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Liable or Defamation actions against Authors

edited January 2014 in Writing
I'm a new writer and I have just completed my first book which I intend to publish on Amazon Kindle later this year.
The book is about my very acrimonious divorce, told in satirical fashion, but I'm concerned about possible liable or defamation action from my former wife.
I was wondering if anyone has had any experience of defamation or liable actions for their work and if they could please give me their reflections?
I thought about using a pen name or stating the book as a work of fiction but I'd rather tell my story as the truth under my own name
Any comments appreciated


  • I think you mean libel. Which can classed as misrepresentation - in a divorce case each side will see the same events in a different and biased light.

    i think you would be most unwise to publish a 'true' from your point of view account, it just cannot be without prejudice.
  • I agree with Liz - I think you'd be asking for trouble - but you could consult a legal expert to ascertain the risk.
  • Not a wise thing to do at all.

    Get all the angst out of your system and then put it away and forget about it, DON'T PUBLISH IT.
  • If you are determined to publish, then you should change all names, including yours, and any identifying characteristics.
  • Even if you didn't up involved in a legal case, you might cause a great deal of upset and unhappiness to the people who know you, or your ex wife. If you have children, or your in laws are still alive, will they enjoy reading the book? How do you think your friends and other family members might feel about it?
  • Wouldn't touch that one with a barge pole.
  • While I can appreciate the need to tell your side of the story, warts and all, it is strictly only your side of a story that involves another person, and you are opening yourself up to all sorts of legal bother by doing it. Doesn't matter how satirical you make it, if the divorce was acrimonious, I suspect you are trying to get your version of events out there to score points, or to redress the balance; that just drags it all out way beyond the point where you should draw the line and move on.
    Writing it all out may have given you a lot of satisfaction, but you can't change the outcome of the divorce courts after the event. This isn't wise.
  • If it's fiction, it needs to be entertaining - think of your target reader.

    If it's a factual account of an acrimonious divorce, it may not be of interest to anyone other than your wife's solicitor

    [quote=Carol]Get all the angst out of your system and then put it away and forget about it[/quote]

    Tend to agree, although I'd pack up all those emotions and channel them into a new project.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
  • [quote=burbri1581]I'm concerned about possible liable or defamation action[/quote]Everyone is being over polite with their advice.

    Dear Burbri1581,
    First task you need to complete is acquiring services of a qualified person to edit your manuscript.
    To confuse 'libel' with 'liable' suggests there may be many more errors in the drafted work. To imagine such confusion can be interpreted as satire makes you vulnerable to all manner of repercusssion.

    Heed the cautionary wisdom expressed by 'my' good, fellow Talkbackers and use the experience to inspire a work that has chance of entertaining a wide audience.

    Good luck.
  • Thanks to everyone who replied I appreciate your comments. My work will be spell checked but I admit I'm not a great speller!
    My gut is telling me to publish, I've had some great comments and people are telling me its a very compelling and entertaining read (I know that's friends and family and paying readers are different).
    What about using a pen name and claiming it's a work of fiction?
  • I'll leave others to comment on the legal aspect of using a pen name and claiming it's fiction (those who are better qualified than I am to answer). A word of warning about spelling checkers: they tell you whether or not a word exists, not if you've used it in the wrong context. For example, a spelling checker would be happy to accept your use of liable instead of libel because they are both words that are in the dictionary. Do not let a spelling checker replace a proof reader!
  • I know divorce isn't easy, but this just feels like a cheap stab at your ex's expense. Plus there will no doubt be fallout and you could end up hurting someone you didn't want to. I get the feeling this is a fairly recent event, if I were you I would use the exercise as a cathartic experience and stick it in a drawer. If you still feel it's worthy of telling in a couple of years when you have moved on, have another look at it.
  • [quote=burbri1581]What about using a pen name and claiming it's a work of fiction?[/quote]

    Could you really guarantee that no-one would be able to recognise the characters? If it were read by someone who knows you they would surely realise it's based on your interpretation of events.
  • If you want to make the story about your divorce, you would have to be vigorous with the facts and ensure that absolutely everything you say could be proven in a court of law, as would be required if you were writing a biography of a famous person. Otherwise you could land yourself in a lot of trouble. I suspect a story that would pass those tests would end up a rather dry account with, as Baggy suggests, limited appeal to readers. From the sounds of things, yours is intended as a humorous book and, as humour often relies on exaggeration and distortion, you may struggle to avoid the trap of misrepresenting the people involved.

    You describe it as a satire. Satire is generally aimed at a wider target - you could write about the institution of marriage, or about divorce lawyers, for instance, and you could say what you like because no one person's reputation is going to suffer. Shows like 'Have I Got News For You' get away with a lot because their targets are generally people in the public eye and so are considered - to some extent - fair game. If your book is essentially a hatchet job on your ex-wife, you're not going to be able to hide behind the defence of calling it satire.

    Personally, I'd take the advice offered by the other people who've commented and lock this away in a drawer for a while. Keep writing, get some other publications under your belt (a few short stories or poems or a different type of book, perhaps), and come back to it later. If you feel you must publish it, then the safest way would be to fictionalise the story - change location, events, names, characters, etc - and make it a novel. You still need to be careful - authors have been successfully sued for defamation when it's been proved that a person (or somebody who knows that person) can recognise a defamatory version of themselves in a work of fiction. It's a bit of a minefield.
  • Often, it's enough of a cathartic exercise to get it all down on paper and out of your head. But just that. I know of a very bitter person who self-published a book on Amazon because he was upset with his family. He wrote awful things about them and the impact on his family was enormous. No one else bought the book. Who else would be interested? They're not celebrities...

    What you've written is your own subjective, autobiographical account, which you could always pass on to an interested family member in the future in the understanding that it's your private view of what happened.

    I don't see how the benefits could outweigh the grief and legal wrangles that could ensue if you go ahead. There are lots of very knowledgeable people here who have been involved in the world of writing to varying degrees. You would be wise to take their advice!

    Could you not use your experiences to write a new work of humorous fiction without it pertaining directly to events or people in your life?

    If you've done your research into the world of writing and publishing, you'll know that it's not going to make you rich or even get you recognised. Don't get yourself into a no win situation. Please consult legal advice, burbri!
  • edited January 2014
    I think your project is fraught with too many risks, burbri - nasty risks that could blow up in your face. You mention the danger of accidentally libelling someone who might do something legal about it, which could cost you in the bank balance. You also suggest a satirical treatment of the matter, and this suggests a strong risk of showing people you know or knew in a poor light, which they would not like to put it mildly.
    It seems like it was a bad idea. Best thing is to try and turn your back and face forward in a positive way, using your writing skills on something much more deserving of your time and feelings.

    Hope that helps.
  • [quote=burbri1581]My gut is telling me to publish, I've had some great comments and people are telling me its a very compelling and entertaining read (I know that's friends and family and paying readers are different).[/quote]

    I know that this sounds harsh, but as a writer you shouldn't take seriously comments by friends and family on your writing.
  • edited January 2014
    Have to echo most of these comments, burbri. You have suffered an acrimonious divorce and you're clearly still hurting from the fallout. It takes time to heal and it sounds to me like you haven't reached that stage yet. I hope you'll take the comments made here on board and put your book aside for a year or two. But, whatever you do, don't publish without getting proper professional advice.
    DeneBebbo's last comment is absolutely spot on - friends and family will never give you unbiased opinions!
  • Claiming it's a work of fiction will make no difference at all if anyone attempts legal action. Neither will using a pen name.

    These things won't stop you causing hurt and distress either.
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