(Originally posted at SCHUYLER'S MONSTER.)
Okay, so let's say you're working on your book, and there's a favorite song of yours, or a novel by your favorite writer, or some other bit of work that you find both inspirational and relevant in the context of what you're writing. You say to yourself, "Gosh, Self, I think that would make a swell addition to my book!"
I'd like to suggest that you resist the urge. Unless you find you really need those quotes, you might be opening yourself up to a world of frustration.
When I wrote SCHUYLER'S MONSTER, I included a number of quotes, mostly from songs that I liked and have sung to Schuyler over the years. In a few cases, the songs themselves played a part in the story. Including them made sense to me.
Move forward a few months, to about ten minutes ago. I just finished going over my manuscript and removing every single one of those quotes.
I did it for two reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that it is quite simply a gigantic pain in the ass to get permission to use quoted material. I sent out four permission requests (using a form written in Martian Legalese provided by St. Martin's Press), three in order to secure permission to use song lyrics and one for a line of poetry. Of the four, two were ignored outright, at least so far. One artist's manager corresponded with me via email and, after I made a change requested by her legal department AFTER bouncing it off of St. Martin's legal department, agreed to give me the permission but then never actually returned the form.
And then there was the poetry quote. Fifteen words, not even a complete sentence. I sent the form, along with a letter and a business card, to the person in charge of permissions at the big house that published the poet. (I won't say which publisher, except that every time I see their name, I think of The Office.) A few weeks later, he returned it all, even my business card. (In the words of one of my fictional idols, High Fidelity's Rob Gordon, "That is some cold shit.") The reason? He needed more information, things like the publication date, number of pages, territory, print run, and price. At the time, my book was ten months away from publication; I didn't have answers to most of those questions.
My editor was kind enough to provide the answers for me (which was actually pretty cool to find out; you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss $24.95 goodbye), so I resubmitted the form. (No business card this time, though. Get your own, buddy.) Today I finally got permission. Except of course, they listed my publisher as "Self-published", so I have no idea if it's even valid.
I give up. Keep your fifteen words. It's like trying to negotiate with the Gollum. "My precious!"
I said there were two reasons for losing the quotes. The general pain-in-the-assedness is a good one, to be sure, but perhaps a better one is simply this. If I have faith in my writing (and if a house like St. Martin's is willing to believe and invest in my work then I'd better believe in it, too), then I need to re-evaluate why exactly I feel it necessary to use other people's words to back up my own. I see the value of a quote for color, but when I really looked at the number of quotations I was using (one or two at the beginning, one for each of the three parts, and some material within the text as well), I realized that it was too much. At that point, I'm relying on someone else's words to express what I should be saying myself.
It feels like a rookie mistake, and I'm glad I got it out of my system this early in the process.
I should be getting my first edits back soon. I can't imagine I won't have something to say then. Things are about to start happening in a hurry. I look forward to it with enthusiasm and perhaps just a sprinkling of nausea. You know, the good kind of nausea.