Why is research so important — and what are the various ways you can do it effectively? How do you credit your sources? Plus more tips on researching fiction and non-fiction.
I did a recent discussion with Orna Ross on the Ask ALLi Podcast about book research. You can watch the video, listen to the audio, or read the transcript below.
- Why is research so important — for fiction and non-fiction?
- Research of memory
- Following your curiosity. Write what you're interested in, not necessarily what you know.
- Researching with books, films/TV, YouTube, podcasts and other media
- Research in person — traveling, interviewing people, plus surveys and your community
- How much you need to research — and when to stop
- Credit and attribution
You can find the ALLi Podcast on your favorite podcast app or on SelfPublishingAdvice.org. You can find Orna Ross at www.OrnaRoss.com
[There's an introductory section. The discussion on research starts at 07:58 mins.]
Why is research so important for authors?
Joanna Penn: Okay. So, let’s get into the topic for today, which is how to research your book, but we’re going to start with why research is so important anyway, because I feel like there’s a bit of, “Oh, but you should create from your brain,” like that’s all you need is your brain and here comes a book off the page. But Orna, why don’t you start, why do you think research is so important?
Orna Ross: I have a quote there that I really like from Robert McKee who’s, I think you’ve done his courses?
Joanna Penn: Famous in screenwriting circles, really.
Orna Ross: For his screenwriting advice, exactly. And he has a brilliant book called Story, which I found really useful. And I often find screenwriting books are really good on story. He has a great quote about research, Do research, he says. Two words. It’s an order. “Feed your talent is the number one reason, and research not only wins the war on cliche, it’s the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression.“
I think that kind of sums up the whole thing if I was research for me, but essentially without going outside ourselves, we don’t know where we fall in our own tradition. We don’t know what’s been done before, whether we’re repeating something, and maybe less well than somebody’s already done it.
It’s also really important, I feel personally, for filling the creative well. The idea that you would not research either fiction, non-fiction, or poetry sometimes. I mean, sometimes poetry is the exception, and it does just come, kind of, fully formed from the brain, but generally from other reading or something else, you know, there’s no such thing as an original thought, and I think that’s the very reason why research is so important.
Joanna Penn: For me, I think a lot of people say, Oh, I’ve got writer’s block, whereas actually a lot of the time it’s because they don’t know enough detail, or they don’t know enough about a situation.
So for example, Day of the Martyr, ARKANE thriller #12, I have a book title and I know it will be about the relics of Thomas Becket, but I don’t know enough about Thomas Becket and the medieval relics in the church, and where they might be now. So, I might have an idea, but then I have to go find out the detail. If I try and write that book from my own head, I might be able to write a bit, but could I write a whole novel? No, I couldn’t.
Certainly for non-fiction, I must read between 20 and 40 books per non-fiction title, sometimes many more. And for fiction, I probably read 10 to 20, about half, and they’re usually history books and religious books, and stuff like that.
I just cannot even imagine writing a book without researching.
Even things like fantasy, so I know people are like, Oh, but I’m writing about a magical kingdom. But as we know, one of the most famous fantasy series is, I guess George R.R. Martin, with what became the Game of Thrones TV show is based on history. And a lot of fantasy is taken from history. Tolkien was inspired by the Icelandic sagas and the Norse sagas and things like that.
So, don’t be afraid to research, I think that’s important.
But Orna, what do you say to people who are worried about research in case they plagiarize or steal ideas, all of this?
Orna Ross: Yeah, I just think it’s a false fear. It can really lead to cliche, because you think you’re having an original thought, and then if you haven’t researched it, you don’t realize. The other thing that happens, I think, is the specific sort of details that make something ring true, you need to research to get that.
I write historical fiction, so not researching is simply not an option. You absolutely have to, and if anything, the problem is, something we’ll talk about a little bit later in the show, which is about when to stop and not getting overloaded.
But the other thing you hear writers talking about a lot is the moment when it seems like the book got up and started to write itself. Ironically, that’s what happens when the research is good enough, when you’ve filled in enough of the details through research, and working, and thinking, because research isn’t just, and again we’ll talk about this in a minute, it isn’t just what you do in the library, it’s also actively researching your imagination and your memory as well.
