How to get the right to use lyrics in books

lyrics blogI imagine every writer has considered the use of song lyrics in their fiction. Music is so much a part of our lives. It can capture the mood, set the time period, connect the reader to a kind of collective memory.

I’ve always been told it couldn’t be done. Every author blog (like this one) and writer’s group I’ve ever known says it’s a headache best avoided. And maybe they’re right when it comes to most musicians, but I got permission from Ani Difranco. Here’s how:

  1. I found the email address of her management on her website.
  2. I ignored internet advice and skipped the legalese, writing a fan gushy request I didn’t honestly expect to hear back from.
  3. I got a reply from her management asking for more specifics.
  4. I replied with the legalese I should have included in my first email, along with more about my publishing history and the book itself.
  5. I got a yes.

So, here’s the info you should probably include up front:

Book title:
Author(s):
Publisher:
Expected release date:
Expected print quantity:
Print formats:
Territory of release:
Term of rights request:

Most of the answers are self-explanatory. For those that aren’t, I used google. I am not a lawyer and I can only tell you that I asked for “nonexclusive rights with no time limit unless or until the copyright owner revokes the permission.” For the expected print quantity, I found differing advice. Some said a low estimate was more likely to succeed while one site said to go with a number beyond your wildest dreams. I went with 10,000. If I sell more than that, I’d be thrilled to renegotiate terms. As it is, they requested a complimentary copy and I’m beside myself thinking Ani might read my book!

I’m planning to release the book, Blood & Water, in November. You can read more about that here.

Has anyone else gone through this process? Please share stories in the comments.

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