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Copyright Caboodle: Dangerous Quotables

Quotations, epigrams, and aphorisms are everywhere, and with good cause. Brevity being the soul of wit, a snappy quote can serve to set the tone of an article, chapter, or entire work–the first few lines of Yeats’ The Second Coming in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a perfect example. However, the ubiquitous nature of quotes also means that they are often overused, and either used cavalierly, without regard for the context in which they originally appeared, or lazily, when a writer would rather convey a clever quip on a topic than have to do real work writing something compelling on a topic. But discerning usage for tone and thematic reasons isn’t the real focus of this post. It’s about the copyright issues that come up when you use quotes that we are concerned with today!

A lot of people come to us with work that is chock-a-block with quotes, but they haven’t given the slightest thought to whether or not they are free to use what they have put down. Just like images, quotations often require the right permissions in order to be used legally and ethically. The standard public domain rules apply, and old enough quotations are fair game: you can quote things that are in the public domain without attributing permissions. Unfortunately, when you think “public domain” some people think of the internet. Just because something is posted on the internet doesn’t mean that it’s public domain. It’s in the public, yes, but whether it’s a picture or some text, it probably belongs to someone.


Where to Find Reliable Quotes


When it comes to finding the perfect quote, don’t simply resort to quotation websites–most of them are susceptible to inaccuracies and incorrectly attribute quotes to sources that are commonly thought to have said them, but in actuality did not. There are reputable published collections of quotations out there that you can use if you must. Bartlett’s, Oxford, and Yale have the acumen and research put behind their collections that guarantees your quotes will at least be properly sourced.

The most important thing that people overlook is the permission to include recent quotations in their work, that is, to cite a work that is not your own that is not public domain. So how do you obtain that permission?


The Easiest Way to Get Permission to Reprint Something…


…is to ask! Find out who controls the rights to what you want to quote and ask them for permission to reprint a portion of it. Make sure to be extremely specific as to what you want to quote. Having trouble finding out who exactly you need to contact? Sometimes you need to check with a copyright organization in your country. Make an account and let them help you out–that’s what they are there for. In Canada, check out Access Copyright and consult the Copyright Clearance Center in the US. They do the work of contacting the publishers for you, and if you are on the other end, they can ensure that you get the proper accreditation and royalties for your work if it is to be reproduced. Some copyright holders are so hard to find that even these organizations have trouble finding them–luckily, the Copyright Act (at least in Canada) allows Copyright boards to issue you a licence in place of the absentee copyright owner.

Once permission has been obtained, it usually goes on the copyright page, which is one of the first pages in a book.


Song Lyrics


Just like regular quotes, song lyrics also require permission when reprinting. But when licencing lyrics, expect to pay a lot more than a quotation from a book. Most publishers will persuade the author not to include a song lyric if it is copyrighted–especially if it’s a song by a popular artist. The cost of quoting song lyrics in your book can be thousands of dollars. Usually it’s not worth the cost, and more likely than not, song lyrics don’t add to your body of work. Let your writing speak for itself and convey its own feeling. If you’re attached to the idea of a song lyric, try and find a traditional song that is in the public domain. Most folk songs can be freely sung and reprinted by anyone and have lots of emotional weight that could be a welcome addition to your text. Or, if you are feeling especially creative, you could write your own song and quote it: this works best for fantasy stories, like Tolkien did for Lord of the Rings.

Save yourself the trouble before you quote like crazy in your work by doing your homework beforehand. When self-publishing you are going to need to think of issues like these and work on them yourself. When it comes to stuff like this, asking forgiveness instead of asking permission isn’t always the best course of action.

Join us next week when we talk about the most overlooked page of a book: the copyright page!

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How Do I Start Writing a Novel?

You can feel it. Maybe you can see it, like a movie, playing out in your mind, some characters more fleshed out than others, shining brilliantly and clearly as if you were watching them in HD. Sometimes it’s only a few key scenes: the middle, the ending, bits of the beginning. You know that the muse has chosen you to pen this epic tale, but where to begin?

It seems like a lot of effort just to sit down at the keyboard and start typing. What if what I write is bad? What if everything just comes out all wrong, even though it sounds good in my head?

I struggle with this because the answer is so obvious to me. Just write the thing, damnit! But not everyone has the initiative or can see the end of the project. Some people can only see the part of the project where you get frustrated and feel inadequate. Some people have romanticized the idea of writing a novel to the point where they don’t know where to begin. So here are some ways to help build your confidence and clear your mind when embarking on your writing project.


I know you’re inspired, but…


…you better learn this early. If you’re serious about writing, you have to learn to write on command. What I mean is that you can’t always wait for inspiration to strike. If you do that, it will take forever to get started or finish your current project.

Just sit down and write. The writing doesn’t have to be related to anything. Just open up that word processor and write the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes it just takes a few hundred words to get the juices flowing. Writing prompts are a good tool: they usually ask a question that you have to answer in a few paragraphs. Try and do one a day if you’re having trouble getting started.


Tell people what you’re doing…


…but don’t just talk the talk. Encourage your family and friends to support you. You could say to your partner, “Don’t let me watch TV until I’ve written a page.” Like I said in my article about creating a writing schedule, I often don’t like to go to the bathroom in the morning before I’ve written something (this could be dangerous though and is not for everyone, only for those with bladders of steel like me!).

Create benchmarks for your word counts and announce them on Facebook. Knowing that people are cheering for you will motivate you to get more done. It’s also some very early marketing for you if you are self-publishing.

That being said…


Don’t wait for people to “approve” of your writing.


I mean this in two senses. There may be some nay-sayers who snidely ask, “Why are you writing that?” and “Why bother writing when it takes forever to get published?” Just ignore them and listen to your heart. If you’ve got a strong urge to tell your story, it’s going to happen, whether they like it or not.