So, without that act, you know, whenever you hear somebody talk about not wanting to research and wanting to just have this pure experience from the top of the brain, generally you’re talking to somebody who hasn’t finished a book or is writing the same book over and over.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, I mean, how can you sustain it? I’m up to 34 or something, how do you sustain it?
The other thing is, to me, people say, “Oh, write what you know,” and I don’t even know where I heard it, but it’s not write what you know, it’s write what you’re interested in, which is why a lot of my thrillers come back to religious relics, because I just can’t find them interesting enough. So, I’m always reading about religious relics and going to, like there’s an exhibition at the British museum coming up on Becket. So, for me, that write what you’re interested in, that’s what drives me to a book.
Orna Ross: Write what you want to know!
How can authors research their book?
Joanna Penn: Yes! Write what you want to know and what gives you an excuse to research.
So, I think that moves us on into the next section, which is how to research. So, why don’t you start, how do you research?
Orna Ross: So, of research as being divided in three in my mind. So, there is research of other books, if you like, what we typically think of as research in the old days, what you’d go off to the library to do, and now you go onto the internet to do as well. You have a quote here, “Books are made out of books,” by Cormac McCarthy, and I really love that, that’s absolutely right. So, there’s that, and for me, that’s all about good notes, just taking good notes. At the beginning, not knowing where you’re going with it necessarily, watching for that tug of interest that sometimes is mysterious, and at the same time, actually looking up stuff that you know you need to know.
And then there is the research of the memory, which for me, I activate through free writing. I sit down and actively ask myself the question, how does this book connect to something that’s happened in my memory? Because generally, if we want to write a book, there is something in there from way back when that interests us.
And again, looking for that tug of energy that tells you there’s something going on there, but free writing very often generates a lot of material. So, I’ll just keep writing as fast as I can, not necessarily knowing what’s going to come out of the memories.
And then I also do what I think of as, and they’re not all together, these are all on different days, research of the imagination. Again, using a free writing technique where I’ll actively go in and think my way into the character’s actual sensory experience.
So, go through a day in their life, or a scene that I already know is going to be in the book. Some of these details do make their way into the book. Not all do, and you have to, I think, not worry too much about waste at the beginning, and just get whatever you get. And then there is a logical sorting process that happens in the writing.
Joanna Penn: I don’t do that at all. This is what’s so great. But I do agree with this, I think this tug of interest or curiosity, I think that is so key and I feel like it’s something we lose touch with. I certainly felt that I wasn’t creative when I had a day job, back in the day, in IT and I didn’t know what I was curious about. I knew I like reading thrillers to drown my day job at lunchtime and on the train, but I didn’t know what might interest me about things to write about.
Tapping into curiosity is a muscle.
You have to learn it and trust it over time, and when you feel it, you have to go with it, because there will be something there. It might take years, like this shadow book, for example, I’ve been thinking about this since I first studied Carl Jung, back when I was 19. So, this is a long time coming.
Sorry, back to research, you mentioned the books there, you and I met in the London Library. [Below is a video that Amazon made of me in the London Library back in 2014, when I lived in London.]
Orna Ross: Yes.
Joanna Penn: Do you remember? In 2012, we actually met on Twitter, everyone. We are a classic friendship, started on Twitter, and continued in the London library when we just bumped into each other. I used to go to the London Library and get books from the stack, and now I tend to order a lot of them.
I order physical books a lot of the time that just tug at me, and then I have them on my shelves. A lot of them are very visual books, for example, I’ll buy books from museums with lots of images in, and that really sparks things. I’m quite a visual writer, but certainly, obviously online libraries, and things like that.
Or even using things that are in other books, like Frankenstein, you know, Mary Shelley, a lot of people riff-off that. I’m just reading a feminist version of Beowulf at the moment, have you seen this? It’s just come out. So, they’ve taken Beowulf, obviously, which is way out of copyright, like a thousand years out of copyright, and riffing off that. So, that’s another way of using a book. I wrote A Thousand Fiendish Angels based off Dante’s Inferno.
So, it’s actually taking a book and mining a book for ideas, but again, those are all out of copyright, and we’re going to come to citations, and things like that. But what about a non-fiction, Orna, what do you do for nonfiction?
