I noticed in some books I read that under each chapter title, there is a citation, somewhat related to what the chapter in question is about. I was thinking of maybe using the same technique for my (first) novel. I have no experience in creative writing and so I was wondering whether this is frowned upon or generally accepted? Are there any legal considerations when quoting somebody in a book?

  • Personally, I find these annoying.
    – user5645
    Oct 27, 2014 at 10:54
  • @what Thank you, I'll bear it in mind. You can't please everybody...
    – am304
    Oct 27, 2014 at 11:07
  • @what: Personally, if I find these annoying, I just skip them. Sometimes they contribute quite a bit to a story, sometimes they are worthless fluff.
    – SF.
    Oct 27, 2014 at 12:05
  • Well, the question is: Why do you add an epigraph? To show that you have read all these classics? To let the reader know what the book or chapter is about? Often, if the novel is SciFi, the quotes from novels of the present past are incongruous and clash with the fiction of being in the future. And so on. Like everything in a novel, you should not just add epigraphs to add epigraphs. You should add them only if they add to what you want to do with your book. In many book, in my opinion, the epigraphs distract and subtract from an otherwise good book. So think carefully what you do. That's all.
    – user5645
    Oct 27, 2014 at 13:35

1 Answer 1


This is widely accepted, a rather common "flavor".

Yes, there are legal implications, unless you use public domain works or made-up citations.

In case of citations from works still covered by copyright, such use is not covered by Fair Use clause (unless you're parodying the content of the citation in in the following chapter, or referring to it by some other Fair Use clause) so either you obtain permission from the copyright holder (not always for free, not always granted at all), or you just violate the copyright.

While such minor copyright violations are hardly ever pursued by the copyright holder if the work is niche, you're likely to hear from their lawyers if you publish a popular book that earns you significant profits.

...that's why you'll usually find the quotes from Shakespeare, authors good 200 years old, or ancient philosophers. Quoting a modern pop song lyrics is asking for trouble.

  • Thank you very much. So presumably, this one for example would be OK: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke - Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 - 1797)
    – am304
    Oct 27, 2014 at 11:09
  • 1
    @am304: Yes, copyrights on anything published before 1923 have already expired. (except of some rare special exceptions covered by separate local laws, like in the KJV Bible in the UK, being under perpetual copyright of the Queen.) Note it's the publication date that counts, not the creation date (see a case of an XIX century letter only recently published.).
    – SF.
    Oct 27, 2014 at 12:02

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