A small publisher has expressed interest in reading a manuscript of mine, but their request worries me a little. I received several pages of restrictions on persons, places, and products I shouldn’t use, and it seems far more restrictive than I was led to believe from working with agents and reading other authors.

A few examples”

Real people/club/group names need permission. Real people that are mentioned, used as a character, a group of people (a club), band, etc. requires permission. I use the late Tony Accardo in a scene described by a mobster fifty years after the fact. Is this a problem? I know of writers (James Ellroy comes to mind) who do this regularly. Considering what Ellroy has his “real” characters do, I can’t believe he got permission from the estate. I also like to use real musical groups when sending a character to a nightclub. (“They went to the Birchmere to hear Tower of Power.” Then describe a few tunes as background music.)

If you use a real town or city name. Every “real” name used (includes but not limited to) all businesses, places, schools, used as part of a scene or any action takes place in…you must have written permission.

Avoid using real street names if they can be connected to real places. Chicago is pretty much a character in this book. Changing the street and place names will detract from the color and setting of the book.

They also are particular about generic names instead of product names, even when a character may be using them. “Photocopy” instead of Xerox; “tissue” instead of Kleenex, etc. Problem is, many people use these in conversation. I’m concerned making things too generic will spoil some of the tone, and I know I’ve seen this done. I’m having a hard time believing so many written permissions are needed.

Are they just fussier than usual about this, or is there a whole level of permissions required I’m not hip to? I know a lot of Crimespacers use real locations and product names; am I just hopelessly naive?

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Er, if this is de rigeur, I'm screwed.
I don't see why any company would care, unless the title of your book is "Xeroxing Gives You Cancer."

Ian Fleming would slip in names of his favourite liquor brands, and he'd get a case of free booze, so why not?

I suspect that everyone's so scared of litigation, they're starting to see its potential everywhere. I certainly haven't heard of Ellroy getting sued yet, so I think their worries are just the usual corporate inanity.

Of course if you have a real person in your book, and you make them a pedophile, then you've got a lawsuit, and unless that person's been convicted in a court of law, you deserve one.
I think I might know who we're talking about here--and since they sell mostly to libraries I can see their point and almost sympathize with them. Almost.

I don't know what to tell'ya. Part of me says if you want to give some sense of reality to the novel there's no way you can comply with these rules--but the other part of me says it's hard to pass up someone who actually wants to read the script.

Damned if you do---damned if you don't.
There's certainly a chill these days. I didn't realize it had got to books, too. As you know, Dana, I use all kinds of references to real musical groups and people in my books.

But in the TV show I'm working on a company clears every single name we use (or I should say, doesn't clear very many - if there's a cop in any city in North America with the same surname we can't use it) and for every script we submit we get the same long memo from the CBS legal department telling us we can't have any visible brand names on anything - not even on cars. Last week I was on set in the bar they've built (a fantastic set, actually) and I noticed all the bottles of booze behind the bar have fake labels the art department made and they'd used crew names - Wickwire Whiskey, Shully Vodka, etc.. (no McFetridge Gin, just another example of how the writers are ostracized ;). There were bags of chips that looked real called Couch Potato Chips with a cool graphic of potatoes sitting on a couch in regular, salt and vinegar and ripple. Cell phones, computers, everything has fake labels. People tell me it wasn't always like this - labels maybe, but not so much with the names and other small details.

But so far no publisher has mentioned anything like this to me about books, so I'm going to keep on using brand names.
Well yeah, but most don't say 'This New York City isn't the REAL New York City.' I don't even know who you'd get permission FROM to use NYC or any other city as a setting.
I think they do that partly to "protect" potential sponsors who might be paying for product placements, right? If you're paying to have the hero drink a Pepsi on-screen, you don't want him standing in front of a Coke machine while he's doing it. Ditto cars, chips, gum, cell-phones, etc. No free plugs for anybody.
I think they're being fussier than they need to be, covering their backsides just in case. From what I remember, generally it's considered okay to use the names of real places as long as you don't write things that make them look bad. If you make them look bad, they'll probably try to do something about it.