Orna Ross: Well, obviously that does tend to happen much more in number one, which is the researching other the books, kind of thing. I think it’s important, as well as thinking of books, there are lots of other ways that you can get the kinds of details that you’re looking for. So, documentary, TV, podcasts. There are lots and lots of ways of finding what you need to know.
I generally begin a non-fiction book with some intensive Google research, just search engine research, see what comes up. Blog posts are really useful as well. Back to fiction, again, one of my main sources, as a historical novelist, is local newspapers, and they really good for getting the tone, the voice, the sound of the period, as well as the strange, weird, and wonderful things that happened, that are slightly different from our time, that really bring a period alive.
So, research for me is not a hugely organized process. I really do follow it pretty organically, especially at the beginning. I have to completely tame myself, I’ll talk about that in a few minutes, but I use Evernote, because Evernote has such a good search function. I can find what I need to find. That just changed my life, because before that, I used to drown in notebooks and was forever flicking forwards and backwards trying to find things.
I think that’s the main thing to say, is that it’s organic. I follow the feeling, and then as the book gets more advanced, then you’re into filling the gaps, which is very specifically going to look for a particular factor figure or something.
Joanna Penn: Okay. Well, some of the other things I do, certainly documentaries, films, YouTube videos. For example, for End of Days, I watched loads of Appalachian snake handling church videos.
I wrote a whole scene, but literally I will just type out what I hear, what people say, and I’ll use the way they speak as dialogue and description. Like, I just described the church on the screen in front of me, which I think is fascinating.
And then news, I read a lot of news, I just can’t seem to break the addiction. I read a lot of different newspapers, and Map of the Impossible came from the discovery of a map on the wall of an Egyptian tomb. And it was laid out like an adventure, like an actual map. There were these certain, you know, big bat things, and then there was a snake thing, and they had to get through. I was like, that’s the plot of a, sort of, a journey through the underworld. So, I nicked that. You can definitely nick plot from the walls of Egyptian tombs — there is nothing wrong with that!
Also travel, this is the reason I’m writing a book about Becket, because the only place I’ve been in the last year is Canterbury, which is where he was martyred, but most of my fiction is based on my travel.
So, my last novel, Tree of Life, we went to Amsterdam, and this is what I do, I go looking for a story. So, we went to Amsterdam and I knew I would find an idea somewhere, and I thought it would be in this esoteric library, that Dan Brown had been to, and I was like, Oh, I’m bound to find an idea there. But no, after that, we went to this synagogue, the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, and I was like, what is this? How is there a Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam? That question, why, why is this? And they had a book there called, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, and I was like, this is the story, like seriously? And so, I bought the book and then, apologies to them, I had to burn it down in my book.
But definitely, I would say 90% of my fiction is based on places I’ve actually been, my whole Mapwalker fantasy trilogy is based on walking past a map shop here in Bath, England, and then going from there.
So, that is really important to me. Now, I realize that’s not for everyone, because I’m very lucky and I’m able to travel, but I feel like watching documentaries, YouTube, books, Google maps, can actually help you in other ways to see details, for example.
Orna Ross: I think back to that point of everybody being so different, when you mentioned news media there, for me, that just leaves me completely cold. It has to be yesterday’s news before my imagination is activated. I don’t know why that is, but that just is the way it is. My imagination wouldn’t be activated by a modern news story or modern news media. Even though I would see a story, like a little thing that happened in a courtroom or something, and I would say, that’s a really great novel plot, but it would never go anywhere. Something about the past needs to happen.
The other thing that I find really good, and I think you said you don’t like to do, is interviewing people. So, I will actually, and almost everybody-
Joanna Penn: Talk to someone?!
Orna Ross: Yes, I like talking to people. So, pretty much everybody will give you an interview if you want to talk to them about their favorite topic, is my experience. They just love doing that, and it nearly always yields something that you wouldn’t get yourself any other way, I feel.
Also, I think what happens for me in conversations is the things that people don’t want to talk about, the gaps, or the secrets, or the things that are too painful to discuss, maybe. Then I’m off. So, I think the point is, you have to do whatever activates your imagination. It’s not as simple as just get the facts, something else has to be going on for it to be something that’s going to have the energy to take you through the writing of it, turning it from just an experience or an interesting thing into something that’s going to fuel a whole book.
