Publishing Other People’s Non-fiction Stories Can Get You Sued!

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We were contacted by an author who is working on a very intriguing book. It’s almost finished. I can’t give you any details because it is such a great idea and she is likely taking steps to remedy the current problem. It’s one of those books that you just can’t help but open up, and dive into. All I can tell you is that it involved true crime, with details written by the criminal himself.

Unfortunately, she can’t publish the book as-is because it comes with a great deal of legal liability. Here was my response to her:

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. This is my non-attorney opinion. You need to contact your attorney for advice on this matter.

Unless you obtain a notarized release from (the felon), absolving you and your publisher (and anyone else involved in producing your book) from all liability, he can sue. He could always say they didn’t understand the situation, didn’t know you were going to publish his letter for profit, etc. One comment he made in one of his letters accused you of planning to edit his letter to change its meaning. That indicates to me that the individual may be planning to sue you later. While he may not have a case, he could make your life miserable, both emotionally and financially, for a very long time to come.

In addition to him possibly suing you for publishing his letter, you could also be sued by someone mentioned in his letter. If he lied about anyone (we know how honest convicted felons are about their crimes, right??), the person he lied about could sue you, even if you don’t use their real name. All it takes is one person recognizing who was being portrayed in the book for that person to be damaged. And, even if the felon was telling the truth, it would be difficult (perhaps impossible), and very expensive, to prove that in court.

If you do another project like this in the future, I recommend:

1. Obtaining a signed release (see “related” articles below for a sample) from the get-go. Of course, have your attorney provide you with the actual form he or she recommends, and have them vet your idea for any potential legal problems before you begin the researching and writing process. Follow up by having them vet the manuscript after you’re finished for any new legal problems.

2. Don’t mention other people in the book, and change enough details to avoid anyone being able to identify those described in the felon’s letter. See the second article link below, which is about memoirs, but can also apply to writing and publishing stories told to you by others. Telling a lie in a letter to an author isn’t going to get a prisoner sued. The person who puts the information out there for the public to read (the author) is the one who’s going to be served with a lawsuit. Even if you win, the legal fees alone could bankrupt you. And, even if the lawsuit is ruled frivolous, you’ll never be able to collect from a broke felon so you’ll get stuck with the legal fees in the end anyway.

The fact is convicts don’t care if they get sued because most of them have no money, and have nothing but time on their hands. Some of them have access to a legal library in which they can simply sit, and formulate a plan of attack against their next victim. Authors who deal with these types of individuals should be aware that a convict may be setting them up to be sued by letting the author publish lies they purposely said or wrote while in cahoots with the future “victim.” For example, they could give you false information about their cousin, who could then sue you, make a bundle, and then share it with the convict’s family.

Stranger things have happened in this industry so protect yourself in every way possible.

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About The Author

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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.

Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela.

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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