The Dreaded Photo Shoot

I’m not someone who avoids cameras. Hey, I’ll even take the occasional selfie for Instagram.

But my last author headshot was over three years old, and… I don’t want to be, you know, the author who walks into an event and has everyone whispering “She looks a lot younger on her Facebook page,” and “Wow, that must be a heck of an old photo on her website!”

Keeping up to date with who I am now is important.

Still, I avoided dealing with the need to update my headshot. Why?

The Dreaded Photo Shoot: author headshots and visual identity

It’s not about getting older. In fact, I deliberately didn’t Photoshop the bits of silver glitter out of my hair.

So, when I heard “Let’s take your new headshot,” why was my gut reaction basically I can’t and I’m bad at this?


My author headshot is part of my visual identity. It’s the first thing you see when we “meet” online. So… I want to look like someone you’d want to know, right? I want to look like someone who writes what you want to read.

Potential Obstacle #1: Does my general appearance fit my visual identity as an author?

Mostly, yes. This isn’t much of an obstacle for me, given a little bit of prep time.

I don’t see my author persona wearing glasses, so I need to have my contact lenses in. I don’t wear makeup every day (I mean, to sit at my desk writing, really?), but it does make me feel more glamorous and professional if I take a minute to put on some eyeliner and mascara and tinted lip gloss before picture-time. I appreciate a chance to fix my hair out of its usual messy bun.

Lots of writers (and people in general) struggle with self-love, and I know how lucky I am not to have deep issues with my appearance — we all have ugh days, but most of the time I’m fine with myself as I am (and I recognize the truckload of privilege that’s built on). I’m also not an intensely private person, but that’s a factor for some authors.

And it’s convenient for me that my pen name and outward appearance match. I imagine the question of author profiles would be complicated for anyone who deliberately chose a gender-neutral pen name or writes as a persona that doesn’t match what shows up in a photo.

So — for me — this isn’t a reason to hesitate over getting an author headshot taken.

Potential Obstacle #2: Do I know what kind of expression I want to convey?

Smiling, or serious? Intent and passionate? Dreamily romantic? Having fun or being silly? All sexy and smouldering? Do I look at the camera, or off into the distance?

So many questions, so many choices. This aspect of getting a headshot taken overwhelms me a bit, to be honest.

Plus, what I think my face is doing doesn’t always translate to what I see in the photos. The corners of my mouth curve downward when I start a smile, leading to weird frowny faces half the time. My full smile looks goofy and shows far too much in the way of teeth and gums. I have an awful tendency to raise my chin, which looks either snotty or defiant or odd, depending on my expression.

This time, I ended up with direct eye contact and a hint of a smile. Good? I think so. I can see myself in the picture saying, “I’m going to get into some heavy stuff occasionally, but it’s really all about love and attraction.”

Making the right faces is a bit of an obstacle for me, but not an insurmountable one. Chin down, medium smile, try to look confident…

Potential Obstable #3: Can I admit to myself — and the photographer — what I want from the photo shoot?

A-ha. There it is. Admitting to anyone that I want to look polished and glamorous, maybe even a little bit sexy? Why is that hard?

My author headshot is not a humblebrag. I shouldn’t need to pretend (to myself, to the photographer, to readers) that I fell out of bed like this. But for some reason, I find it hard to step up to that and take ownership of what I want.

And it’s more than dabbing some concealer on the odd blemish and taking a minute to brush my hair. I want to sparkle in my picture. I want to channel Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe. And that feels super vain and arrogant and… if anyone guesses how I’m feeling they’ll think I’m ridiculous, and… maybe I shouldn’t brush sheer glitter on my eyelids and use lip liner so my cherry cola lip gloss really pops…

There it is. That’s my problem. The critical voice saying behave yourself and be modest inside my head is my big obstacle.

So, what worked?

These magic words from my photographer: “You’re creating a persona. Go put on whatever you’d like.”

And… whatever turned out to be a ridiculous low-cut rock and roll t-shirt I found in a garage sale bin and an extreme push-up bra left over from a wedding outfit. You can’t even see it in the picture, but dressing up made me feel like a star.

T.J. Lockwood gets the credit for my author headshot — she patiently took about forty pictures to get one good one. She says: “If you have access to a really good camera, don’t waste it.” She’s a fantastic writer (and all-round creative person with an eye for photography and design), and her first novel, Violent Skies, will be published in September 2017 by Filidh Publishing. If you’re into science fiction, you should definitely give her a like on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Blog Migration At Last

After putting it off for, oh, at least three years, I finally bit the bullet and migrated my blog to my own domain and hosting.

