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At most of our memoir events, whether it’s group coaching or our teleseminars, we get questions about legal and ethical concerns. When we’re writing “the truth” it’s our truth and our point of view, but as you know, there may be a chorus of other people who don’t agree with our version of what happened. They may even feel insulted or threatened by our story. For people who have been abused or were in situations of domestic violence, this can be particularly scary. Sometimes these questions make writers stop writing and get caught up in the “what if” questions, which can make the inner critic shout too loudly!

Here at NAMW we want to help you KEEP writing by presenting encouragement to keep writing that first draft no matter what. And we also strive to give you useful information that can help you keep the energy of your story up so you can finish your book.

Some of the questions we get are about whether to use real names vs. pseudonyms, writing about illegal behavior in the memoir, exposing and naming abusers. Each us has to decide how much of our history and situations in the past to expose to the public eye, but I always tell people that in your first draft, no one else is reading (unless you choose to show your work.) You are free to write what needs to come out.

Here are some of the questions we’ve received around writing a memoir and telling the truth:

  1. I want to get my book published by a mainstream publisher. Can I write the truth about the abuse and domestic violence using real names? Can I be sued by someone who is simply angry that I wrote the truth? Is truth my defense if others don’t agree?
  2. What do I need to know about self-publishing regarding legal issues?
  3. Can we be sued if someone feels our story is upsetting or that it might create a problem with their friends?

These and other important questions about writing a memoir will be addressed by our presenter at the NAMW Fall Telesummit The Heart and Soul of Memoir Writing. Helen Sedwick is our Session 2 presenter about the legal and ethical questions that plague most memoir writers. Please join us for our Telesummit, and join us live for How to Tell the Truth Without Ending Up in Court.



Session 2—Legal and Ethical Issues in Memoir

November 11, 2016

11-12 am PST | 12-1 pm MST | 1-2  pm CST | 2-3 pm EST

How to Tell the Truth Without Ending up in Court

helen-sedwickHelen Sedwick

Memoirists are the bravest of writers. In exploring the journeys of their lives, they inevitably delve into the private (and imperfect) lives of others. Not only do they worry about awkward family gatherings, they also risk claims of defamation and invasion of privacy.

Can a memoirist write about surviving abuse without getting sued by her abuser? Can a soldier write about PTSD without revealing the incompetence of commanders and therapists? Yes, but common sense and a cool head are key. Considering the tens of thousands of memoirs published each year, there are relatively few lawsuits. Claims are difficult and expensive to prove. Most targets don’t want to call attention to a matter best forgotten.

However, it’s important for memoir writers to be smart about the legal risks. They need to learn how to distinguish between the ones that are important to the narrative arc and the ones that are not.

In our session, we will cover

  • The components of a defamation or privacy claim
  • Some real life (and often colorful) examples
  • Useful guidelines for avoiding problems

Helen Sedwick is an author and California attorney with thirty years of experience representing businesses and entrepreneurs. Publisher’s Weekly lists her Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook as one of the top five resource books for independent authors. Her blog coaches writers on everything from saving on taxes to avoiding scams. For more information about Helen, check out her website at http://helensedwick.com.

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