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Writing a true story when people involved are alive

(10 Posts)
fingerbiter Mon 26-Oct-15 22:49:14

Having recently escaped an extremely abusive relationship that spanned a large portion of my life, part of my healing has been to write down everything I can remember (helped by my journal that covers this period). I've now finished it and am pretty pleased with the way it's turned out. It's a story heard no doubt tens of times on the site. A cautionary tale if you will.

So I'm considering whether or not to take it to an agent to try and get it published. Except I don't know the legalities around this kind of thing - people involved are alive (I've changed names) and my ex partner would most certainly object to my depiction of him despite plenty of evidence to the contrary (e.g. police reports).

If it did get published (big if), could I be sued? Libel? Anyone know? Is it worth my while even trying? Thanks smile

ImperialBlether Mon 26-Oct-15 22:51:05

Couldn't you use a pseudonym and never admit to anyone that you wrote it? Could you change names, genders, locations, jobs etc?

CocktailQueen Mon 26-Oct-15 22:54:38

If you are thinking about doing this, then take advice from a lawyer who specialises in this sort of thing. S/he should read the whole ms and flag up any parts that could be problematic.

Having said that, there is a genre of this type of writing, so it is obviously possible to publish in such circumstances. You have to be vv careful, though. Look for advice from the society of Authors as well.

fingerbiter Mon 26-Oct-15 23:16:06

I've changed info like names/gender/location etc Imperial but a lot of the events are I guess quite identifying, and changing those would make it not be 'my' story. Fictional, instead of real. If that makes sense?

Would a lawyer like that be reached through an agent or separately Cocktail? I'll check out the society of authors, thanks.

CocktailQueen Mon 26-Oct-15 23:20:55

The Law Society should be able to advise you on a suitable firm.

legstightshut Mon 26-Oct-15 23:27:34

Ok thanks smile.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Tue 27-Oct-15 11:12:00

I bet you will find issues like that discussed in more depth in a dedicated writers' forum, maybe Absolute Write or one of the writers' groups on Goodreads.
It must come up a lot (though make sure you are aware of differences between countries - I know libel law is very different here and in America, for instance).

Bloomsberry Tue 27-Oct-15 11:27:44

Nothing to add to the pps' advice on what you specifically asked. My two pence worth is more to do with what may happen in your specific circumstances en route to finding an agent, or if an agent asks for changes to the MS to make it more saleable.

It's clearly highly personal and traumatising material, but it's very likely that if you pursue publication, agents and editors, who will be dealing with it primarily as a novel, not as therapeutic writing, will ask for changes - you will be told sections or characters or bits of plotting don't work as they are, and asked for rewrites, and/or may have to deal with lots of rejections and frank feedback along the way. As what you've written is so personal, and the trauma is so recent - will you be ok with this?

Which is not to say you shouldn't try to publish it, just think about whether rejections or requests for major rewrites would be very difficult.

FallingGoldfinch Tue 27-Oct-15 11:38:38

I'm a ghost writer and mostly do memoir - I've done so many that I have a decent idea of what needs to be done for a publisher to consider it (anonymise 'author' name, change all names and locations, mess dates up a bit, have corroborating documents, leave siblings out unless they'll sign a release form, etc), and it sounds as if you've done a lot of that. However, once it gets accepted and the manuscript is written, it will be legalled so heavily that there really will be nothing to worry about.

Publishers do protect their writers, but they also - naturally and obviously! - protect themselves. They won't touch anything by a non-celeb that might result in a law suit (celeb stuff a bit different as sometimes the publicity from threatened legal action can be worth it), so, if they accept it, just agree to all legal changes.

I wouldn't turn it into fiction unless you're a very confident writer and can bring something new to that market. I also wouldn't pay a lawyer to read it in advance of getting a deal as the publisher would do it again anyway (and sometimes you have to pay for that service from your advance).

fingerbiter Wed 28-Oct-15 11:45:29

Thanks all, lots to think about!

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