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Citations in Self-Help Books – Advice from Thomas Hauck, Ghostwriter and Book Editor

I edit many self-help books. My clients – the wonderful and conscientious authors – often refer to other sources or discuss ideas that are circulating in society. They often ask me about citations.

When should you give credit to another author or to a source? Here’s what I tell my valued clients.

First, if you have legal questions I encourage you to seek legal counsel. I am not a lawyer.

Having said that, in my opinion you are required to give a citation if – and only if – you present someone else’s exact copyrighted language as your own. A popular book is not an academic treatise. The citation standards are very different.

Fair use entitles you to discuss another person’s ideas the way a reviewer discusses a book or a news reporter reports on a book. In such cases you are clearly not presenting the ideas as your own. You can fairly say, “In his book ‘Run for Health,’ John Doe recommends you do a half-hour of stretches; I believe this is optional.” John Doe cannot sue you.

Many books present ideas that are in general circulation. Therefore your language must be your own, which it is, but you are not required to provide a source for every idea in your book.

You must give credit for primary source material or material that others agree to provide. For example, in a compilation cookbook the recipes are copyrighted by their respective authors, you’ll need to include a paragraph on the copyright page acknowledging their copyrights.

If you want the reader to investigate other sources, my suggestion is to provide a list of additional resources at the end of the book, if you want to do this. You are not required to.

Thomas Hauck ghostwriter, book editor, author

Thomas Hauck provides professional freelance book editing and ghostwriting services.
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