You might wonder why, since WordPress is great as a blog host, and they offer premium domains and all that. After all, I put off doing this for what feels like forever… But as I’ve learned more about web hosting and connecting with people through my website, I’ve realized that I want the one thing I can’t have with my blog hosted by WordPress — plugins!

Right now, I’m just trying to make sure everything looks roughly the same as it did, at least till I get comfortable with my new setup. I also want to make sure I have all my security and anti-spam armor in place. Then… we’ll see. I have so many more choices now. A new look for my site is probably in order but I need some time to figure out what I want.

A website is one of the most important connection points an author has, and it’s time for me to start doing more with it, especially as I’m tired of being scared and holding back — I’m committing myself to moving forward, going indie, and publishing Rock Star’s Heart in 2018. I’ve got a year to get this right.

My First Giveaway!

I’ve wanted to try doing a giveaway for a while. And then I decided, why not just do it?


I’m giving away a paperback copy of the anthology Stamps, Vamps, and Tramps, edited by Shannon Robinson and published by Evil Girlfriend Media. My story “From the Heart” is included in the anthology, alongside stories from Rachel Caine and Gemma Files, among others (read more about the anthology here).

And because a nice cup of tea makes a good book even better, I’m also including 50 g of Dark Chocolate Delight tea and a 20-pack of tea filters to make dealing with loose-leaf tea easy (these biodegradable filter pouches can go straight into the compost or food waste bin when you’re done).

I’ll ship the prize anywhere in Canada or the United States (it’s okay to enter if you live elsewhere, as long as you have a friend in North America who can accept parcels for you).

or visit my Facebook page to enter on the tab there

This giveaway is hosted by me, Kella Campbell, and the prize package and shipping are provided by me. Once the winner is announced, that person will have seven days to respond with a mailing address in North America. If there is no response or an appropriate address is not provided to me within seven days, a new winner will be selected. Ends at 12:00 AM Pacific Time on November 21, 2015.


But Am I Newsworthy?

newsletter subscribe buttonI love getting newsletters from writers.

Why? I’m not absolutely sure. Maybe it’s because newsletters give, instead of asking or taking: they come with content just for me (well, not just for me, but for the mailing list members), and I’m not expected to share or retweet or comment or vote or click “like” — these social media engagements aren’t bad things, of course, but there’s an expectation of visible support, and it’s obvious when not given. While I like to show as much enthusiastic public support as I can to authors I admire, there’s something nice and pressure-free about just opening an email and reading it without having to respond. Yes, a newsletter is technically a marketing tool, but it’s also a gift from author to readers, and the best ones don’t feel like self-promotion.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to have a newsletter of my own; however, one big thing was holding me back. I kept asking myself, “But am I newsworthy?”

candy heartHere I am, thinking that I would like to give the gift of a private, special newsletter to anyone who is interested in my stories — and I’m wondering whether I’m good enough to do that.

Since when did giving a gift depend on the giver being worthy?

I woke up to this thought at the beginning of the week, and realized that now is the time to go ahead and create a mailing list, with a goal of sending out a monthly newsletter. We hear all the time that smart writers establish mailing lists well in advance of any book release; there’s no way to do that and also achieve some kind of invisible goal of becoming Important Enough For A Newsletter before starting one.

No one is being forced to sign up. If I end up sending out, say, a flash fiction story or an excerpt from something I’m working on, and it only goes to a handful of people, so what? Those people get something no one else does. No one is imposed on by the mere existence of a newsletter, right? I keep telling myself this.

candy heartBut this is exciting: I’ve realized I can do something with a newsletter that I can’t do on a blog or Facebook page or anywhere else — I can customize it to the preferences of those who sign up. One of the questions on my sign-up form is about comfort level: Sweet (prefer no explicit sex or swearing) or candy heartTart (okay with sexy description and gritty language)? That way, I can send my Sweets an excerpt that won’t make them blush, and my Tarts can get something a little dirtier.

I still feel strangely guilty, greedy, and not newsworthy enough to have my own newsletter. But it’s time to stop validating those feelings and go forward.

Be a Sweetheart; sign up!
(But only if you want to. No pressure.)

Writers, have you hesitated to start a newsletter because of doubts about being worthy? Did you end up doing it?