Joanna Penn: Just one more thing. So, I don't like talking to people, but I do surveys. So, I did a survey for The Healthy Writer, and a lot of quotes went into the book. I did a survey for How to Make a Living With Your Writing, and again, quotes into the book, and it inspires other chapters. And, of course, I get permissions and everything and I quote people when I put them in the acknowledgements and all of that. So, you can definitely do surveys. If you have an audience that you’re writing for, like I do, and I’m going to do this with the shadow book once I know what I’m doing, I will do another survey to get more ideas, because people often have ideas that you don’t have, and they’re very happy to share.
So, I think that’s another way to do it if you’re an introvert like me, and don’t want to actually talk to anyone.
Orna Ross: Definitely don’t neglect your own community. Sometimes we can forget what a rich source it is. Certainly, the ALLi self-publishing books would be nothing without ALLi members. I mean, they’re just absolutely packed with member testimony. So, it’s important to remember that.
Joanna Penn: Okay. So, briefly you mentioned that you use Evernote, and I tried Evernote. In fact, I still pay for it, I think, and I just can’t use it, but I use notebooks and I also use Scrivener.
I’ve got about 20 different Scrivener files right now of projects that I’m not actively working on, but ideas. And then I might just, for example, I watched a documentary a few weeks ago and I wrote notes and I stuck them in Scrivener, because I may or may not write that book and those notes are there, so I might come back to it. But for me, it is Scrivener.
I put it in the research folder and then what I do with every book I write, if it’s Kindle I highlight things and export the PDF and put that in Scrivener. If it’s paper, I underline things and then I type up my notes, and we’ll come to crediting in a minute, but I’m very careful with making sure I keep track of all my sources. And then I know if it’s in quotation marks, then it is a quote. And if it’s not in quotation marks, it’s my thoughts about whatever it was.
Converting research into words written
Joanna Penn: So, you talked a bit about it. Is there anything else you want to talk about in terms of turning the research into words?
Orna Ross: I think, again, just in terms of the research of memory and imagination, to have a capturing device, be it a notebook, be it Evernote, or Scrivener, or whatever, or both, because yes, I also use notebooks, but whatever you use to capture your research, keep it by your bed, because I always get my best ideas when I wake up in the morning.
So, I need to keep it close, and somebody gave me that tip years ago, but it’s one of the best tips I ever got. So, if it is a notebook, just have the notebook and pen by your bed, or if it’s your phone, you can put it into Scrivener, put it into Evernote, whatever it is,
But to remember that sometimes, again, when it comes to the active research of the imagination, activating the imagination, activating the memory, that is research also.
Joanna Penn: And I don’t do that either. But just to say to people, it comes for me when I sit down to do my work at my desk, rather than in the middle of the night or anything. So again, there aren’t any rules about this, we’re just sharing our experiences.
How much research should you do, and when should you stop?
Joanna Penn: So, big question. How much research do you need and when do you stop?
Orna Ross: Oh, well now. Don’t do what I do! I have to now be so strict with myself because, I mean, one of my past jobs was actually as a historian. So, I love research, in other words. Of course research is easier, isn’t it?
It’s much easier to just enjoy going around reading other people’s stuff and imagining this and that and the rest and make notes, which don’t have to be actually knocked into structured chapters and things. So, I actually now have to have some sorts of first draft in place before I let myself do the research, and I think though that this is not something I could have done at the beginning, but it’s something that I’m trying to train myself into doing now, because I just go too widely, and I forget what I’m there for, and I need to be put back in.
So now I just have some sort of first draft in place, not trying to go for tone, texture, or anything like that, just trying to get plots and ideas, and knowing what’s happening in the book. And then, and only then, turning to actually doing the research. Obviously talking about the ideas established, I know what I’m doing, you can’t be completely black and white about these things. It’s very organic, but the point being, you’re somebody who has to make themselves research, in which case stopping won’t be a problem for you, being too thin is your problem. I’m the opposite. Therefore I have to limit what I do.
