does anyone have any tips or advice for avoiding lawsuits when writing nonfiction, especially memoir nonfiction?

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Kill everyone who could sue you.
sick minds think alike. :D

my agent thinks my new material should be published as nonfiction, which it really is, but i'm uncomfortable using the names of people who are still alive. so yes. guess i have my work cut out for me as far as a list of people to kill off.
i think the truth can also bite you in the ass, karma or not. my story doesn't involve a rapist, but let's say the writer was raped, but the rape was never proven. so if a writer writes about it, i'm guessing the rapist is going to sue for defamation of character even though the story is 100% true. i think some form of name changing and disguising has to take place in order for the writer to protect herself. but is it still nonfiction?
I'm pretty sure that changing names/disguising characters is commonplace and unremarkable in the world of creative nonfiction.

thanks, jon. that's what i wondered about -- it makes perfect sense.
You should talk to a lawyer who specializes in publishing matters. If you're bad-mouthing people, or betraying confidences, you might be in for more trouble than it's worth.
Truth vs. Fiction in Augusten Burroughs' memoir, "Dry"

"Besides being clearly, disturbingly well written, what is also fascinating about Burroughs's book, is that some of his memories are made up. There's a tiny blurb in the beginning that reads: This memoir is based on my experiences over a ten-year period. Names have been changed, characters combined, and events compressed. Certain episodes are imaginative re-creation, and those episodes are not intended to portray actual events."
That's a nicely done article. I especially liked this: "Reality is messy, unpredictable, often without pattern. Some say it is the storyteller's duty to stitch a pattern from reality in order to present a picture that can be truly seen."

With what you're talking about, I'd bet some name changing/disguising would make life a little easier in terms of mental health. Jude's right, though. Talking to a lawyer would be a good idea just to give you a feel for what the legal boundaries are before you dive in and tell all. I'm really looking forward to this book, by the way. However you choose to address the "reality" issue, it should be a fascinating read.
yeah, and the lines become really blurry when exploring the psychology of events that took place 35 years ago. publishers have legal departments for these issues, so i'm hoping they will know how to handle it once i get to that point. my agent is also looking into it.
Depending on your publisher, they'll probably have their lawyers look the book over and suggest revisions, or not. Most big publishers will do this. You probably don't need to worry about it when you're writing it. In the U.S., if you make sure that you can back up your facts, you're pretty safe. You can still run into problems with a British publication as British libel laws do not automatically recognize truth as a defense against having libeled someone. You can actually be successfully sued in Britain for publishing something that is provably true, if they claim and can make a good case for your having set out deliberately to hurt their reputation.
You probably don't need to worry about it when you're writing it.

good advice, eric. i've been leaning toward that. everything can be ironed out in the revision process -- i think i just need to get it down at this point. thanks for the info on british libel laws. ouch.
British libel laws are pretty onerous. I had to get used to them when I worked as a journalist in Hong Kong. Really different than working as a journalist in the U.S. The only saving grace was that no one in the world is quite so litigious as Americans. Brits are a lot less likely to sue you at the drop of a hat. But if you ever read both the British edition and the American edition of a controversial book, you'll probably notice some significant differences.


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