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I am writing an autobiography of myself with hopes of getting it published.  Can I use actual names of family and friends or do I have to use fictitious names?

Dear Angela,

Please forgive my tardiness in replying; I quite honestly have been ill, over the holidays, at that~!

Thanks for your question, which is a good one and also a very subjective one -- because it's a true story, you will be involving others who may get a little "litigious" when this is published -- but then again, they may not. So, just to be safe, I always suggest that in cases like these, in which real people and places and events will be named, it's best to either get notarized "release forms" just as you would if you were, say, a TV reporter who must ask those for permission to air their stories.

Also, you might want to discuss this with an intellectual property attorney -- you can likely find one here on who will be happy to steer you in the right direction, as this is not a very "black and white" sort of situation. For example, if you are writing about the past, i.e., in which the people have died, you wouldn't need this sort of extra protection, I guess you could call it -- but you're very wise to find the answer to this question before you send it off to a publisher.

In my experience, it's worked both ways: I ghostwrote a true-crime book (non-fiction) for a client who gave me complete access to court records, death certificates, affidavits, court transcripts, photographs, all of it -- but we went ahead with it because the client wanted to proceed with all of the exact detail; she was simply determined to put the story out exactly as it happened from her perspective, lawsuit or not, because she felt very strongly about the subject matter.

Conversely, I also worked with someone who disguised names, dates, places, even street names and things like the makes and models of certain cars, etc., so that he would be 100 percent certain that he could escape any slander issues, and that worked out just as well.

So, again, it's always an individual matter -- if you have the slightest inkling or instinct that someone may not want his or her name in this book, either change it or consult an IP attorney. In the end, your gut instinct will advise you which way is best. Good luck!

All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin  

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Catherine Van Herrin


I am an American-born, native English speaker with a BA in English and more than 26 years of professional editing, writing, and proofreading experience. I have edited several books and book-length manuscripts. References and titles available upon request.

For further work or assistance with larger projects, see my profile here, with 190 excellent reviews: WordChannel Professional Reviews, Ratings

I can use British-English or American-English, and I am very familiar with Chicago and AP style.


More than 26 years' U.S. publishing industry experience, editorial (print). I provide crystal-clear, clean grammar; strict attention to style, consistency, flow, logic, accuracy, and spelling, and I work quickly and efficiently.

I do not format or provide technical assistance in publishing books. I use MS Word only.

If I can help you further, contact me at the website above (create a job request) or write to me at My rate is $0.008 per word. Send requests/inquiries to I accept currency only through PayPal, with 50% of the total at project initiation; the balance is due upon project completion.

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AA, Liberal Arts, Anderson College, Anderson, South Carolina. BA, English, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. Post-graduate concentration: Post-war Irish poetry and early 18th century English fiction, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas.

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I have worked with authors in the UK, Canada, the US, and several other countries. References and titles available on request.

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