DISCLAIMER: Angela is not an attorney. The information below is not legal advice. This article is based on stories authors and attorneys have shared with Angela over the past 15 years.
Some people look for easy, unethical ways to make money and, for some of those people, filing frivolous lawsuits against authors and others is how they attempt to line their pockets for retirement. There is no shortage of slimy lawyers who will happily file such lawsuits, hoping you’ll cave and settle…or hoping they can at least make you desperate enough to fear possible bankruptcy if you don’t play by their rules.
While it’s tempting to include salacious content in your book, doing so can result in a heated lawsuit. The legal fees alone (even if you win) could bankrupt you.
Here are 13 signs you should NOT Include that risky content in your book –
1. You’re thinking, “She’ll probably never read it…”
One author we know recently said this. While the subject of the chapter may not know about the book initially, you can bet that somebody who knows the author and that individual will eventually mention it to her. If she doesn’t like what he’s written, she can and likely will sue.
2. “I don’t have any money so they won’t sue me.”
You may think you’re having difficult financial times but, if you own any assets at all, they are subject to seizure if you lose a lawsuit and don’t pay the judgment. Even your future wages are subject to seizure if you owe a judgment. Think a lawyer won’t sue you just because you aren’t wealthy? Think again!
3. “She was a real b*tch to me and she deserves to be exposed!!!”
Authors with this attitude are just asking for their lives to be turned upside-down for years while they battle a lawsuit from their nemesis. I can pretty much guarantee you it’s just not worth it.
4. “If he didn’t want people reading about his actions, he shouldn’t have done that!”
Yeah, most of the people you want to write about probably shouldn’t have done what they did but, if they sue, you’ll have to prove your words were true. Even if you can prove it’s true, if you’ve violated the individual’s privacy, they can still win. Even getting to that point in court can bankrupt you.
5. “I’ll label it as ‘fiction’ or ‘fiction based on a true story.’ Yeah, that’ll do it.”
Nice try but this doesn’t always work. If any individual at all can figure out who the character is based on, you can be sued.
6. “I’ll just write under a pen name. Nobody will know it’s me so they can’t sue me.”
Uh, yeah… Good luck with that. The lawyers will subpoena your publisher, or printer, or anyone else associated with your book and, voila, you’re exposed, and facing a process server.
7. “He’ll be honored to be named in my book! It’ll be a huge surprise!”
True story. One author included a story in his memoirs about his two buddies committing a serious crime when they were teenagers. He thought since the statute of limitations had expired they couldn’t be prosecuted (true) and that they’d be honored to be include in his book (he was dead wrong). In the end, if both friends sued him, it would be his word against theirs and you can bet they’d gang up on the author in court to refute his tale, and to preserve their own reputations. I convinced the author to remove that story from his book.
8. “He/she can’t sue me because I live in a different country!”
A very common and incorrect assumption. Anybody can sued by anybody else, regardless of their location.
9. “No lawyer would take that case against me.”
Ppfff! Do you know how many lawyers there are in the U.S.? And, many of them are clamoring for cases, no matter how ridiculous those cases are. As of 2012, there were 1,244,120 lawyers in the United States. You can bet many of them would be very happy to file a lawsuit, including a frivolous one, against you.
10. “They’ll never be able to find me to file a lawsuit.”
Nice try but they can and will find you.
11. “I don’t care if they sue!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this response from authors. I guarantee you, when your wages are garnished, and when your bank account is thousands, tens of thousands, or more lower than it was when you made this statement, you WILL care.
12. “It’s been years since it happened so I’m safe to write about it.”
Another common misconception. The clock on the statute of limitations on libel, defamation and invasion of privacy begins when the work is first published, not when the deed was committed years ago.
13. “My lawyer said they can’t sue me so…they can’t!”
What your lawyer probably meant was they likely don’t have grounds to win a lawsuit but getting to judgment day could cost you thousands of dollars or more. Remember, lawyers who tell you that you can’t be sued will immensely enjoy the fees you must pay them to defend you if/when you do, in fact, get sued. Anybody can sue anybody for anything. If your lawyer ever utters the words, “you can’t be sued” or “they can’t sue you”, in my opinion, you should immediately find another lawyer.
Think twice, three times, and more before including risky content in your book. Is it worth spending months or years in court? Is it worth spending thousands, tens of thousands, or more to defend yourself and your book? Can you find a way to still share the experience, or teach a lesson to your readers, while never exposing the identity of the subject? If you can successfully accomplish this, you might be able to avoid a lawsuit.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
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Have a POD Book with another publisher? See if BookLocker can give you a better deal. (BookLocker offers "disgruntled author discounts" to those who want to move from other POD services.)
See BookLocker's publishing packages HERE.
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