I think it’s easier to know, for me, speaking personally, it’s much easier to know in poetry or in nonfiction, when enough is enough. I feel it, I know it, it starts to feel like no, okay, that’s enough of that. But with fiction, I can get totally lost.
Joanna Penn: Oh, that’s interesting. I feel with nonfiction, but like I said, I know I’ve done enough when I know exactly what they’re saying, so the amount of underlining or the amount of highlighting will reduce with every book I write.
So, with the shadow book, I’ve now read about 15 books on the Jungian shadow, and now I’m like, yeah, I know what this is. So, now I’m looking at their references, and finding other aspects from other books, but I feel like I’m getting into a point where I need to start writing more and then I can maybe do some more research.
But with fiction, I basically don’t stop. I’m a discovery writer mainly, so with Day of the Martyr, Thomas Becket, I don’t know what it is yet. It’s not a historical novel about the murder of Becket, it’s a modern-day thriller that is somehow based around a relic. So, I’ve written a lot of relic thrillers before, so I need something new, but I know that by researching it and going into research in some way, I’m going to find an idea, but I will stop that kind of research once I actually get the story idea.
Once I get it and I get a couple of key settings, physical settings, then I’ll write some scenes and then I’ll do more detailed research. So, for example, with Tree of Life, I had to research somebody running through the middle of downtown Rio de Janeiro and figure out how they would get up to that big Jesus, you know, Jesus, the Redeemer, Christ, the Redeemer on the hill.
So, I had to go into Google maps and figure out all of the physical movements, and I didn’t need to do that until I was writing that scene, and then I needed to do that.
So for me, I feel like the research is on several levels. One is the big theme or the big story, and then at the bottom level it’s figuring out those little details as you actually write the chapters.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think that’s very fair to say, and the more clarity you can get around which of those you’re working on, the better, to avoid the confusion factor.
So, in one you’re looking to activate/stimulate imagination, and in the other you’re looking to get in and out as quickly as possible with some information, just to fill a gap or to give you a sense of some sort of sensory detail or whatever.
Joanna Penn: In terms of just when to stop, I would say, if you don’t know when to stop, a word count may have something to do it. If you’re looking to write a 70,000-word novel and you’ve got 70,000 words of research notes, I’d say you’re probably on the wrong side of the balance!
Orna Ross: I’d have 140,000!
Joanna Penn: Exactly. We’ve talked about starting energy, I feel like research is part of starting energy. It can be really great, and then the pushing through energy is stop researching and do the writing.
Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely, and go from there.
How to credit and attribute your research?
Joanna Penn: Okay. So, let’s talk about crediting and attributing. So, for nonfiction, for me, I never do anything academicy or footnotey, because I feel like that just doesn’t work for ebooks, and it definitely doesn’t work for audio books.
And I feel like people who, at the moment, are a little bit obsessed about footnotes and doing that kind of thing, have not thought about the various ways that people read. Even print books, I had a friend and his whole story had footnotes on every page, it was part of the device, and the thing is, you know how small people print traditionally published books or even indie books, if you print the font too small, your footnotes are even tinier, and it was just impossible for any person with normal vision to read.
So, for me, I don’t do footnotes or indexing, what I do is in the appendix, I will have a list of sources by chapter. In the ebook, I will hyperlink to a particular thing, and in the appendix I will list the references by chapter. And then in the audiobook, I say, you can get the appendices in a downloadable file if you go to this page, they don’t have to put their email or anything, but it means that they can get that. And I also obviously put, you can get all these other things as well. So, I think to me, that’s the best way of doing it, but I realize that you’re more au fait with more academic type of books. What do you think with non-fiction?
Orna Ross: Obviously, if you’re talking about a scholarly academic text, then your references are really key to the publication, because that’s just how academic publishing works.
So, you have to have extremely careful footnotes and then notes about, not just the author name and the book title, but the year of publication, which edition it was, where it was published, all that kind of stuff goes into your end notes.
But for everybody else now, the great thing about having the internet is you can have very minimal kinds of references, if they are completely necessary. Only in, I would say on average how-to nonfiction, and so on. So, obviously if you’re quoting somebody, then you need to let people know that you have quoted them, and where they could find more from that quote, but you can make that really simple.
