This Week in Self-Publishing: Licensing Lyrics

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $150

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

So I realized, when I decided to indie-publish The Biographies of Ordinary People, that I was going to be tracking these numbers for myself, so I might as well track them for y’all.

If you are familiar with This Week in Freelancing, which I’ve been doing for five years now, you know how this is going to work: every week, I’ll tell you how much I’ve earned — and since self-publishing comes with a few costs of its own, I’m also going to tell you how much I’ve spent.

Right now, that $6,909 represents income received from Patreon supporters. That’s going to be the only income I receive for Biographies until it’s published and people buy it. (Or check it out from the library, if it passes the review. We’ll talk about that later.)

My biggest expense, so far, has been the two covers for Biographies Vol. 1 and Biographies Vol. 2, which I designed on Canva. I paid $100 to get an extended license for the flower image, which enables me to use it in as many print and online iterations as I choose, for as many copies as I eventually sell. (It’s the same flower image on both books. I just used different parts of it for each cover.)

My next biggest expense will be getting permission to use lyrics in Vol. 1. (I’ll worry about lyrics for Vol. 2 later — it still needs a lot of revisions first.)

Biographies has a lot of music in it. Everything from Schubert to Natalie Imbruglia. I wanted to center this book in a specific time and place, and I was also writing about a family of musicians, so there’s music in nearly every chapter — and lyrics in nearly 25 percent of them.

If you want to use lyrics in a book, the process is actually pretty simple, and I say that as a person who hasn’t gone through it yet. But essentially you go visit ASCAP or BMI or Hal Leonard or wherever and license the lyrics, similar to the way you might license a cover song.

I’ve done the cover song licensing thing before — my family, like Biographies’ Grubers, are all musicians — and although the process is relatively easy it is not necessarily cheap, depending on your definition of cheap. Licensing one cover song is no problem. Licensing an entire album of covers, which I’ve done, costs a gob of money.

So this week I went back over all the song lyrics and figured out which ones I could cut. For example:

Still, when she told Nat and Jackie “Let’s do a play of Matchmaker,” she knew she would be Tzeitel. There were three main sisters in the movie just like there were three sisters in the Gruber family, and so she had to play the oldest one. The two younger sisters would be saved for later, when they took out their paper dolls and created the story that the movie had not written for them.

It was hard to remember all of the words, and Dad had already taken the movie back to the college, but all three of them could sing “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch,” and they put together the rest of the song in a way that felt like what they remembered. They took old T-shirts out of the drawer and tied them around their hair, and Mom let them borrow her aprons, and they took baby blankets out of the toy box and practiced swinging them around.

There is no reason that I actually need a lyric there. I could write “all three of them could sing the chorus,” and since I’m guessing most of my audience knows enough about Fiddler on the Roof to also be able to sing this chorus, I’ll let you fill in the gap. WITH YOUR BRAINS. THAT’S HOW BOOKS WORK.

I ended up deciding to rewrite six areas in which I had previously used lyrics, but I’m going to try to license permission for six lyrics. I’ll see how the money goes. There are three lyrics that I think the audience absolutely has to know for the story to make sense, because while I bet a lot of you know “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof, I’m betting fewer of you know Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night.” (Which is actually an interesting question, lyric-wise, because the text is from a 1934 poem by American poet James Agee, and… does that mean I need to ask his people for the license? I’ll find out.)

I’m giving myself a really long lead time to get these licenses done. Like, a month. (The internet says that unlike cover song licenses, which take 24 hours, getting lyrics licensed can take two weeks.) After that, I just need to plop my Kindle-formatted text into Amazon and my print-formatted text into CreateSpace and we can start the pre-order, and I can start sending the book out for ARCs and reviews, and that’s when the money gets really interesting. ❤

 

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