New, Incontrovertible Reasons as to Why My Next Book Cannot Be Published!

Or this real guy. We met him on our honeymoon. He was a romantic, and he never would have proclaimed my book couldn’t get published, though.
Photo credit: Jennwith2ns 2012

Because . . . have you noticed? . . . I’m all about the excuses right now. I know, it’s been subtle. But you’re observant. I can tell. You’ve already noticed than anybody who started a book back in 2001 and still hasn’t got it published is seriously stalling.

But look! I have reasons! Here’s a big one–with a little tangent:

The other day the Bitchy Bride, who is fast becoming my Blogging BFF (or maybe BBFF), recommended the website Authonomy. Clearly I don’t already have enough social networking sites from which to derive creepy potential spam. (Incidentally, I would be Very Surprised Indeed if this site is where Mr. Edwards found me, as I have posted pretty much nothing on there yet–and again, the email he used is not the email associated with my profile there. But I guess it would clue anybody in that I–at least sometimes–style myself a writer.)

The basic idea of the site seems to be a forum in which to get your writing out to test-community of readers and other literary hopefuls. Evidently Harper-Collins is the umbrella organisation, so presumably everyone is more or less secretly hoping their work will be noticed by some agent or editor somewhere . . . and the Bitchy Bride’s was, so evidently it works for some people. You put up a profile, and you garner a community by reading and talking about other people’s works, and you try to broaden your readership by putting your own work there.

Easy enough. I like it. Favored One is already divided up into chapter files, which is how one is meant to post one’s books on Authonomy. But I can’t post mine. Because I quote the Bible.

So look. It’s a novel, like I said, but like I also said, it was kind of a big long spiritual exercise in which I was reading the actual Bible and interacting with the actual Bible, and though I made up probably the majority of the dialogue in Favored One myself (Miryam doesn’t have a whole lot of recorded sayings, it turns out), where there is Biblical dialogue in the stories I’m retelling, I wanted to draw straight from the Bible. The aforementioned “psychological experiment” is, as I said, imagining the psychological states and the behaviours of a specific woman in response to the Biblical accounts that we have. I personally believe the accounts to be historical, but I don’t think you have to believe them to find such an experiment interesting if you’re interested in stories about, as I’ve also said before, women’s issues or the paranormal or . . . just human psychology. All that to say–where there’s dialogue already written, I left it in.

The “problem” is, every translation of the Bible has its own copyright. Which part of me understands because you can’t translate anything word for word and have it mean what it means, so . . . there are lots of different translations, which implies a human element. But part of me sometimes just thinks,Really? Couldn’t we just say ‘Copyright: God. Ghostwritten by a whole lot of mostly-if-not-exclusively-dudes. Oh, go ahead, guys. It’s for all of you’?Or something like that?

The particular translation/paraphrase (and it is deliberately a combination in this case) I used was, as I think I mentioned, The Complete Jewish Bible. I picked this for the transliterated Hebrew names, and because I’m not Jewish, but the translator/paraphraser is, and I figured I needed all the help I could get to make the voice of the novel more or less culturally appropriate. (I’m not sure I succeeded, but I figure it can’t have hurt.) Plus (and especially), I just like this one. It worked for my spiritual exercise. It seemed to work for writing a novel, too.

But now that I really do want to publish the thing, I am having a bear of a time acquiring permissions. This, I think, is what an agent and/or traditional publisher is for. And I don’t have one of those. It’s not that I’m being denied permissions outright. It’s that I’m not receiving any answers. And so for now, I find myself stuck. I could switch translations and see if I can find a Bible publisher who’s a little more responsive. Or I could rewrite the entire dialogue in my own words. The tricky thing about that would be to avoid accidentally plagiarising a translation.

Or I could wait until I’ve taken two more New Testament Greek courses, after I restart my Master’s Degree for the third time this autumn, and then painstakingly translate all the dialogue myself. I kind of like that idea, actually, and, given how long it’s taken this manuscript to see the light of day, what’s another five to seven years? But that’s the thing. It’s already taken far longer than it should have. I’ve been talking about this thing for years. Now I have a forum in which to post it and maybe get some feedback, and as things stand, if I did, I could be sued.

What do you think?

  • a. wait for CJB permissions
  • b. use an alternate translation and try to get new permissions
  • c. compose my own dialogue, with my own paraphrase of English translations of the Biblical quotes
  • d. learn more Greek and translate the quotes myself

22 thoughts on “New, Incontrovertible Reasons as to Why My Next Book Cannot Be Published!

  1. hey Jenn!
    Did some poking around. Did you know that if you’re looking at a verse in bible gateway, you can click on the translation name, and then get several pages of copyright info. A selection from the NIV’s:
    Copyright Information

    “The NIV text may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic or audio), up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, providing the verses do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verses quoted account for twenty-five percent (25%) or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted.