I do my formatting, as I know you do also, with Vellum, and Vellum has an end note facility. So, you can just get your end notes at the end of the chapter, which I think is a much more friendly way to do it. You just have a few end notes on each, instead of a lengthy attribution with everything at the end of the actual quote itself, just a discreet number, and then if you want to follow it through, then you can.
And I think what you’re aiming to do is just two things, to credit the person whose words you have used, and if the reader wants to know more, just making it easy for them to do that.
So, obviously in eBooks hyperlinks, great. The tricky thing then is getting your print references, which will have to be different in the print edition to work as a print references, but keeping it really simple, and recognizing that in the old days, you had to give a whole load of information because you wanted to make sure that people found the right book, the right edition of the book, and all that kind of stuff. But these days with, the internet, it’s all much easier. So, keep it simple, I would say.
Joanna Penn: I’d also say that you can credit ideas without having to have a direct quote. For example, I might say, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross, talks about free writing as part of her creative process. And I haven’t directly quoted you in that way, but I am referencing you as the person with, and I know that’s not your original idea either, but it’s where I heard it from. And I think that’s important too. I feel like people obsess about individual quotes, but it should also be the ideas that you might have heard from other people.
And the other thing is this, there’s nothing wrong with this. I feel like there’s a resistance to that, but again, there’s nothing new under the sun. We are taking ideas from around us and putting our own spin on them, and what I like about the indie author community, always have, is the generosity and we quote each other, we list each other’s books in our back matter, and in fact, I will email people and say, I want to quote you in my book, what have you got?
I got an early version of your Creative Self-Publishing, because I was like, “Orna, I need to quote you in my book, give me your latest book so I can quote you,” because this is also part of our ecosystem. Because what happens is someone finds my book and then they say, ‘Oh look, Joanna thought this book was useful' and they go and buy that book. And as we’ve said, we’re a self-sustaining industry. People never just buy one book; they’re going to buy loads of books. So, what you want to do is help other people through quoting them and referencing their work.
So, in terms of fiction, I always do an author’s note, and I include the books I’ve read, the places I went to, the exhibitions I’ve been to, and I may occasionally, Morgan Sierra might say, Carl Jung said, in a kind of pithy way, but normally there won’t be any attribution within the text. It will be in the author’s note. What do you do about fiction?
Orna Ross: Yeah, acknowledgements, I think, but again it is a tricky thing, and it very much depends on the length of the book, the amount of references, the amount of research you’ve done, and also sometimes you don’t know where your ideas came from. Sometimes you do, but sometimes you’re carrying something, and it’s come to you and it wasn’t an official note, it’s something you picked up somewhere along the way in other reading or whatever.
I think the main thing is, if anybody has had a significant impact on your book, they do deserve that acknowledgement.
Then the second thing is to keep in mind that the reader benefits. I think some writers sometimes think they have to, that it’s almost like a sign of weakness, like they have to have all the ideas themselves, or it’s not a good book, and that’s not true. It’s actually, the confident author has no problem giving credit where it’s due, saying where they came across an idea. It might be a term.
There are all sorts of ways in which we are nurtured and fed by other authors, and to acknowledge that as much as it is possible. Also, readers love these background details, and you can also, if there isn’t room in the book and you don’t want to have pages and pages at the back of your book, you can have a page on your website where you go into considerable detail. I’ve seen lots of authors who really go into a lot of detail about their research on their own website. If your reader likes that sort of thing, they really like it, so it can be a good way to do it too.
Joanna Penn: Well, it’s kind of why I’ve started my Books and Travel website and podcast, in order to bring that. I did a whole show on Oxford: Decadence, Discipline, and Dreaming Spires.
I went to Oxford and my ARKANE main character Morgan Sierra has an office in Oxford, and I feel like I’m bringing out my research more and more in writing stuff around my research, and I will probably be doing some non-fiction books around aspects of research.
We’ve seen, for example, Neil Gaiman wrote a book on Norse myths. Val McDermid, who’s a crime writer here in the UK has a book on forensics. So, you can turn your research into other products, I think that’s actually important too. There are actually ways you can monetize it.
