For some writers, self-publishing a memoir is an important way to finalize their legacies and show their impact on the world. But if your memoir features anyone other than you (and unless you grew up on a deserted island, it will), Self-Publishing Relief recommends that you take steps to make sure you’re within your legal rights to publish your story.
7 Tips For Self-Publishing Your Memoir Without Getting Into Legal Trouble
Know your rights to speak your truth. In the United States, the right to express yourself is protected by law—to an extent. You can’t say or write anything you want to—especially if you’re calling your work nonfiction. Learn more about your freedom of speech.
Stick to the truth. A book that is classified as memoir (or an autobiography) is generally believed to tell the true story of the author’s experience. So if you’re writing a memoir or any other nonfiction book that’s based on your true experiences, resist the urge to embellish or invent. If you DO invent elements of your self-published autobiography, then…
Confirm your book’s genre. Is your book mostly memoir with some invented bits added for color and interest? Or maybe your book tells your true life story, except that you’ve changed things about certain characters. If you’ve invented anything in your memoir, take a second look at your book’s genre so that you can be confident about calling it nonfiction.
Consider the risks of making up dialogue. Stalwart nonfiction writers base dialogue on written transcripts or other primary materials. Creative nonfiction writers often write dialogue from memory. Learn more about the best way to include dialogue in your self-published memoir.
Back up your facts. When a writer damages another person’s reputation by publishing a false statement, it’s called libel—and it’s illegal. If your memoir could damage someone’s reputation, be sure you can prove that your facts are accurate.
Get written permission. Sometimes, sharing your book with the people involved in your life story before you self-publish it can help protect you after publishing. Ask the “characters” who appear in your memoir to sign a document (drafted by a lawyer) that will protect you from being sued.
Don’t believe the myth that publishing a memoir on the fiction bookshelf will protect you. One last-ditch way some writers protect themselves is to publish their memoir in the fiction genre. These writers will also sometimes change characters’ names and locations to obscure the truth. But calling a story “fiction” doesn’t mean it is fiction—and if your creative story looks exactly like your real-life story, a court will see that from a million miles away.
One Last Caveat About Self-Publishing Your Memoir
The court systems in this country exist so that all people can be assured that their rights are protected—which means that courts are always opening new cases to explore new aspects of the law. What does this mean to you as a memoirist? Even if you’ve been very careful to stay within your legal rights to share your true story, you could be sued by someone—even though the lawsuit would ultimately be thrown out or you would win.
If you want to read more, check out this post about true stories of authors, publishers, and lawsuits.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is for information only. We’re not lawyers. Consult an attorney regarding any of your particular legal questions and concerns.
QUESTION: What is your memoir about? Share it in our comments section!
Culpability. Failed family legacy. Restitution. Messy topics all-around. I’ve cleaned-up my past and wrote a manuscript about it. Will my long-gone partners be affected by my memoir?