EDITING 101: 48 – Using Quotes in Your Book and Research Tips – Part 1…

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 101:08) 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.

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 BrainyQuote.

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.

*“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.

**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.

Next week we’ll continue with ‘Using Quotes in Your Book and Research Tips – Part 2’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE


This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.





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48 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 48 – Using Quotes in Your Book and Research Tips – Part 1…

  1. I enjoy research and do most of what you suggest here, Susan. It didn’t occur to me that I could right-click on a search menu item to open in a new tab. Dah! I’m so glad you mentioned this. It has been the only thing I’ve found frustrating about web research. Such a small thing, but so grateful to know. I have a page of quotes on my website that I’m considering taking down after reading this, as I don’t have time to research all for correct attributions, etc. Thank you for another outstanding post 💕

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome for the “open in a new tab” trick. That can be very helpful when you’re reading through a page and you’re not finished reading, but you don’t want to forget to look at that link, either. Then when you get to the bottom, if you haven’t found anything useful on that page, you can just close the tab…or copy the relevant info and the link into your research document and then close the tab! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for an enlightening and informative article. I write non-fiction books and cite quotes using APA style references with proper citation in text (years of writing my thesis taught me great skills). I am also aware of using too much of a quote or song lyrics (more than 25 words, I’m told) in a post for publication can be a copyright infringement even with quoting the source. For example, I’m quoting a source in my book about the various definitions of leisure and fitness, adhering to APA as mentioned before. I read a lot of NF books that quote sources with references in the book. Hadn’t heard about this restriction for books for sale. 😦 Where can I find out the specifics of this restriction?

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is Copyright.gov’s page on Fair Use: https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html

      The first boxed topic on the page says, “Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes: Courts look at how the party claiming fair use is using the copyrighted work, and are more likely to find that nonprofit educational and noncommercial uses are fair. This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair and all commercial uses are not fair…”

      When it comes to non-fiction, it can depend on whether it’s academic or scientific material or not.

      The second boxed topic says, in part, “Nature of the copyrighted work: This factor analyzes the degree to which the work that was used relates to copyright’s purpose of encouraging creative expression. Thus, using a more creative or imaginative work (such as a novel, movie, or song) is less likely to support a claim of a fair use than using a factual work (such as a technical article or news item)…”

      Even your 25-word limit may not save you, as it’s not a word count but a percentage of the whole. If you were to quote one line of a haiku, that would be a substantial amount. Poetry can almost never be quoted unless it’s in the public domain (or you get permission).

      As I said, if you’re using someone else’s material to make money, you’d better be careful. I hope that helps, Terry! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is great info. I want to use a quote from Anne Frank´s Diary in my next book. It is a quote written on the wall in the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, which is now a museum. Do you think I will need permission to use it? It is something my character sees on the wall and it means something to her. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not sure, Darlene. First you have to look and see if The Diary of Anne Frank is still copyrighted. Obviously Ms. Frank doesn’t hold the copyright, but a publisher may, or a family member. I’m not a copyright lawyer, so I can’t give you specific advice. (insert long, involved disclaimer here) 🙂 If it’s no longer copyrighted, then you’re all set (but you should still cite the source). If it is still under copyright, well… You could ask a publishing attorney.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great article and it can be very complicated! Just to clarify, you mentioned that the next article will be in two weeks, then at the end, it says next week. When will the next article be? I want to be sure not to miss it! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people


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