How to use quotes within the bounds of ‘fair use'
One more question, we’re almost out of time, which is, some people might be worried about using a quote from a book. Obviously, fair use is when you can take, for example, I might use one line quote from the Bible, even the NIV version and say, okay, that’s fine, because it’s one line in millions. Whereas I won’t use one line from the lyric of a pop song, because it’s a very short thing and I’ll get into trouble. So, what do you think about that? How do we use quotes?
Orna Ross: Yeah, it’s laid out very clearly for us in copyright law. So, both here in the UK and in the US, it’s called fair use in one place and fair dealing in another, I can never remember which is which, but it’s made very clear to us what is allowable and what is not in terms of fair use. Essentially, you don’t rip the heart and soul out of a work. As you said, if you were to take two or three lines out of a song, then that’s just probably not on, or a short poem, but if it’s a longer piece of work, that’s absolutely fine.
So, there’s a bit of common sense here. And again, I think, if you’re keeping your two things up, credit where credit is due, and facilitating the reader, if you keep those two things in mind, then I think you won’t go too far wrong.
Joanna Penn: Definitely, and I think just generally beware of poetry and lyrics, and you’re probably fine with anything that’s a full-length book.
Orna Ross: Yes, I think that’s probably a good rule of thumb. There is a movement now with showing more research, and what you’re talking about there in terms of showing more as you’re going along, so am I and so are authors, and I think this is part of the creator being the publisher and the creator wanting to tip the hat at other creators.
So, in the same way that we, as publishers, are much more forthright in crediting the other creation professionals that helped to make the book, like the designers and the editors and so on, being more public about our research is part of that movement too, I think.
Joanna Penn: Good stuff. So anything else on research? I think that’s probably it.
Orna Ross: Just know when to start and know when to stop.
Joanna Penn: Yes, and the book is the point. The research is super fun, but the book is the point. So, happy writing,
Orna Ross: and happy publishing. Have a great month. Bye, bye.
Stephen Kamugasa says
This is a very educational interview indeed, thank you!
Research is important to me because it helps me put flesh on the bones of some of my most weird of ideas. In other words, research gives ballast to my thoughts and keeps my feet firmly on the ground. I conduct my research by reading widely – especially in areas connected with my interest in humanity, citizenship and leadership. I endeavour to keep an open and curious mind.
Thank you once again for a great interview.
Charlayne Elizabeth Denney says
One of my favorite subjects: research. I’m a historian and a genealogist. I spend a lot of time running around the internet & libraries to find things that interest me or that I’m needing for a project.
My first book, the vampire novel Lilly’s Angel, started because I saw a picture of a woman from the Storyville prostitution quarter of New Orleans from around the turn of 1900. I wanted to know more about her life. My husband and I honeymooned in New Orleans and I fell in love with the city and its history so reading up on history was fun for me.
That was when Lilly was found in my head, she worked in the largest, most famous of those brothels, Mahogany Hall. Then it was off to find everyone who would have been there.
I used the City Directory from that time (I narrowed it to 1900, the Storyville era went from 1897-1917) to find the undertaker and embalmer. I went to the census of 1900 to find the names of the girls who would have worked with/around Lilly in 1900. I went into the city history to find the names of the mayor and commissioners. Newspapers of the time that discussed Storyville and the attitudes of the people of New Orleans were very helpful.
I even found a thesis in the Tulane Library about the police officers in that area that named names of those working in Storyville. There are a couple of books on the larger brothels and those madams came to Lilly’s funeral. Music, especially jazz, was starting there in Storyville, the pianist Tony Jackson played the funeral and the Second Line, the band escort to the cemetery is one from that era that still exists today, Onward Brass Band. I found those in searches on Jazz and on the Second Lines.
I even found a website from a university study on the graves in Louis I cemetery where I could look at the graves and pick out which one would have been “the little house” where Lilly lived for 100 years.
So there are places you can find all sorts of flavor information to make the history more authentic.
Wonderful article, ladies. Loved it.
Roberto Gonzalez says
This was a good conversation, thank you. You never disappoint. I would be interested in any book you would offer concerning research, and I’m sure others would be interested, too.
Joanna Penn says