Don’t Get Sued – How to Get Permission to Quote from Literary Works

~Have You Covered All the Bases?~

Do you know how to legally quote from another writer in your own commercial works? In scholarly works, it is usually acceptable to quote from someone as long as you footnote and include a bibliography. That just doesn’t work in commercial fiction and non-fiction.

When I was writing my first novel, I wanted to include a quote and a few lines from a poem by Giorgios Seferis, a Nobel prize winning Greek poet. I knew that I would need permission to do this.

When I wrote textbooks for a major publisher, I had to search for the referencing information, and then they did the final application and made the payments. But for my romantic suspense my small press publisher tasked me with searching for and obtaining the permissions.

So I set out on a detective hunt…

Finding the Source

To start with, the Seferis quote I wanted to use I found on one of those quote collection websites.

“We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.” ~Giorgios Seferis

All I had were the words and the author’s name. I assumed at the start that it was a line from Seferis’ poetry.  After extensive Google searches on a variety of words and after a reading of his poetry, I discovered that the quote actually came from his acceptance speech before the Novel Prize Committee.

Getting permission to use the quote was easy. I followed the directions on their website, communicated directly with the Nobel Committee Public Relations Officer, and was granted free use.

The poetry excerpt was a bit more difficult. First, I had to find the original publication in English which turned out to be by Princeton University Press. They sent me to the Copyright Clearance Center. I had to fill out extensive forms and pay a fee. In my case I quoted 4 lines of poetry and was charged $70.

Finding Success 

It took several weeks and a number of e-mails to obtain both permissions. But in the end I was granted my permissions. Both organizations required specific wording.

Here is the final wording that appeared in my novel Beneath the Skin.

The quote from Giorgos Seferis’ speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1963 from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969 Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1963 is reprinted by permission of the Nobel Foundation.
The selection from the poem “Mythistorema” by Giorgios Seferis from the volume George Seferis, Collected Poems by George Seferis, 1995, is reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.

A Flow Chart to Get Permissions

Jane Friedman has published a Basic Guide to Getting Permissions that all authors should keep as a reference.  She also explains why you need to get permissions, gives examples of permission request letters and discusses costs. Check it out! I have reproduced her chart below:

Do I need to request permission for publication

Some Suggestions for Writers

If you are thinking of quoting from another writer, here are some things to plan for based on my experience.

  1. Allow sufficient time to get the permissions – it may take several months.
  2. Quotes taken off the Internet may not be in their original form. You may need to do some creative searching to find the original source.
  3. You will need to have access to the original source material as you will be asked to give page numbers when asking permission.
  4. Be prepared to pay a fee. Note: Poetry is the most expensive to quote.


Note: If you would like to learn more about my novel, Beneath the Skin, visit my author website.


Have you considered quoting from another writer in your own work?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.