Can I Use Song Lyrics in My Book?

Song lyrics!

It’s oh-so-tempting to use them in your novel, isn’t it? Or your memoir. Songs can be so evocative… they can express that exact right feeling in the exact right way.

But hold up. Sometimes it’s not the best idea.

If you’re going to include lyrics – or excerpts from poetry – you’ll need to get permission from the publisher of the song or poem. Even if you’re only using a few words.

Getting permission means you’ll also need to pay the fees. These vary widely but can be hundreds of dollars. Not too bad if you’re only including a single lyric in your book. But if you’re hoping to include many? For example, you want lyrics at the beginning of every chapter? Well there goes your entire advance.

Make your decision about lyrics or poetry carefully. If you don’t have a publisher yet, do your research ahead of time and find out what the cost will be if you decide to include it. Once you have a publisher, you’ll be expected to show all your relevant permissions at the time that you deliver your manuscript.

Plenty of writers have a vision of their book that includes songs scattered throughout, only to have that vision fade once they learn the reality. It’s okay – in fact, it’s probably better. Songs are so personal and affect each of us so differently. It’s unlikely they’d have the impact on your reader you think they will.

Bottom line, you can include song lyrics and poetry, but you must obtain permission and pay to use them.

Have you included lyrics in your book?

 

If you should decide to invest in some personalized counsel, I offer coaching for unpublished authors here: My Coaching Services

I also offer online courses here: Author School

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

2 Comments

  1. Vanessa on February 27, 2021 at 7:42 AM

    Like Hip Hop sampling, this is a thing…just like adding “soundtracks” to accompany books. People are mixing media. Get the clearances. Have fun and create!



  2. Abbe Hoggan on February 25, 2021 at 9:37 PM

    Do titles (song or album) require the same kinds of permissions?