Writing Books/liability


QUESTION: I am learning. You had a great response. Here's mine: at what point are you liable for a truth based story rewritten to be in a play or fiction book format? If it involves your personal experiences, there is no way some people will not figure that out, although disguised. So what do you do? deny? deny? deny?
I am writing based on my 15 years behind the scenes as an on air guest at a shopping channel. I have been advised it raises far too many liablity issues and I am sure it would in its current form. I want your opinion too, and thanks so much. Tom P

ANSWER: Hi, Tom!

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I had to decide how best to answer this. The truth is that you're exposed to liability from the moment you write ANY work of fiction or non-fiction. The truth might set you free, but it's expensive to get there if you're sued.

That's not to say you CAN'T write the book, or that you shouldn't. But there is liability. I'd suggest you do your best to change things around, and then pay a literary or copyright attorney to read through it to see what your level of liability is. S/he might be able to suggest some things---AFTER knowing the real story, that would protect you.

But the point at which you're liable is moment one, when you set words to paper. I'd advise to write it and then have it looked over to see what the best way to protect yourself can be.

Good luck!


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Your response was awesome. I should have included the word "evil" in my work but I will read yours.  Last question: Is there such a thing as liability insurance for writers?

There's a couple of companies out there that claim they offer "liability" insurance for authors. The trick with liability for libel or defamation (which are the two key issues in your case) is that most insurance only covers for claims of an "accidental" nature. Both libel and defamation are usually deemed by courts to be intentional, so it's sort of meaningless and is probably just more paperwork to fill out. But, as I say, there are a couple of companies who claim they have such a thing. Feel free to contact a multi-line insurance agent and take a look at the coverages. I haven't checked them out because I work in law, and know how hard it is to get out of a libel suit if it's proved the accusations have merit. Of course, libel depends on your making a FALSE claim (libel is the written version of slander.) Defamation of character is a TRUE claim that harms, or stigmatizes the individual. Therein lies the trick--darned if you do and darned if you don't, whether or not you tell the truth. It's why I write paranormal books. LOL! (Really...it IS why I moved to fantasy. My first novel was historical and fictionalizing the real events was no end of grief.)

Again, write the book and let the publisher and your attorney work it out. There are plenty of true, but damning "tell-alls" on the shelf this minute. It all depends on the value of the property (will people buy lots of copies?) and whether you can adequately defend your writings, as to whether a publisher will take the risk. :)

Good luck!


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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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