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Writing Books/Libel Risks in Memoir


Hi Sandy, thank you for taking my question.  I'm working on a memoir that will be a true story of how my husband's sister and her daughter used fraud and identity theft to financially exploit my mother in law into bankruptcy. I'm tying it into the larger problem of elder financial abuse. I have proof for everything I'm alleging, and am changing all names.  Can I be sued for libel?

Hi Kelly,

Sorry about the delay in reply, but I have been researching a novel in the Rif Mountains of Morocco and out of wifi range for days!

Libel laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some places "truth" is a defense. In others the people who might take action only have to prove that they have been psychologically or materially damaged. Having written a memoir, I am very aware of the issue.

In one case, a friend of mine had her book pulped by order of a court, because a government minister (who was not named)claimed he could be recognized because of "the freckles on the back of his hand" which were described in the book. My point is that even changing names is sometimes not enough.

My advice is to get your agent (or a libel lawyer) to check your manuscript. Often a publisher will turn a book down if they feel they may be sued as well.

So, find out the law in the jurisdiction in which the book is to be published and work within that legal framework.

Best of luck,


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Sandy McCutcheon


Author of 22 plays, 12 bestselling thrillers, a memoir and children's fiction.I can work with people on the process of writing, what to expect and ask for from an editor. How to work with the publisher`s marketing and publicity people. And how to survive book launches and publicity tours!


Published author of 22 plays, 12 bestselling thrillers, a young adult and three non-fiction titles. Visit his Moroccan blog at for a look at his blogging work.

St Andrews, Helsinki University and other institutions. Adult Educator of the Year Award, Australia

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