And readers, what do you love best about newsletters? What makes the great ones so awesome?

BIT Is Awesome And Here’s Why

candy heartOh, back up a bit? What’s BIT? Boost It Tuesday!

Every Free Chance, Candace’s Book Blog*, and If These Books Could Talk are the main organizers and hosts of the weekly awesomeness. Every Tuesday, they post a link-up (powered by InLinkz**) and invite book people — both authors and book bloggers — to add their Facebook pages. The idea is that everyone who participates goes to every other Facebook page on the list to “like” and comment on at least two or three posts, to help “boost” the pages’ visibility (since Facebook shows “popular” posts to more people).

This is my second week doing it. Here are five reasons why it’s awesome:

I’ve discovered a whole bunch of fun book blogs and authors I didn’t know about before.

It’s incentive to pay attention to my Facebook page and make sure there’s new content for BIT visitors to boost.

I can look at other authors’ social media strategies and see what appeals to me.

There are some fabulous giveaways to enter.

I feel like I’m helping other authors and book bloggers by boosting their stuff. Good karma.

It’s so positive! Everyone is there to say “Happy BIT” and click the like button. ALL the warm fuzzies!

If this sounds interesting, and you have a book-related Facebook page (not profile), go visit one of the hosts’ websites to join in. As I learned last week, Tuesday night or even Wednesday isn’t too late, and if this week doesn’t work for you, there’s always next week.

Also, there’s a giveaway every week as part of Boost It Tuesday, and you can apply to host the BIT giveaway on your own page (go visit one of the hosts’ sites to find the sign-up form).

So basically it’s all win-win and there’s no downside, only the time it takes to click on a bunch of Facebook pages and say hello — and it’s totally okay to spread that out over the week, you don’t have to get it all done on Tuesday. And really, looking at book covers and teaser graphics, and entering giveaways, and reading reviews and blurbs… it’s not what you’d call painful, you know?

Again, for convenience, the BIT organizers’ websites are: Every Free Chance, Candace’s Book Blog*, and If These Books Could Talk.

Give it a try, and have fun. Maybe I’ll see you on the link-up?

*no longer active as of early 2017 (dead links removed)
**BIT is now using Linky Tools rather than InLinkz

Social Reading Sites & Name Twins

Name twins. Such a problem for authors.

Since you can’t reserve or trademark your name, there’s a chance — a good chance, if your name isn’t an odd one — that another person out there shares your name and your literary ambitions. Maybe more than one. Not to mention the possibility that someone with your name isn’t a fiction writer but does publish books: scholarly treatises on some obscure point of economic history, say, or computer programming manuals.

Two problems: 1) you want/need to grab things like URLs and user/profile names before the other party does, and 2) search algorithms can’t tell the difference.

Now, the first one isn’t the worst of problems. If you don’t end up getting “”, you can always go with “” or something to that effect. My Facebook page is because that was the best available option by the time I went to create it, but… it’s okay. WriterKella is okay, maybe even good. It doesn’t match my Twitter, but I can live with that.

The second problem can be… more of a problem. For instance, the editor of Stamps, Vamps & Tramps is an award-winning author with stories in literary magazines like Joyland and Nimrod, but she shares a name with someone who writes western romances and the author of an art history textbook (as well as at least two fan fiction writers on Wattpad, who could venture into Amazon territory at any time).

Not that there’s anything wrong with any genre, but if you’ve worked hard to build up a readership and reputation in your genre and style, you don’t want your readers confused — and what if that person who shares your name isn’t a good writer, or has a sloppy publisher and terrible cover designer, or has made enemies on Goodreads, or stands for values or politics you abhor?

This is why I claim my profile across all the social reading sites as soon as I can, regardless of whether I like them or want to use them or think they have value.

Amazon is the easiest one to take care of (I blogged about it back when I set my author page up). Once you’ve set up your page and claimed your books, it’s clear which ones are yours, and you can easily direct readers to your Amazon page to see them. Plus, if readers can easily see that Mary Smith #1 has claimed a series of gritty sci-fi adventures while Mary Smith #2 writes sweet Christian romances and inspirational/devotional short stories (with author photos and bios that show the Marys are two completely different people), there’s no confusion.

Goodreads is probably the most important one after Amazon because so many people use it. It’s super easy (there’s a link on unclaimed author pages saying “Is this you?”) and you usually get your approved status and welcome email within a couple of hours. The profile set-up is very straightforward and you can just walk through it as easily as the Amazon one. It lets you display all the usual information and, as with Amazon, you can “claim” your books.

