A good reference to start your search is LMP (Literary Market Place). Another place to find contact information is from the Internet. More and more websites have a special "Rights and Permissions" section with contact information. Some publishers will require you to submit your request on their form rather than your letter. Please see our sample permissions letter.
It is best to begin your search with the author's publisher. Always be sure to request "world rights" and to check the approval letter to see if world rights have been granted. There are occasions when several sources may have to be contacted to obtain complete "world rights." Contact the Press if you did not get the rights your letter requested.
If requesting material from a magazine, please include the volume number in your request. In general, provide the publisher with as much information as you can as this will expedite your request (particularly now that so many publishers have merged).
Allow 4-6 weeks for a response. If you haven't received a response in 6 weeks, send a follow-up letter or fax.
If you have discussed putting content to accompany your book on the Press's website with your editor, note that you may need to request electronic rights in your permissions letter. Email email@example.com with any questions.
Supporting documentation is a must. Please keep copies of all the source material being requested in addition to your formal request letter and publisher response. It is important the Press receives copies of this documentation for our permission file. Many times we are contacted years later and must be able to substantiate our actions. Furthermore, this material is extremely useful in the case of a reprint (or a new edition) when permissions are again requested.
Permissions for adaptations are often not granted. If you are adapting the original material for your book, you will need to provide the publisher with a copy of the original and a copy of how you've adapted it. The more information publishers are provided, the more time is saved from lengthy correspondence.
Photographs/illustrations that appear within material you are requesting generally require separate permission. Most publishers do not own the rights to this material. However, generally the publisher will provide contact information as to the source of the material.
Works in the public domain do not require a formal permission; however full credit should be given to the source. When in doubt if something is in the public domain, it is better to be safe and request permission. Also, just because something was published in the early 1900s, for example, it doesn't necessarily mean it's in the public domain; some families or estates still own copyright and charge fees. There are so many exceptions; do not assume anything. In addition, foreign countries have different laws altogether. Any material published by a U.S. government office is public domain, however. The Gutenberg website is a good reference to check if something is in the public domain.
The general rule-of-thumb for fair use is about 300-500 words from book-length works. The amount of material used in proportion to the size of the work is what matters. So, 300 words from a magazine article is not considered fair use, and permission would be required. A general guideline for newspaper and magazine articles is that 100 words constitutes fair use. Poems, songs, recipes, letters, figures/tables, or anything readily identifiable from a source requires permission. There is no fair use.
There seems to be a common misconception that anything on the Internet is free to use when that is not the case. Permission must be requested for material from the Internet unless the website specifically states the material is free to use. In this case, a copy of the "free to use statement" must be made for our records. Also, material on a website may also be available in book form or maybe owned by another source, so please check very carefully for a copyright owner and write to that individual/institution before using material in your manuscript.
For further information, a good source is The Chicago Manual of Style.
If you have any questions as you compile material for your book, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.