Names can be tricky. Even the made-up ones can be someone's real name, so if you've got someone doing something objectionable, googling to see if there's someone else out there who might sue you is a good idea.
They are fussier, for sure. But I don't see how changing Xerox to photocopy will hurt your story. I like to use a few brand names, many authors do, but to me it's a minor thing vs. the reward of possible publication by a legitimate press. Do it their way. You can always change the stuff back if they don't accept.
You're right about photocopies. To be honest, I don't know if I even use that example in the book; I took it from their list. (One of the things I'm balking about is creating the comprehensive list of all such occurrences they're requesting as part of the submission. That will take me a week right there, and it may only provide ground for a rejection without reading.)

Three types of instances came to mind immediately when I read their list:
1. I called the Chicago police to see what kind of cars a plainclothes cop would drive. I hate reading, "he saw a late model sedan that could be a cop," when I could just refer to the Chevy Lumina he keeps seeing in his mirrors.

2. Several scenes take place in real restaurants, off the regular tourist track, that would be known primarily to locals. I'm complimentary about the places, and I think they add the local flavor the story has received several compliments about.

3. The head bad guy relates an anecdote about his first encounter with Tony Accardo, when the current hood was a young man. I could change the name, but, again, I think something of the Chicago-ness would be lost. BTW, Accardo commits no criminal acts in the story. He bails the kid out of jail and tells him what he's done is no way to make a living. When the kid makes it clear he's made up his mind, Accardo finds him a job working for one of his men. On the other hand, when the kid's father gets killed, it's pretty clear Accardo ordered the hit. On the other other hand, Tony Accardo is well documented as having ordered a lot of guys to be put in holes.

I'm not against making all such changes. I am a little concerned they seem to be basing acceptance of the book on so many of these things, and that much of what I think makes it a good book may be lost. As I type this, I think I'm going to lay it out for them much as I have here, to see if they're negotiable. If so, I am too. If not, then I'll move on.

Thanks to all for your comments. If anyone else has anything to add, I'll be happy to hear it.
Dana -- I don't know who this small publisher is, but no publisher I've ever known would have any problem with numbers 1 through 3 above (as long as you didn't claim any of those real restaurants to be ptomaine palaces or otherwise involved in nasty business).

Just think back to the books you've read. How many of them had real cities, real streets, real places in them? I'd bet most or all of them, right? So, clearly, "publishers" are not asking for stuff like this. As for people, just use common sense. Public figures can often be referred to by name because they're public (just don't accuse them of murdering their parents -- unless they did, of course). Private citizens are different because they have an inherent right to privacy. And Jon is right, the dead are the dead, they can't sue you.
This publisher sounds unusually paranoid - my gut instinct would tell me to avoid them. I don't know who they are, but are they really worth the hassle? I'm glad to see others' comments to the effect that you shouldn't have to worry so much.

I use lots of real names, brands and places in my books - especially music the characters are listening to. But some usages give me pause - for example, the heroine in Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders went to grad school at New York University, as did I, and I talked about how much she hated it, how the library tempted students to commit suicide (true) and how the school was "metastasizing all over Greenwich Village." I debated long and hard about whether to call it "the university" or "NYU" and finally went with the latter. What the heck!

For Eldercide, I created a fictional town in Rensselaer County named "Kooperskill," because it's based closely on where I live, and I didn't want to identify the town and upset my neighbors. But that's a lot different than writing about New York City.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso
They're afraid of getting sued--they probably use this blanket approach because they couldn't afford to defend themselves in a defamation suit. That said, going to this length is totally ridiculous--you have to get permission to use street names? From who, the freaking mayor of Chicago? I make fun of products in my books--cars, mostly--and my publisher doesn't bat an eye because it's clearly satire. I also make fun of political figures by name, which is obviously protected speech (although not to everyone's liking, but whatever). As for Accardo, unless they've changed the law, you can't libel the dead. If it was me, I'd shy away from a publisher that was this timid. There are some common-sense restrictions you might place on yourself, though--I set a lot of scenes in bars and restaurants, and I try not to use real names of businesses if I'm going to say snarky things about the food, the prices or the atmosphere, just out of a sense of fairness


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