LibraryThing is a bit trickier to use, because it’s more like a library database; there’s a learning curve. You can ask to be a “LibraryThing Author” but it takes a while for the request to be approved (in fact, at first I thought I was being ignored because I just have one story in one anthology, but it’s apparently just slow due to a huge backlog). Even while you’re waiting for LT Author status, though, you can still add an author photo and edit biographical details — actually, you can do this for anyone, not just yourself (some publishers will even take care of this for their authors). Most importantly, if you share a name with some other author(s), LibraryThing lets you split off your works from those of your name twins.

Shelfari seems to be down or slow a lot these days, and I find its mechanics a bit frustrating, but I still think it’s worth checking on your book(s) and author profile there. I believe there’s a way to claim “Shelfari Author” status, but as far as I can tell, there’s no real reason to do so since you can edit everything for your author profile anyway without officially claiming it as a Shelfari user. As with LibraryThing, there’s the ability to combine or split author profiles if you’ve somehow ended up with two or you have a name twin. [update September 2017: Shelfari links now redirect to Goodreads, so it appears that Shelfari is no more]

Booklikes appears to be mostly a blogging platform for readers and reviewers, but it does have author profiles so it’s worth registering to add the usual photo, bio, website link, etc. Unfortunately, at the moment I don’t see a way to deal with name twins on the site, but perhaps an author in that situation could make a report and have it rectified.

Do you have a name twin in the books-and-publishing world? What have you done to differentiate yourself and make sure your readers aren’t confused?

Staking My Claim

Okay. I’m a bit stunned that more authors don’t set up their Amazon author pages and claim their books. You can do this as soon as you have something published and available for purchase on Amazon — yes, even in an anthology where your story is one of many. It’s super easy to do: just go to Amazon’s Author Central and set yourself up.

It was, quite seriously, the second thing I did after Stamps, Vamps & Tramps came out (the first being to squee about it on Facebook, of course). I find it just faintly embarrassing that I seem to be the only author from the anthology who has done so at this point, and mystifying because plenty of them have much more to gain from it than I do (since I’m one of the few who doesn’t have other titles available — and author pages are all about discoverability).

When you claim a book with your Amazon Central author profile, it activates the More About The Author(s) section of the book’s page, which appears just underneath the customer reviews section. If only one author has claimed the book, that author’s picture shows up complete with a bio and a text link inviting readers to visit the author’s Amazon page. If more than one author has claimed the book (in the case of a co-written book or an anthology), you get each author’s picture with just the name underneath and an invitation to “Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.” That’s why it looks a little awkward when only one author from an anthology has claimed the book… the display is formatted as though that person is the sole author of the book. Sigh.

There’s no cost, no downside, and you get a nice page where you can add a photo (square ones look best, I’ve noticed) and a bio and your twitter feed and blog feed. Here’s mine. It has a follow button, of course, and even a discussion forum. Plus, it allows you to manage which books are associated with you… which can be somewhat important if your name or pen name isn’t the most unique combination in the world. Does an Amazon search for your name bring up someone else’s theological textbooks, or used computer manuals from the 1990s, or biographies of long-dead people in some unfamiliar field, or badly self-published erotica with truly uncomfortable cover art? (Yes, I have seen all of these things come up when looking for books by debut authors and editors.)

And then there are the authors who have Amazon Central accounts and author pages but don’t bother to claim all their books. This, I really don’t understand. Is it possible to become so big that you don’t feel the need to acknowledge every one of your stories? Or to get to a place where you write what you don’t love or believe in, not wanting to acknowledge them as yours, just to get paid? Or — most likely in my opinion, though it’s just a guess — to have so many books out and so many projects on the go that you simply don’t remember to go claim your latest baby?

Some publishers will remind their authors to take care of this little detail, since it’s one of the few things that can’t just be done by someone else (an agent, a publicist, someone in the publisher’s office); Author Central is for authors. As far as I know, there isn’t a way to grant someone else access to your profile, short of giving out your Amazon username and password… Um, no. In any case, you can’t count on getting a reminder, since not all publishers babysit their authors like that, and some smaller publishers may not even know it’s a good idea.

