Thursday, April 26, 2012

Using lyrics in fiction

Don't do it.

There may be some wiggle room if you're published with a big six or you're close personal friends with Bono, but if you're a first-time author, the copyright laws are such that it's impossible to get permission to use song lyrics in your work of fiction.

I know this. I'm quick to advise other writers of this. So imagine my surprise when my wonderful copy-editor caught me doing this.

Not once, but twice. Apparently, I imagined myself to be an exception.

So, this has been fixed in Monsoon Season and I just came across a great example of a writer who manages to get song lyrics in the reader's head without breaking any rules. Check out page 112 of The Long Way Home.

I'm reading this book now and will have a review up shortly.


  1. I had the same problem. My book is loaded with musical references, and you are correct -- aside from the fact that it is very difficult to find the right people (they don't reply), the cost is usually prohibitive for first-time authors.

    Here is how I handled one scene where my character is using loud, angry songs to feel better about the situation he is in:

    Note: Sasha is my character's dog

    "As Alkaline Trio starts singing “Radio”, I notice Sasha get up and walk of the room. She wants it known that she does not approve of what I’m about to do. She’s actually seen it twice before. I lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling, and sing along to the chorus as loud as I can. It’s about wishing a former lover would share her bath with an electrical appliance.

    When the song’s haunting, final chord fades like a ghost in the night, I don’t feel any better. I step up the anger with a song by Brand New called “Seventy Times 7”. It’s one of the meanest songs I’ve ever heard. He spends four minutes wishing the object of his scorn experiences a violent death in a car accident."

    It's not as clean as using the real words, but the point gets made and I'm pretty sure I'll stay out of trouble.

  2. Ugh. I was really hoping that if I were ever really published, they would take care of that stuff. Inevitable is loaded with lyrics. (And also with book quotes - do you know the rules on that?)

    Any chance of a sneak peak of how the author you mentioned above does it?

  3. i don't know the rules for quoting books, but the book i reference above comes out may 1st- in paperback, like you like! (i got an advanced copy.)