Writing Insights

Your Book Is Probably Guilty of Plagiarism— Find Out How!


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After working on hundreds of books, most of them by first-time authors, I have come to the conclusion that about 90-95% of the author’s manuscripts were guilty of plagiarism in their original form. So if you don’t understand how permissions for quoted materials work in a commercial product (like your book), you are most likely going to do the same thing as these other 90-95% of the authors I have worked for. Here is where the danger of self-publishing comes in and why you should never just go it alone when it comes to publishing!

“How can this be?” You might be asking. “I’ve made sure that everything I used was cited correctly.”

If you have everything cited correctly, hats off to you, that’s one part of what I see missing a lot, too; but your book will be a commercial product (even if you plan on donating or giving away most of the copies), not just a journalistic article or a college paper. And this is the biggest change you have to make to your perspective on publishing to avoid plagiarism.

Every time you use anything from any source, you really need to check the rights and permissions use clauses to make sure you can include it in your book without getting into trouble. When in doubt, ALWAYS ask permission. If not, you will be in violation of their rights and they can legally come after you with a lawsuit if they do not want their quote, brand name, song lyrics, definition, etc. in your book. This is especially true if you are writing a Christian book.

I can’t count the number of times we had authors ask places like Hallmark, Disney, and the owners of trademarked names such as Star Wars for permission to include those names in their book and these powerful companies wrote back and said no. If they went ahead and used it, they would be in violation because they put a trademarked name in the book without permission.

Some things you have quoted from books might be fine under the fair use act, but keep in mind that each publisher has their own terms for fair use so there is not a blanket clause that overrides it all. And most book’s rights lie with the publisher, not the author, so you have to find out who owns the rights to the book and start there.

So before you work on your book any further or submit it to a publisher, ask yourself if you have any of these things in it: Quotations from a source you didn’t ask for permission to use (even on the Internet—it’s not necessarily free use because it’s posted there!), dictionary definitions, trademarked names (such as brand names, movie titles, character names), names of other people that you know and didn’t ask their permission to put them in your book, Scripture quotations in excess of 25% of the book content, Bible versions that might not be free to use (you do have to check!) etc.

If you said yes to any of these, your manuscript could be guilty of plagiarism!

Here’s is where it’s best to work with a team on your book, even if you self-publish. Don’t do everything by yourself! The editors I recommend to people will point out these types of issues so you can reword it to exclude the problem or you can go and get permission for it. When I do a layout on a book and I see permission issues, I make sure to ask the author if they were aware of it so if they need to get permission, they can. If there are many, I will make a list for them with page numbers so they can find and correct them as needed.

If this article has been helpful to you, feel free to leave a comment below to let me know. If you would like a quote for my layout services, contact me. I would love to meet you!

Happy writing!

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