It seems only smart to be responsible for my profile across all the social reading sites, regardless of whether I like them or want to use them or think they have value. Why not stake my claim everywhere I can? Why not make sure that information out there about me is accurate and nicely presented? So once I was happy with my Amazon page, I moved on to Goodreads and LibraryThing… In a couple of cases, I had to edit the book details first to make sure all the contributors (including me!) were listed, but that’s easy to do. I don’t have to participate on those sites or use their giveaway tools, and I don’t need to engage with readers and reviewers — it’s often wise to just stay quiet — but if my profile is going to exist there with or without me, why not make sure it represents me the way I want to be seen?

Reading On Camera

Back in November, the contributors to Evil Girlfriend Media’s Stamps, Vamps & Tramps anthology were asked if we’d each be willing to record a short excerpt from our stories… on film. Not safe and easy voice podcasts, but video recordings. YouTube.

Here’s what I learned from the process of filming it:

1) Get expert help if you can — Fortunately, my awesome friend Jordan Ellinger, who knows a fair bit about recording stuff (he does the Hide and Create writing workshop podcast, and he’s worked on a number of short film projects), agreed to help me. Having all the toys to do it right is awesome… sound equipment, a really good camera, that sort of thing… but working with someone who knows about framing and lighting and camera angles and film editing is even better. If you don’t have a filmmaker friend or two, you might even want to consider hiring someone who can bring that level of polish to your mini-film. Because yes, that’s what it is.

2) You will feel awkward at first, and it might take a few tries — I didn’t expect to be nervous in front of the camera, but once it was pointing at me and the little red light was on, I felt mightily weird. My first attempt was way too stiff, and it wasn’t easy to loosen up and be natural. I’ve led workshops and done public speaking, but there’s something about being filmed that just threw me. Expect multiple takes; it does get better as you go through the experience a second and third time. It definitely helps to set aside a good chunk of time (and lots of camera batteries, memory cards, etc.) so you can do as many takes as you need, and eventually you’ll start to have fun.

3) Background and lighting matter — I did a little trolling around for readings on YouTube beforehand, to see what worked and what didn’t. Background and lighting make a huge difference! Check out this gorgeous example with stark stage lighting and a completely black background to see what I mean. Reading into your webcam at your desk, most likely in a dark-ish corner, with a random wall or doorway in the background, just… doesn’t have the same effect. We chose the bookcase background and natural light for me because it suits my style, but everyone is different. It’s worth investing some time and effort to set the scene in a way that’s right for you.

4) You need someone to coach you — The thing is, you can’t see yourself, so you don’t know what you’re doing, or not doing, that might need adjustment. Without Jordan’s coaching, I wouldn’t have realized that: a) I’m inclined to raise my chin when I’m self-conscious, and need to make an effort to keep it down while on camera or in front of people; b) I need to not roll my eyes and grimace when I think I’ve flubbed my reading; and c) I tend to read with a very serious expression and/or give nervous/doubtful grimace-smiles that start with my lips curving downward, so I need to remember to smile nice big relaxed smiles instead.

It’s a good thing that I mostly enjoyed the experience of starring in my own little reading mini-film, because it probably won’t be the last time I’ll need to do that. Video as a literary promotion tool is likely to get more popular going forward, and the bar for professionalism and reader appeal is bound to be raised higher and higher.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this, though. Do you feel awkward on camera? Do you have habits that you need to be coached out of? What sort of background and lighting would you choose for yourself?

When You’re Someone Else’s Job

As an author, at some point (unless you do absolutely everything yourself) you’ll be someone else’s job. At least, your manuscript, or your cover, or your e-book formatting, or your marketing plan, or… something of yours will be on someone else’s desk and part of their work day.

Now, most people in the book industry (whether they are traditional publishers or micro/indie/small-press publishers or service providers who work with self-publishers) do it because they love books. And really, their reputations are stacked on making your book the best it can be, right? So it’s safe to assume that they want to do the best possible job they can with your stuff… isn’t it?


Just for a moment, let go of the fantasy that your book is the only (and/or most important) one on other people’s desks. Most book industry professionals can’t afford to take on just one assignment at a time, and many have personal creative endeavours to pursue as well. They know we love/need/want to feel as though our particular projects are everyone’s all-encompassing priority, so maybe they let us feel that way because it keeps us happy, and that leads to warm fuzzies all around, but really?

When you’re someone else’s job, it’s work for them. If they’re professional and good at what they do, it will be done competently and (barring unforeseen circumstances) on time, regardless of whether you’re a jerk or an angel. Do you want competent, though, or do you want best effort? Do you want just good enough for your book, or above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty, labour-of-love, best-it-can-possibly-be?

