When do you need permission for book material? (video)

Viewing time: 3 mins 30 secs 

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? When do you need permission for book material? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question. 


When do you need permission for book material? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.

I have a question from Kathy Miles, a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Here’s what she’s asked by email…

“I am writing a short book. I would like to mention several non-profit groups as potential places to volunteer at. I’ve reached out to all of them but only heard back from a few. I wanted permission to mention them in the book. I am not saying anything negative about them. Is it alright to mention them by name even if I do not have permission?”

Thanks for your question, Kathy. First, I need to tell you that I am not a lawyer and what you’re asking is, at heart, a legal question. But I’ve worked in the publishing industry for 46 years now and I can tell you how I view the situation.

What made you worry that you might need to ask permission? To be honest, it’s not a thought that would have crossed my mind. When I was a newspaper reporter and editor, we used to name organizations all the time, and never thought twice about it.

But if you have concerns, ask yourself whether your plan – to publicize non-profit groups and to get volunteers for them — is likely to please or irritate those groups. You’re not saying anything negative about them, so why would they be upset?

The only potential problem I can predict is if they don’t need or want volunteers right now. If that’s the case, they might be rightly annoyed if you were to send a flood of volunteers their way. As well, your readers might be annoyed at having been misdirected.

You didn’t describe how you tried to reach these groups but I’m guessing you probably emailed them. My advice is to pick up the phone. Don’t assume that just because they’re non-profits they’re looking for volunteers. And try to find out a little more info about what specific types of volunteers they’d most appreciate. Are they looking for people to work in their office? In the field? To do physical labour? All of these details are important and will make your book much more useful to your readers.

The question is less about getting permission and more about collecting useful and important information. Your job as a book writer is to help other people, and if you’re just guessing at something, you won’t have done your job very well.

Finally, let me wrap up with the words of the American computer scientist and US Navy rear admiral, Grace Hopper: It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

Kathy, I’m citing the Grace Hopper quote because sometimes writers are too fearful of taking chances. But, on the other hand, sometimes they just don’t do the necessary work. In your case, I think the issue is related more to collecting the necessary facts than to getting permission. 


If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. 


 Your Happy First Draft

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