***There are millions of people with fascinating stories to tell. Unfortunately, many of these survival stories deal with abuse. I receive numerous emails like this one each year. The email below has been anonymized by me. The actual facts revealed in the email were horrific.
I would love to be able to share my life story. I have been told for years to write a book. Thing is, I have no idea on where to begin.
I am the single mother of four children. I got pregnant the first time when I was 16. My mom died in car accident when I was pregnant so I ended up raising my three siblings. My dad was driving that night and, after years of abusing my mom and us, we suspected he wrecked the car that way on purpose. The pole he hit was on her side of the car. He had minor injuries. The day after the funeral, he moved in with his mistress and we hardly saw him after that. He got all the life insurance money and gave nothing to me and my siblings. He spent it all before the courts could intervene.
The abuse didn’t stop there. Even after I became an adult, and moved out on my own, he would come to my house and beat me up. Once, he did it in front of my children. I didn’t turn him in all those years because he was the only parent I had left. After he abused me in front of my children, I finally got smart, and got up the nerve to get an order of protection against him.
My dad and his wife are still alive. Recently, they stole an inheritance from another relative.
There is so much more to tell. I want to write a book, partly to tell my story and also so I can make some money from it since I’m a single mom.
Where should I start?
I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. The information below is my opinion only. Please consult your attorney for questions about the legalities of writing and publishing non-fiction, especially where abuse is concerned.
Your story does indeed sound very interesting and I’m sure it would be of interest to many readers. However, there is a pretty significant legal liability associated with publishing such a story. I am sure that your father and/or stepmother would like nothing more than to file a lawsuit against you if you publish such a story. Many mean people (and their lawyers) assume that all authors and their publishers are wealthy. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But, even if you’re broke, that won’t stop a slimy lawyer from filing a lawsuit against you.
If I were you, I would publish it as fiction based on actual events, and anonymize EVERYTHING in the story. The book could still tell the story, and provide lessons for people who read it, while not identifying or revealing you or your family members’ identities. Unfortunately you would need to keep the fact that you are the author a secret from everyone. If even one person reads the book, and can identify your father or stepmother or anyone else who was criticized in the book, they could sue you, even if you don’t name them. Please read the following articles for more advice but, again, you need to discuss this with an attorney.
12 Ways to Avoid Getting Sued When Writing Your Memoirs
Don’t Invite a Lawsuit with Your Memoir
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
Did Your Lawyer Say, “You Can’t Be Sued?” BEWARE
When Relatives Say, “Don’t Write About Me!”
How to Novelize Your Life Story or Family History
Read More "Ask The Expert" Articles
The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication
Practical resource outlining the self-syndication process, step-by-step. Packed with detailed information and useful tips for writers looking to gain readership, name recognition, publication and self-syndication for their column or articles.
90+ DAYS OF PROMOTING YOUR BOOK ONLINE: Your Book's Daily Marketing Plan by Angela Hoy and Richard Hoy
Promoting your book online should be considered at least a part-time job. Highly successful authors spend more time promoting a book than they do writing it - a lot more.
We know what you're thinking. You're an author, not a marketer. Not to worry! We have more than a decade of successful online book selling experience under our belts and we're going to teach you how to promote your book effectively online...and almost all of our techniques are FREE!
Online book promotion is not only simple but, if you have a step-by-step, day-to-day marketing plan (this book!), it can also be a very artistic endeavor, which makes it fun for creative folks like you!
Yes, online book promoting can be EASY and FUN! Let us show you how, from Day 1 through Day 90...and beyond!
While the advice abut legal liability is pertinent, it should not put you off writing your story.
Look at the web page of agent Andrew Lownie. His firm handles a very successful writer, Cathy Glass, who has cornered a market in stories like yours, about abused children, foster children and others. Her books include The Silent Cry, I Miss Mummy, Can I Let You Go. There must be about ten. Having dealt successfully with this and a couple of other authors in this field, Lownie must be an expert at guiding writers and dealing with the legal hazards involved.
The advice to ‘see a shrink’ is valid, not only for your own mental health, but to help with the writing, discovering the motivations of people like your father and the effect on you of your experience. And get a lawyer not only on your side, but at your side, to shepherd you through the minefield without injury.
If you can write the story really well, vividly and engagingly, with the help of an agent, publisher’s editor or with a ghost writer, there is a market and you can make money. Consulting Andrew Lownie is a good first step as he knows how to make such a story salable and legally safe. I would guess he has also turned some down, based on his judgment and experience.
You have given such thoughtful advice!! I wrote about my experience when my dad was sick. The writing instructor was very impressed, but after I wrote it I felt much better. It was never published. Possibly if the person just writes everything out and get the feelings out they will feel better and be able to go on to write other things.
I have the Hans Christian Andersen stories and could not figure out how to repurpose them. Congrats on doing that.
see a shrink
dont even think about writing a book like this
even if you avoid huge legal problems
your book wont sell enough to make any money
i ran a small publishing company and we got way too many of these submitted which we always turn down
no trad publisher would print this book
and if you self publish you wont recover your costs
certainly not make min wage for your time
the sad truth is that nobody cares
there are a billion stories like this out there maybe six or 7 billion
and way too many of them wrote a book about it and failed big
if you were famous or they did something aamazingly different then your book might have a chance
you need professional help not trying to write a book
I’d go even further in suggesting that you protect yourself legally. Don’t simply fictionalize your experience. As Angela notes, if even one person recognizes you and who you’re writing about, that might be libel and name changing won’t offer much protection. That’s particularly true if you hint at a crime as serious as murder.
I’d suggest a different approach. Use the experience and the understanding you’ve acquired to write a totally different story. Don’t just alter names or mix up the narrative. Retain only your struggles and emotions. Those are what matter most. For the plot, look for other accounts of abuse and build your novel around one or more of them.
If you write this book, you may find yourself struggling with and then gaining a clearer understanding of what you went through. My life has been nothing like yours. But I did face stressful situations when I worked at a children’s hospital caring for sick and sometimes dying children and teens. It could be grim coming to work and knowing that perhaps one or two of the adorable kids I was caring for would die. I coped by doing the best I could for them. Writing four books about that has helped me to make sense of those experiences and how they shaped me.
Also, I wrote primarily to help those going through similar experiences cope better, both emotionally and practically. You might do the same with your book. Writing a recovery book for others will do you far more good than writing a revenge one for yourself.
Also, making a good income as an author is difficult, as I am sure Angela will tell you. That is particularly with adult fiction. You might want to take a different approach and write children and young adult stories that would have helped you when your were enduring all those horrors. You know the feelings. Come up with stories that ease the hurt.
Don’t restrict your literary explorations to realistic literature (i.e. human families in modern houses). If you have an imaginative knack, experiment with stories set in different worlds. Many children’s stories do that.
Read the original, unsanitized Hans Christian Andersen stories. They often deal with death in an age when many children died young. I know. I wrote a version of those stories that retained their original plots and was called Stories for Girls. So many were about death, I realized, that I sometimes think about writing another called Stories about Dying for children facing death. In short, use Andersen as a model. Write like he did, but deal with anger and abuse instead of death. Indeed, his most famous short story, The Little Match Girl, is about both abuse and dying.
You have another advantage as an author. You have four children you love. Write for them as if they were going through what you went through. Imagine yourself showing them the way out of that darkness. Write for them and you will be writing for others.
–Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia and other books.