Think about it… Are you always a rock star and superhero at your day job, or only when you feel appreciated and personally invested in the outcome?

So really, isn’t it in our best interests to make sure the people who work on our books feel that way — appreciated and personally invested, sharing our hopes and anxieties because it’s their project too?


I will not treat professionals as service providers,
even when that’s what they are. I will treat them as equals and partners in the project we’re working on, or maybe even employers/senior ranks/mentors (depending on the circumstances). I will remember that if I treat them as servants or subordinates, it will likely result in subordinate-quality care from them and a lower place on their personal priority lists. I will avoid behaving like a boss or client (even though I may sometimes feel like I should be the boss or client) because it will not advance my relationship or priority with them and will not elicit their best work.

I will not forget that they have other projects on their desks
apart from mine. I will not assume that they can or will drop everything to tend to my project. I will not impose an artificial urgency based on a timeline of my wants rather than needs, not least because people tend to see through that pretty quickly. I will remember that if I behave as the squeaky wheel, I may well get (metaphorically) oiled first, but I won’t get oiled well — I don’t want a quick job done so they can get me out of the way.

I will not assume that they’re as obsessed with my book as I am,
that because I’m willing to work on it day and night, weekends and holidays and through my lunch hour and even if I’m sick, everyone else must be too. I won’t expect an instant response to an email sent Saturday night, or assume my publishing professionals will be at their desks on statutory holidays. If I do get a response outside of regular working hours, I will take it as a reminder that they’re super busy, and not as an indication it’s a good time for regular communication. I will remember that publishing professionals have a right to take sick days and go on vacation, and that even joking about it being a problem might drop my book from “current favourite project” to “chore I really don’t feel like facing today”.

I will not confuse or conflate business and friendship.
I will not allow the blurred lines of social media and online friendship to obscure the fact that my book is my publishing professionals’ job. Even though I may be friends or sort-of-friends with the people I work with, I will not use that friendly relationship/access to impose on them with regard to my book and/or their skills. I will respect their right to be compensated for their skilled labour and/or consulting time. I will recognize that being on Facebook at 3 AM does not necessarily constitute a desire to talk about work projects, and that social media chat is probably not the best avenue for business communication. I will bear in mind that straining this boundary will likely sour the friendship and result in their fervent desire to never work with me again.

NOTE: I’m not always perfect at this. I’ve made all four of these mistakes on occasion. In at least one case, it was bad enough that I’m still embarrassed about it — but grateful that I woke up to the wrong moves I was making before worse damage was done.

Dude! Don’t Ever Quote Real Lyrics!

It’s tempting, right? When our characters are at a dance or a bar (or scooping ice cream from the tub with a sad iTunes playlist on heavy rotation), we can’t help but think of the songs that are playing for them… and sometimes those songs influence character development, or a decision being made… and then of course that needs to be shared with the reader. So we want to quote the lyrics, because just mentioning the title of the song and referring obliquely to “the chorus about how freedom means nothing left to lose” doesn’t have quite the same punch, does it?

Well, read this:

Basically, licensing the rights to quote lyrics is a profitable sideline for music publishers, who also tend to be awfully litigious if they catch you using their property without permission. Even a tiny bit.

There’s also this (the second chunk of bold text and the answer below it):

So even if you’re Neil Gaiman, they want your money before you quote their lyrics, and it’s non-negotiable.

I have to admit I was a little shocked when I stumbled across the Guardian article, partly because of how much the rights cost, and partly because it’s more than a bit strange that fair use doesn’t apply to lyrics — not at all, not ever. And this isn’t just an issue for self-publishers, because in nearly all cases that I’ve been able to find, it’s the author’s responsibility to arrange permissions, not the publisher’s, and many publishers prefer that you just avoid the issue altogether.

If you still really want to use lyrics in your writing, the steps to apply for permission can be found here: (Be sure to read right down to the bottom, though, for a warning about what can happen if your book does better than expected!)

The (sort of) good news is that it’s safe to reference band names and song titles and paraphrase what the song is about, as long as you don’t use the exact lyrics. Apparently titles can’t be copyrighted and band names are factual information (e.g., it’s a fact that Bob Marley wrote “I Shot the Sheriff” and Eric Clapton later recorded a cover of it), so they can’t get you there.