Requesting Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter

Requesting permission

wilhei55 / via Flickr

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.

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.

Sample Permissions Letter


Upcoming Online Classes

Posted in Business for Writers and tagged , , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Join the conversation

55 Comments on "Requesting Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
trackback
Diane Weber

Thank you for explaining this to us. I have been searching, and this is the clearest explanation I have found. I am certainly going to use your sample letter. I’m seeking permission to use a paragraph from a couple of old (1917-1926) newspapers (with credit, of course), and I think I can adapt your letter to my needs. (My middle grade novel is set during World War I.) I hope I get a positive response!

LaTanya Davis

Thank you so much! This is just what I’ve been looking for to get permissions for a memoir that I am self-publushing.

trackback

[…] If you need to request permissions from an author or publisher, here are general guidelines, plus a sample letter you can customize.  […]

Alexis O'Neill

You’ve given us a really fabulous resource, Jane! Thanks for clarifying so much about the permissions process.

trackback

[…] Requesting Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter […]

RJ

Jane, this is fantastic information. Thank you!!

trackback

[…] When you publish there are many details you need to track, especially if you self-publish. Roz Morris answers the question: should you use the free CreateSpace ISBN or your own ISBN? Sometimes you need to get permission to use lyrics, prose, or poetry from other artists in your work. Jane Friedman explains how to request permission and gives a sample letter. […]

kevin6475
Hi Jane, I have been reading some of your past blogs on this subject–including the comments and replies (your patience seems to know no bounds.) I have a writing blog, and with each post I take a still from a famous movie (ranging from “The Bells” to “Star Wars” to “Pulp fiction”) and add a “funny” tag line. The picture is not relevant to the blog but the tag line I create is. The first question I have to I need permission for the blog? Secondly, I eventual hope to take one group of blogs (Quick 5 point guide to… Read more »
kevin6475

Thank you Jane.

James

Hi Jane thank you for your article. I am currently writing a book so this helps a lot. I have a question however.

The source that I am requesting to use quotes from is non-fiction. If i do not get permissions, Is it possible to summarize the information in my own words instead of using direct quotations and then use a citation. This is sort of a loop hole instead of directly quoting the source.

It is based on the implication that direct quotes are more valuable than citing facts.

James

John

Hi Jane,
We are collecting stories about a certain subject, all from people who have had experiences ranging from humorous to frightening with this subject. We plan to publish the brief (300 words or less) stories without any names, i.e., as anonymous experiences.

Since we are not using names, do we need written permission to publish these stories?

Thank you.

mywordlikefire

Thank you for taking the time to help us.

Larry Bailey
Hello Miss Jane, As a middle school English teacher, I am currently working on a project with a 7th-grade student. We are doing a great deal of research in addition to our own “leg work” (interviews, phone calls, etc.). We want to know if we can use quotes from the internet from, say, comments made on a news show by the host. We also want to know if “reviews” or “comments” from writers would also be fair game to use. We have contacted at least one newspaper and one book author and requested use of information, and, after they discovered… Read more »
Kaden Moeller
I have a colossal question, one of utmost importance/personal quest. I am trying (mostly clumsily) to contact/convince an author/creator of a character to utilize his character. What would be the proper way to go about this? I am unsure about requesting use because I don’t really know if I should just offer money up front, or just ask how much? The character hasn’t seen use since 2001 and I do not see the author ever utilizing the character in the near future. How would I go about convincing him? Note, I am not very well off monetarily. Should I send… Read more »
trackback

[…] I’ve written a separate post explaining the process for seeking permissions, with a sample request form. […]

Elizabeth McBride

Thank you for this good information, Jane. I am wondering if you have recommendations about the right time to get someone to review one’s manuscript who is a specialist in a field. Do you do that before submitting your work to an agent or editor, or only after someone has accepted it for publication? Do you have suggestions for how such a presentation should go? Thank you so much!

Ellen

I have a question about my dedication page. I would like to use a quote from either Dr. Seuss or J.K. Rowling and I’m not sure if I need to seek permission. It’s the only quote in my book and only on the dedication page and will be properly credited of course. Does this cover the fair use rule?

Viktoria Taylor-Richardson
Viktoria Taylor-Richardson

Hi Jane,

I am publishing a book which is a combination of research papers completed during graduate school at Liberty University. The research papers where based upon the a specific subject with the books being the primary supporting resource. Quotes from the same authors but different books where used throughout the manuscript. What is the best way to go about obtaining permission from the authors?

aron gersh

Hey Jane, I give myself permission to quote myself:”Thank you for your Awesomely helpful site. I send a grateful and gi-normous Hug”

trackback

[…] Requesting Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter […]

Sara Alfrey

I am currently in the process of writing a book that contains letters that others have written. There will be letters that I have asked of someone to write for the purpose of being in a book. Would I need any type of written permission to be able to publish this work?

teri

I am trying to get permission to use quotes in an art work from a woman who was previously in the public eye (at NASA) and no longer is. I tried to contact her via her company but it is apparently defunct. She also has/had a foundation but the website hasn’t been updated since 2004 leading me to believe this is also defunct. I have no way of knowing how to contact her. I don’t even know if I need permission but I’d rather have it and not need it.

Help!

Michael Kohler

Hi Jane. I noticed that other people had asked about getting permission from people who submit stories for a book they are going to publish (like Chicken Soup For The Soul). Is there a form that you have that I could use? I would be happy to pay for it. Even a script or service where they can sign a PDF digitally would be great. Thanks. Michael

John Fraser
Jane.. Thank you. I’ve read a few of your posts. I’ve enjoyed all of them. Questions / concerns regarding eBooks. ( I hope this isn’t too many questions for one post. ) I know permissions are required to link to a webpage. However, I’m planning on writing a “How To” eBook, to be sold online, for profit. Hypothetical: How to Photography. I write a section on Yousuf Karsh portrait techniques. My information is based on my interpretation ( in my words ) of what I’ve read on his website / various books and my own personal practices. At the end… Read more »
Carianna Morris

Hi Jane,
I am needing to use a quote by Marianne Williamson as part of the script for a commercial promoting education. What time of rights should I request? A one time right, exclusive, non exclusive… so confused. Thanks!

Carianna Morris

*what type of rights

Robin Cantrell

Hello, thanks for your information. I want to use the name of McGraw-Hill’s reading series for elementary schools to identify some original work that I want to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers. I sent a formal request to their rights dept. and they never responded. Many other sellers on TpT sell their own work but identify it by Wonders so others will know what it supplements. How to get them to respond. Thanks.

trackback

[…] “Requesting Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter” […]

Vincent Berg

Wonderful advice. Do you have a similar sample form for unpublished photographers or artists? I often encounter images I’d love to use for a book cover, but don’t know how to reach out, especially if they’ve never sold anything before. My requests seem to unnerve them. I’ve spoken to several authors who routinely ask artists on deviantart if they can use theirs, and receive it free of charge for a simple acknowledgment. Clearly I’m doing something wrong with my approach.

Laura Christensen
Dear Jane, This is a question about whether when to ask permission. Here’s a bit about my project: I am a visual artist building a book project with several authors. The book will be like an anthology of short writings, each paired with an image of my art. Several authors are writing new stories and poems in response to my art. I also want to include new artworks that I make in response to already published texts. I plan to approach possible publishers in February and March, but I want to complete at least one new artwork in response to… Read more »
wpDiscuz