Memoir Writing Series {Legalities and Issues}

I will keep this post short and sweet as a new short story calls to me this morning, but one of things I urge you to take into consideration if you plan to write memoir is whether you are writing about someone who is still alive. So yes if you’re writing your own story then I would very much think you are! And that this whole concept of ghostwriting has not taken on a more literal meaning!

But joking aside what about the people you are writing about? Are they real? Are you using real names? Even if you’re changing names are they still recognisable? Because it is possible to get sued. If you write about them in an unfavourable light then be careful but even just writing about them may make them want a cut of the profits from your book. So there are several ways to deal with this. If friends, you could seek their written permission and have a legal document to that effect: that they have no objection and will read the final book and approve what’s written. If it’s about your mother and she and you have a good relationship then this might be easy. But not always.

If you are writing about someone who died then US law permits that, but if there are living descendants they could still try to sue. In the UK then this is a distinct possibility since the law says that descendants should give permission.  So again seek legal advice on this.

The agents on a panel at the West Coast Writers’ Conference said that to accept a proposal for memoir they needed to see evidence of permissions to write about someone alive. They also stressed the need for Errors and Omissions Insurance to cover themselves for the creative licence of offering opinion in story telling, for what is said and what we perhaps don’t think about: what’s not said. They  claim this insurance is ESSENTIAL.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of these legal documents but urge anyone writing memoir to be very clear and seek help with this; there are all kinds of horror stories out there! Fodder for a second memoir!

Because of these kinds of issues some people change names and then make significant enough changes that the people are not recongniseable and so long as they feel the story is told adequately then they feel okay doing it this way. This really is only one step away from choosing to make it fiction instead, and I heard examples of this as well on the course. If you write it as fiction and don’t make it obvious who you really mean, then you can be more creative with truth and not worry so much!

So if you are writing memoir then please ensure you have the legal side taken care of or there could well be serious repercussions and a friend saying they don’t mind being in a book is not enough; it needs to be legal 🙂

That is all! Have a great day everyone!

Tigger Tuesday

My nickname (in case you see me in a memoir) has always been Tigger!


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