Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do You Have a Permission Slip?

A writer spends hours, weeks, and sometimes years bending over the keyboard or typewriter, suffering over sentences, scenes, and characters, creating his or masterpiece. One day, this writer reaches the end of the story. The draft is complete, the hard work is done.

Not so fast.
If you intend to get this tome published, the work has only begun, you foolish, silly writer.  There are steps they don't tell you in writer school.

First, this mass of pages is not a book. It's a draft, and if it's the first draft, likely a grainy one. But here is your chance to revisit your characters and sharpen the focus. Here you will delete scenes, correct typos, supplant repeated use verbs and phrases, and make it readable.

Next you will need to find a trusted reader or readers who will truthfully tell you what works, what doesn't, and why. Find at least one reader who writes well and is willing to be brutally honest.

You will revise and edit. If you are a typo queen, as am I, you will be smart to hire an editor before you submit or pitch this novel. This is money well spent, because this editor can also offer critical advice.

You are now ready to sell it.
You've go through the revision and the dreaded submission process. You form a band called Query Street and the Screaming Synopsis… no wait, you don’t have time to perform in a rock band.
You get a book contract (yay, ego boost) and are working with an editor who loves your book and has great plans for you. You have a due date for your final mss and a publication date.
Now is not the time to lie on the beach, dreaming of the Yacht you plan to buy with your millions…..Okay, advances aren’t what they used to be unless you’re James Patterson. But still, the hard part is over now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

It is up to the author to secure Permissions. Unlike writing a research paper or master’s thesis where supplying a bibliography will suffice, if you quote from another work, say a song, a poem or a novel, you must have written permission from whoever holds the rights to the work.

This can be tricky, because sometimes the publisher holds the rights, but there are caveats as to how works can be used. Even though the Nobel Laureate died in 1973, he left no heirs, so the Neruda foundation in Barcelona, Spain handles this negotiation.

Permissions aren’t always free. The foundation asked for a thousand dollars to use one poem, and two lines from two of Neruda’s poems. My book is called Breakfast with Neruda, so I need at least some quotes, so we settled on a much smaller amount to use two lines from two separate poems. My original draft opened every chapter with a Neruda quote, which in retrospect would have cost me more than my condo. (Luckily an early reader said, while she loved the poems, she felt opening each chapter like that was heavy handed.)

Permissions can be a wild sheep chase. I quoted another author, and the publisher told me to contact the agency, so I wrote to him, and he told to contact the publisher. I ended up deleting this quote.

I had planned to use an excerpt from a song, but the record company doesn't own the rights, and had no idea who did. Scratch that. I just name the song.

The author of a poem I planned to use in the final chapter died three years ago, and I had no idea where to contact her heirs. I sent a condolence note on the funeral home page, but I’m not sure people check those after the first few months of the loved one’s passing. I didn’t after my brother and father passed.

Working on permissions isn't as soul wrenching as writing a query and opening the flurry of rejections, but it keeps me from writing, so it feels like work.

The benefit of permissions. Obviously getting permission protects you from lawsuits and possible scandal, but it also helped me reconsider some of my decisions. Rejecting some of my content opened me up to look at alternatives.

I’ve gone through revision and editing, and I have approved the cover art, (smaller houses sometimes give authors input on their covers. Big houses don't.) The next step is the dreaded author photo. I stumbled upon a photographer who claims she can make me look twenty years younger...

Writing the novel was the easy part.

Happy Writing.

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