    When the NIV is quoted in works that exercise the above fair use clause, notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page or opening screen of the work (whichever is appropriate) as follows:”

    If other modern translations have similiar arrangements, does it become feasible to mix and match verses, so that you don’t exceed any single translation’s limits? This is theologically suspect, and requires a different kind-of work than contacting the rights holders. But you could make an argument for choosing one translation over another. At the end of Purpose Driven Life, (or maybe the sequel) that pastor makes a fairly compelling case for using multiple translations.
    Anyway, just a thought.

    • I suppose that might be feasible. (Thanks for doing the research at Bright-and-Early-in-the Morning!) The concern there for me would be inconsistent voice in the story. Different Bible translations definitely sound different from each other.

  2. I guess it depends on what chapter/verse you’re quoting, but my first thought is to go with “C”. Not only does it take you out of this particular tangle, but by keeping the idea the same while changing the words, you can create the illusion that the Bible is a paraphrase of what was actually said. To me, that helps the authentic “feel” of a historical story – after all, nobody was there to actually transcribe what Mary (or whoever) said at that exact moment. Somebody was told what she (or he) said, and they wrote it down to match what they were told. So perhaps the exact wording wasn’t accurate, when those words were finally written down for posterity.

  3. This isn’t really a serious suggestion, but you can always use KJV since it’s public domain. 🙂

    My guess is that the various publishing/translation people primarily claim copyright in order to discourage some kind of abuse, or publishing versions with just a few things different, or something like that. I would guess that the usage you described would fit perfectly under “fair use”, but (1) I’m not a copyright lawyer, and tend to have a broader view of fair use than average, and (2) the publisher might not care, since they’d be the one likely to get sued. Certainly I can see how it’d be helpful to actually get permission. It might be worth just going ahead and self-publishing. Or, keep on going up the chain trying to find somebody who understands that what you’re trying to do won’t hurt them. Wish I had a better answer for you.

    • Heh. KJV. Heh. It MIGHT be interesting (and yet further procrastinatory) to try to rewrite this entire novel in Shakespearean English. It would also probably guarantee a readership of, like, four.

      Whether I publish traditionally or self-publish, the copyright issue is still going to be one if I stick with word-for-word. It seems like permissions would be easier to acquire, though. I mean–how many people have heard of the CJB? How many more people would hear of it if it wereused in an external story? (Well, okay–maybe 10, but still.)

  4. Thanks for the feedback. I’m kind of loving that everyone has a different opinion. Keep the ideas flowing, peeps.

    (I know. No one says “peeps.” Just me. Whatever.)

  5. You probably already know this, but I looked up the copyright for the CJB:
    Copyright and Usage Information

    Complete Jewish Bible Copyright 1998 by David H. Stern. Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

    The text of the Complete Jewish Bible may be quoted or used in a print publication up to and inclusive of one hundred (100) verses without the express written permission of the publisher, provided that the verses quoted do not account for more than 10 percent of the work in which they are quoted, and provided that a complete book of the Bible is not quoted.

    When the Complete Jewish Bible is quoted, the following notice must appear on the copyright page of the work:

    Scripture quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, copyright 1998 by David H. Stern. Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. Distributed by Messianic Jewish Resources Int’l. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

    When quotations from the Complete Jewish Bible text are used in congregational bulletins and orders of service, a complete copyright notice is not required, but the words Complete Jewish Bible must appear at the end of each quotation.

    Publication of a commentary or other Bible reference or theological work produced for commercial sale that uses the Complete Jewish Bible must have written permission of the publisher.

    Quotations in excess of one hundred (100) verses or 10 percent of the work, or other types of permission requests (including internet and electronic media) must be directed to: Permissions Department, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 615, Clarksville, MD 21029, and approved in writing. Please include an e-mail address in all correspondence.

  6. Steal NT Wright’s translations from the “everyone” commentary series. Or personally ask for permission via my writer acquaintance Jennifer Trafton, who apparently knows him.

    More seriously, I agree your paraphrases are a good idea, but not if your paraphrases compromise something artistic that may be there in the book as you have written it. If readers go through the book and get to those parts where scripture is quoted and the affect is “those words are significant”–then I think you should keep praying that CJB answers your inquiry. I don’t know how your book reads, but I feel like given your method for composing the story, the actual text (in the translation you primarily prayed through) is probably significant from a “experiencing the art form” perspective.

    That said, with your background knowledge of Greek you could probably work out your own translations of the Greek by consulting a variety of translations, paraphrases, and commentaries that deal with the Greek.

    • Sure. Just make more work for me, TheBro. 🙂 Those are really good observations/suppositions, though. I think you may be right about “how it reads.” And huh. Praying. What a concept. 😉

      • I suppose, though, paraphrasing, even from the English, might turn into another sort of spiritual exercise, so it wouldn’t be all bad. I’m afraid I don’t remember a whole lot of the Greek I (re)learned a year ago . . . but I still have the books.

      • I think most of the greek you learn in seminary serves the purpose of helping you evaluate commentaries, not actually do the translation yourself. So you don’t have to “remember it” – you just have to read the commentaries with your education.

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