You may also get the urge to show people your writing after only a few pages, to get feedback. I personally don’t like to show anyone anything until it’s complete. I do occasionally give teasers, or synopses, wordles, or word counts, but first drafts are usually pretty rough, and sometimes aren’t representative of a writer’s true potential.


Don’t start by…


…posting on forums asking: “Hi. I’m thinking about writing a book and I want to know how to get into bookstores.” Or: “Hi, I’m writing a book, and I want to know how to get published.”

Write first. Then publish. It’s good to think about marketability and the publishing process while you’re writing, but don’t think about writing and pitch editors and agents when your book isn’t ready. Not much is worse than hearing from writers who don’t write.

Writing is sort of like riding a bike. You’ve got to practice. The more you do it, the better you get, and the further and longer you can ride. It’s not something you’ll master right away–like Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice for a person to become an expert at any skill. It’s probably safe to say that the first thing you write isn’t going to be the best thing you can produce. But that’s okay. Why? Because things can be re-written.

Join us next Friday in our little writer’s segment as we talk about what makes a believable character!

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Copyright Caboodle: Stock Images in Publishing

Something we’ve noticed since starting Woulds & Shoulds is how little people know about copyright.

We had one person send us a non-fiction manuscript with images, but it was pretty clear that he had typed a few keywords into Google, and took whatever pictures he thought would look good, and slapped them into his manuscript.

Google Images is not a u-pick, where you can just snatch up all the berries you want and stuff them in your sweater pockets. It’s a collection of pictures around the internet, gathered based on your keywords. For each of those images, someone, somewhere has taken the time to make them. Sometimes people allow and encourage others to share and use their work without permission, but in most cases, someone holds copyright.

This article is the first in a series about copyright and the writer. Today, we’ll give an overview of how publishers use stock images.

Buying from Stock Image Websites


For the most part, unless you are a noteworthy author a lot of fiction publishers turn to stock image websites to use for covers.

Stock image websites are pretty easy to find. Istockphoto, Shutterstock, and Getty Images are just some examples of large scale, find-any-sort-of-picture-ever companies.

This is how they work. Say I’m Joe Photographer, and I like taking photos. I sign up on one of the aforementioned sites and submit my work. If my photos get approved, I get a percentage of the money earned each time someone buys my photo.

That’s the other thing, though. When you buy an image, you’re not really buying it. You are buying the right to use it for a specific purpose: an article, a book cover, a poster, or whatever else. You are licencing the photo, in other words. You may also see options to purchase extended licences.

So what does this mean for you, the enthusiastic and noble-minded self-publisher?



Say you’re self-publishing a book, and you’re planning on hiring a printer. You’re a new author, but you’ve got a killer book that you think will sell. You’re looking at an iStockphoto picture, and you think it’s perfect for the cover. Great. The standard licencing agreement covers up to 499,999 impressions—that’s a lot. A bestseller in Canada is only 5,000 copies; small potatoes in comparison. So you purchase the photo with the standard licence.

A few months later, you publish your books. Fortunately you did some pre-marketing, and ta-da, you sell some books. And then some more. And more, and more, until your sales numbers are out of control and you find yourself sleeping on piles of money. A dream come true!

Or can you….

You check again on the website, and turns out, you have to re-licence the image before you can purchase an extended licence.

Funnily enough, for electronic publications–meaning ebooks–you don’t have to buy an extended licence if you use iStock. On the other hand, some stock photo companies such as Shutterstock allow 250,000 end users to own a product with their image on it before buying an enhanced licence.

Of course, the odds of a self-published author selling that many copies is quite low, so under normal conditions you may not need an extended licence.

Model Releases


A small point, but if there is a person in the stock image, the photographer usually has to get a model release form saying that the model gives the photographer the right to use their face in whatever way the photographer sees fit. This release is important to consider as a publisher if this person’s face is to become part of a book cover. If there was no release and a person happens to see their face on a book cover, they may contact you and demand royalties from you.

And Lastly…


Make sure you compare the standard licence to the extended one–always. It’s better for you to take a little time now and compare rather than wait for a lawyer to call you up. At the very least, if a picture isn’t yours, you should make an effort to find out whose it is, and ask for permission to use it. I find most people are willing to share their work as long as they get credit somewhere. Credit in a book for images usually goes on the copyright page.

See iStockphoto’s Licence Comparison Table.

See Shutterstock’s Licence Comparison Table.

Join us next week on Copyright Caboodle as we talk about the wonderful world of abused quotations and their oft-ignored permissions.

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How Much Should You Write a Day?

The first thing I like to do when I wake up in the morning is write. Before breakfast, before speaking, before showering, I strive to write a set amount of words before I join the rest of the world. Sometimes I’m able to write 1,000 words. Sometimes, I only make it to 200. But it’s something, and when I finally realize my stomach is growling and I should probably shower, at least I can say that I have accomplished something more…

10 Story Starters for Writers

Stuck for ideas? Looking for a new, creative way to get those juices flowing? Use these ten phrases as jumping-off points to start your story.

  1. Mike didn’t know it yet, but…
  2. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing, and he was afraid to pick it up.
  3. While Cecelia was racing down the hallway to class, she…
  4. “Only three days left, man. Whatcha gonna do?”
  5. Sometimes, Joe thought about…
  6. The gun hit the hardwood floor with a sickening crack.
  7. Natasha was the best in her field, and she wasn’t going to let _________ get in the way of her success.
  8. “If I win,” Seth began, “will you please leave me alone?”
  9. Blood ran down his arm; he hoped that no one would notice.
  10. She was going to jump.

So? Get cracking!

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