Dun Writin’—Now Whut? – 48 Using Quotes in Your Book and Research Tips (Part 1) (A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing)


Using Quotes in Your Book and Research Tips (Part 1)

As often as I run into authors wanting to use song lyrics in their novels, I also run into authors wanting to use quotes in their non-fiction books. (If you missed the post about using song lyrics in your manuscript, you can find it HERE) It seems that many authors like the way somebody else said something previously and don’t think they can say it any better.

Well, I don’t know about that. But I do know that you cannot simply take someone else’s words—no matter how wonderfully written—and plop them into your for-sale book. That’s plagiarism. And, you cannot simply use a significant amount of material from a book and say where you got it from (aka “citing the reference”) if the material is not in the public domain*. That’s making money off someone else’s writing, and it’s a big no-no.

Simply using a quote and referencing it properly in an academic paper or blog is usually ok because it’s not a commercial venture. Using one (or more!) in a commercial manner—in something you’re going to sell—requires getting permission from the author and/or the publisher. For instance, I am going to use a quote in this article and I didn’t get permission, but I’m not using it to make money. The quote I’m using is very short and you probably wouldn’t need permission to quote it, but it is a good idea to research your quotes to make sure you have it correct (and attributed to the correct person!).

This is a very long, involved blog post, so I’ve split it into two parts. Chris will add the address HERE.

So. You have a quote in your manuscript. Maybe you don’t remember where you got it. What do you do?

Finding information on the Internet can be likened to following a trail of breadcrumbs. Sometimes you have to examine a web page carefully to find the next breadcrumb to follow! Some of the sites you review won’t have any helpful information at all, and some may prove to be a gold mine. Conducting research is a very haphazard task.

Here’s the quote I’m going to use as an example. I got it from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_motivational.html.

If you can dream it, you can do it.” Walt Disney

This is an excellent example to research because although Walt Disney is dead, he hasn’t been deceased long enough to make a quote attributed to him automatically in the public domain.

  • The first step is to find out if this quote is in writing. I Googled** the quote itself and Walt Disney’s name, putting the quote in quotation marks so Google will know I’m searching for the entire phrase. If the quote was spoken, you can still search for the original usage and reference the venue it was spoken at (and get permission).

  • My first Google search brought up 357,000 hits. The top site was the original page I had found it on. But that’s not what I was looking for.

FIRST RESEARCH TIP: Right-click and choosing “Open in a new tab” is your best friend. Having multiple tabs open (with the original search tab still there) is extremely valuable. You can simply close tabs that aren’t pertinent while still allowing ones that might be important to remain open for the time being.

  • I right-clicked several reputable-seeming sites, including a Goodreads site, Wikiquotes***, and something labeled “The Disney Archives.” The Goodreads site did not provide any useful information, so I closed that tab. The Wikiquote told me that this particular wording of the quote was an unsourced variant (e.g., he didn’t really say that). It also told me what the real quote was and where it came from. So I left that tab open for now. The Disney Archive page didn’t add anything valuable, so I closed that tab.

SECOND RESEARCH TIP: Your other best friend is a Notepad, Wordpad, or Word document where you can copy and paste links and valuable information on your way to discovering the information you need. Once you’ve copied and pasted the pertinent information (including the link where you found it!), you can close the tab.

  • In this case, I found out Walt Disney didn’t ever say this. Another person did—Tom Fitzgerald, a Disney Imagineer. For the sake of this article, let’s say that, as an author, I still want to use the correct quote by Tom Fitzgerald (“All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”). The Wikiquote page told me it came from one of two places: originally written in Imagination Unlimited, Ch. 3, p. 63, and then referenced in Disney Trivia from the Vault (2012) by Dave Smith, p. 243.

  • In Googling the original source, I couldn’t find anything. Imagination Unlimited may have been an internal Disney document not available on the Internet. I’m not sure, but since I had a secondary source, I Googled that. I found the book easily on Amazon.com, which gave me the publisher name, “Publisher: Disney Editions (June 26, 2012)”. In that Google search, I also found a WikiDisney page on the author that told me the book was “Published in 2012, Copyright 2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc.” I also found the ISBN number, which may prove necessary later on.

We’ll continue in my next article, two weeks from now!

*“Public domain” simply means that you don’t have to get permission to use the material. But it’s an extremely complicated subject. This article explains it in some detail and also links to official material on the US Copyright site. Different countries may have other rules regarding public domain. https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2015/pre-1976.

**I am using Google as a search engine, but you can use whatever search engine you want. There are many to choose from.

***Wikipedia and their related Wiki sites are NOT considered correct, significant, or valuable in supporting true scientific research. However, they are an excellent place to start, and for my purposes here, Wiki sites served me quite well.

See Part 2 HERE.

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!


Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing




24 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? – 48 Using Quotes in Your Book and Research Tips (Part 1) (A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing)

  1. You’ve made me remember my PhD, although of course it wasn’t so much a problem of legality but of trying to find information and the correct attribution. My footnotes were nearly as long as the document itself. But I did enjoy it, although I imagine that’s the advantage of researching a specific topic, rather than just anything that might be interesting. You end up becoming quite familiar with the sources. Very useful. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anyone who has read my The Termite Queen or followed my blog Ruminations of a Remembrancer in its early days knows that I put a literary epigraph on every chapter. I spent lots of time and a considerable amount of money to get permission to use the quotations that were under copyright. Some I never got responses to from the copyright holder and I ended up having to ferret out new quotations from public domain material. If you’re interested in reading about my copyright hassles, start here http://termitewriter.blogspot.com/2011/11/use-of-epigraphs-in-literature.html and check out all the other posts cited on that post or check the list of posts under the Label “Epigraphs.”
    Hint: You can use anything in Bartleby, because all Bartleby’s authors are public domain, although I checked with them just to make sure. Obviously, the KJV of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are public domain. Usually anything where the author died over 100 years ago is public domain. And Wikipedia often lists public domain works of an author at the ends of their articles. The rules of when copyright begins and ends are very tricky, but they can be overcome. I had to do some real detective work to discover the literary executor of Leonie Adams (poet), but once I did (she was a retired college professor), she was extremely nice and allowed me to use the quotation without charging me anything as long as I would send her a copy of the book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it is, Tess. That’s why I wrote these two posts. When I tell my developmental editing clients to “research” something, many times they think that putting the word or phrase into a search engine and glancing over the first page of results is enough.

      “I couldn’t find it.”

      Um, no, you didn’t “research.” 😀

      Liked by 2 people


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