I am not an attorney. I’m just someone who’s been in the publishing business for 18 years and I’ve seen pretty much anything and everything, including authors getting sued after penning facts about past incidents in their lives. Please consult with an attorney for legal advice.
We recently received an angry email from a woman who claimed her father’s book, which we published, constituted a violation of her privacy. She said she was going to have an attorney contact us (she didn’t have one yet).
I know the author and also know he would never knowingly hurt anyone so I was pretty puzzled. I immediately opened the book file and searched for his daughter’s name. He’d only used her first name in the book (she has a different last name now as she’s an adult), and only talked about her in glowing, fatherly terms throughout the book. On one page, he mentioned in one sentence that she’d gotten pregnant at the age of 16. He then went on to write warmly of meeting his grandchild for the first time. Could that constitute an invasion of privacy? I wasn’t sure. But, it sure had me thinking. Could my children sue me someday for some silly true story I told about them when they were children? That just didn’t seem plausible or right to me. But, I’m not a lawyer.
I contacted the author and he was very upset about the situation. He admitted he’d been estranged from his daughter for several years and also told me she’s on welfare.
First of all, I was stunned that anybody would include someone they were estranged from in their memoirs. Doing something like that is just asking for a lawsuit, no matter what you write about them. Family problems can really bring out the absolute worst in people.
Second, the fact that the author told me she was on welfare implied he thought she was looking for a quick buck. That was sad, too.
Fast-forward a month later. After a lot of time, probably extensive legal fees, and many lost nights of sleep, the situation appears to have been resolved. The author’s attorney sent the daughter a letter explaining the book didn’t violate her privacy for a variety of legal reasons (which I won’t delve into here) and the author, wanting to avoid any further trouble from her, is removing all mentions of her from his book, which is sad because being a father is part of who he is and an important part of his memoirs. I can’t imagine how much time it’s going to take for him to remove his child from his life story.
So, what can we all learn from this author’s mistake?
1. Use false names whenever possible. Doing so does not eliminate a lawsuit threat but it really does lessen the chance of a gold digger coming after you later.
2. If you’re estranged from someone, don’t write about them! If you do, give them a new name and write under a false name yourself so nobody can connect your book to that person.
3. You can easily change names and identifying facts about people without harming the integrity of your story.
4. Remember that many people think all writers are rich and will file a lawsuit for any reason at all just to try to get a few bucks out of you in a settlement.
- Don’t Invite Lawsuits by Real People Featured in Your Book! (Hint: You Can Still Be Sued Even If You Don’t Name Them!)
- Boldly Assuming You “Can’t Be Sued” Will Likely Lead to a Lawsuit
- Publishing Other People’s Non-fiction Stories Can Get You Sued!
- Want to Get Sued? Write About Your Ex!
- Am I at Risk of Being Sued?
- Did Your Lawyer Say, “You Can’t Be Sued?” BEWARE!
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!
Angela's POD Secrets Revealed Series can be found HERE.
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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