If you’re an author in the unenviable position of requesting permissions for your book, then one of the first things you’ll probably need is a standard permissions letter request form.
Just about every traditional publisher provides their authors with such a form (be sure to ask if you haven’t received one!), but if you’re a self-publishing author, or you’re working with a new or inexperienced house, you may be on your own.
To help you get started, I’ve created a sample permissions letter you can customize; it will be especially helpful if you’re contacting authors or individuals for permission. It will be less necessary if you’re contacting publishers, who often have their own form that you need to sign or complete.
But let’s back up for a moment.
Who do you request permission from?
In short, the rights holder. That’s usually the author, the publisher, or the author’s estate. If the book is actively being distributed and sold by the publisher (if the book is “in print”), then you generally go the publisher. If the book is out of print, then you generally go to the author. But sometimes it’s best to go to whomever seems the most accessible and responsive.
Unfortunately, it’s not always clear who the rights holder is, or if the work is even under copyright. Here’s a good resource, plus general guidelines and methods for researching the rights holder.
Requesting permissions from U.S. publishers
You should go to the publisher’s website and look for the Rights department. Here are links to the New York publishers’ rights departments, with instructions on how to request permission.
- Harpercollins permissions information
- Random House permissions portal
- Penguin permissions
- Macmillan permissions
- Simon & Schuster permissions
- Hachette permissions
Do you really need to request permission?
If your use falls under fair use guidelines, then you shouldn’t request permission. I cover this at length here.
Will you be charged? How much?
It’s hard to say, but when I worked at a mid-size publisher, we advised authors to be prepared to pay $1,000–$3,000 for all necessary permissions fees if they were quoting regularly and at length. (Publishers don’t cover permissions fees, except in special cases.) You can avoid paying permissions fees by staying within fair use guidelines.
What if you don’t get a response—or the conditions are unreasonable?
That’s unfortunate. Here’s what you can do.
If you want to hire help or consult with someone
I recommend my colleague Kelly Figueroa-Ray, who has experience in permissions and proper use of citations.