please C, B and D. Cuddly Pets for E! Host Grills Mean Steaks and Chicken and Hostess Makes Mean Homemade Sushi!

    And it’s warm down here!

    And Sea World is totally having a special!

    And you wouldn’t even have to attend a homeschooling convention!!

    What’s not to like?

  • Gina

    In my life before homeschooling, I worked as an intellectual property paralegal. I thought it was fascinating but apparently you don’t share my sentiments. LOL

    I’m so with ya on going someplace warm. We have vacation plans in TX but not until April. Remembering your Mom said she always took a week off school in Feb, we’re doing the same this week. It was either that or copious amounts of chocolate…for me not the kids. Since I work for a weight loss organization I have to think of the consequences. Blah.

  • Bill Ellis

    The future of learning was spelled out by Ivan Illich in “Deschooling Society.” To deschool society you must first deshool schools. Deschooling society is not happening with the creation of cooperative community life-long self-learning centers.
    I would love to see your excellent writing talents developing learning opportunities for self-learners.
    Bill Ellis

  • Pat H

    I thought that getting county permits for remodeling was the most evil process ever invented by man. But now I know I was wrong. There are worse things.

    I am afraid that this can not be cured however, the side effects can be lessened through the consumption of a klondike Ice Cream Bar, some dark chocolate pudding, and a carmel latte. This is going to be my medicine during our permit process and I fully intend on blaming the building inspector for any growth my hips may experience!

    Blessings to you and your family!
    Pat H

  • Susan in TX

    Godiva Dark Belgian Chocolate ice cream cures almost anything. 🙂

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