First, let me say that very few novels have real song lyrics in them. Want to know why? Because you have to get permission and PAY to use them (unless they’re public domain). Many authors and publishers don’t want to deal with the hassle or expense and frown upon using real lyrics unless they’re pivotal in the story. If you’d like to read more about how complicated it is, here are some useful links:
Jane Friedman’s blog about getting permissions: http://janefriedman.com/2012/01/23/permissions/
Virginia Lloyd’s article on copyright: http://virginialloyd.com/vblog/using-lyrics-or-an-epigraph-in-your-book-curious-about-copyright/
Permission information with actual addresses for record companies: http://www.copyrightkids.org/permissioninformation.htm
Another really important thing to consider when deciding whether or not to include song lyrics in your novel, is the problem with dating your work. If you include a top-forty song on the radio today, will readers be able to appreciate it in five or ten years? This is especially true when writing YA novels, because young people can’t relate to out-of-date music or artists. In my opinion, it’s best to keep music generic so readers can imagine artists they think are cool as they read. This is why a lot of authors who have song lyrics or band names in their novels write the lyrics themselves. If you’re a serious writer, you’ve probably written poetry, and it’s really no different. I gave it a shot in Empath, and it wasn’t too difficult to come up with a few lines for Lucy and Anthony to sing.
Lastly, music is a big part of most people’s lives, and we associate certain songs with various feelings. If you include a song you have good feelings about, it doesn’t mean your reader will feel the same. You might actually ruin a scene for your reader if you set the tone with a song they hate. Then they might put the book down and that’s the last thing you’d want to happen, right? I think the best way to convey the mood in a scene is to use sensory details and imagery rather than real song lyrics. But in real life, please play your favorite songs to set the mood. Jam out my friends!
Sally White is the author of This Side of Tomorrow. Follow her on Twitter @sallyannwhite70!