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FAQs about Writing

Copyright and Permissions

  • How do I copyright my work?
  • How long does copyright last?
  • How much can I quote without permission?
  • Where can I find out who controls the rights in a particular work?
  • How do I obtain permission from rights holders?

For answers to all of these questions, please read our Guide to Copyright and Permissions.

Related links

For more useful sources of information, see our general booklist.


An educational copyright video from the Intellectual Property Office:

This video was made by the IPO and not the SoA. Members with questions about copyright should contact the SoA's advisory team.



Getting published

I've just completed my first book. How do I go about getting it published?

The Society of Authors is a trade union for professional authors and cannot help you to get your manuscript published.

If you are starting out in your writing career you would be advised to read The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (A & C Black). This is an annual publication featuring comprehensive lists of agents and publishers, along with full details on how to make submissions. We would also recommend you read Carole Blake's From Pitch to Publication: Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Novel Published (Macmillan).

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Where can I get advice on my contract?

One of the main services provided by the Society for members is the clause-by-clause vetting of individual publishing contracts. To send your contract in to one of the Society's advisers, please click here. If you are not yet a member of the Society, find out how to join.

If you have an agent we would usually expect them to handle the contract for you.

If you are considering seeking advice from a lawyer, ensure that they understand publishing practice, and be sure you know at the outset what the advice will cost you.

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I have been asked to do some freelance work. How much should I charge?

This is impossible to answer without knowing the nature of the commission and what rights are being sought. General guidance is not to cite a fee yourself initially, but to start by asking the commissioner what terms you are being offered - and ensure you are satisfied with the proposal before you begin work.

Where it would be helpful, members are encouraged to consult the Society about any specific offer they receive.

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Where can I find information on creative writing courses?

  • The British Council website has a useful list of creative writing links.
  • Contact the Arvon Foundation on 01409 231338 for details of its residential courses.
  • Contact the Television Arts Performance Showcase (TAPS, 01932 592151) for details of their schemes for TV and theatre writers as well as Player/Playwrights. 
  • Many regional theatres also run schemes to encourage new writing.

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I have an idea for a book, but I am not a writer. Do you know an author who can help me?

Many members of the Society are ghostwriters. You can search for a ghostwriter using the 'Member Search' tab on the menu above.

The Society also publishes a Guide to Ghost-Writing and Collaboration Agreements, which lists many of the points it is important to clarify with a ghost before you undertake a joint venture. This guide is available to non-members for £5.

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I have an idea for a book: how can I protect it?

There is no copyright in an idea, facts, or the bare bones of a plot. However, copyright exists in a work as soon as it is recorded (in writing or otherwise). View the SoA Guide to Copyright and Permissions.

When sending out a typescript, you should include a copyright line: © [your name] 20** (although copyright is not forfeited if you forget to do so).

Always send your proposal to a specific person by name (not just The Commissioning Editor), with a covering letter making clear that all rights in it are yours, you are showing it to them in confidence, and you would be pleased to discuss terms if they are interested in publishing it.

Always send a copy, not the original. It is quite common for TV producers to refuse to sign Non Disclosure Agreements - their argument being that they see so many of the same ideas in commissioning rounds, and we recommend sending work in to TV companies that have signed up to the Code of Practice for Submission of Programme Proposals.

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Do I need an agent?

If you write fiction or general non-fiction, you will find that most publishers will not even look at an uncommissioned typescript unless it comes via an agent.

For most other categories of writing, you may well find it easier to approach publishers direct rather than trying to interest an agent.

If you are going to try to find an agent it is better to do so before approaching publishers with the typescript.

How do I find an agent?

A comprehensive list of agents can be found in The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Full details on how to submit your work are given in the book.

The Society of Authors cannot recommend specific agents/agencies, however any agents listed in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook with an asterisk are members of the Association of Authors' Agents, which means they uphold a code of good practice. We advise independent research in addition to using the Yearbook.

Where it would be helpful, members are encouraged to consult the Society about any specific offer they receive.

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I have had an offer from a publisher/an agent: how do I know they are OK?

The Society is always happy to advise its members on the contracts they receive from publishers and agencies before they commit to them. If you would like us to vet your contract please email it to us, or post it to us at 84 Drayton Gardens, London, SW10 9SB.

Though we cannot recommend specific agents or agencies, any agencies listed in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook that are marked with an asterisk are members of the Association of Authors' Agents, which means they uphold a code of good practice.

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What are the Society's views on authors paying for publication?

'Paying for publication' covers a broad range of publishing options. If you are considering self-publishing, or have been offered a contract in which you are asked to subsidise the cost of publication, you may find the following links useful:

If you are a member and would like the Society's advice on a contract, please email it to us or post it to us at 84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10 9SB.

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What are the Society's views on electronic and print-on-demand publishers?

These terms cover a wide range of activities. If your work is unpublished, be very cautious about agreeing to have it published first, or only, online or as an ebook/print-on-demand. This is an easy market for vanity publishers (the production, marketing and distribution costs of making ebooks and running off print-on-demand copies are very low). Even if you are not being asked for money, proceed with great caution.

Such companies often have little incentive to sell or promote your work (which may well only be listed on the publisher's website and in its catalogue), and may be earning their money in other ways, e.g. selling advertising on their website; or by buying up an author's other rights, so if a work takes off in future they are guaranteed a percentage of the earnings.

Be realistic about who your readers might be. How many people do you know who have sought out such websites? And of them, how many have thereby come across a book they had not heard of before, bought it and read it? If the site is just one of many offering a random selection of titles covering a miscellaneous range of subject areas (not always by top quality writers), ask yourself: is that really the best home for my work?

If you go ahead, limit the rights you are granting to ebook rights only; and make sure that you can terminate the contract after, say, two years. A better alternative might be to set up your own website and sell copies of the book (self-published in printed or electronic form) yourself.

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What are the best markets for short stories?

Magazines (see The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (published annually by A&C Black); and BBC Radio.

For further discussion of the short story form, please visit the Thresholds Forum

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Where can I find details of grants and prizes?

  • Click here for full details of the grants and prizes administered by the Society of Authors.
  • Prizes and Awards: The Essential Guide for Artists, Writers and Photographers, edited by Caroline Warhurst and Juliette Mcauliffe and published by Dewi Lewis Publishing (2005), is a useful directory. Click here for further details.
  • Visit the Booktrust website for details of their literary prizes.
  • Click here for details of Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts scheme.

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Are grants available to help me self-publish my book?

Self-publishing can be costly, but unfortunately the Society is not aware of any grants that are available to assist those seeking to self-publish or who are required to subsidise the cost of publication.

Members can view our Guide to Self-Publishing in the Guides and articles section of this site. The Guide is available to non-members for £7.50; please email us to order your copy.

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I am looking for a translator from a foreign language into English. Can you recommend anybody?

We cannot recommend individual translators, but you can use our 'Search for a Literary Translator' function on the right hand side of this page. The database - on which over 250 translators are listed - is searchable by language and subject specialisation.

The Society is not permitted to give out members' contact details without consent. If a translator lists his or her details on the site please contact them directly. We are happy to pass correspondence by post or email to those who have opted to be contacted via the Society.

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