liability issues in a book

You’ve dreamed about writing a book someday. You believe you have a story inside you that will amaze and inspire people. You’ve tried to write it down, and have sketched out some ideas here and there. Maybe you have notebooks or computer files that are filled with writing but you’re realizing that all these bits and pieces aren’t adding up to a book. Do you need to hire a ghostwriter?

Perhaps, but first there are four crucial questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I understand what a ghostwriter can do for me? A ghostwriter, or “work-for-hire” writer, writes for other people but does not receive public credit and her name won’t appear on the book jacket or the book’s copyright notice. She’s a “ghost” because she works invisibly, behind the scenes. A ghostwriter for a book structures and shapes the book, including its scenes or sections, and renders the expert’s ideas on the page in a way that is true to her client’s vision. Her client, not the ghostwriter, retains the claim to the book’s copyright and takes responsibility for the material in the pages. A professional ghostwriter can alert her client to potential legal issues, but ultimately, the book she will ghostwrite will be her client’s baby. In fact, you might think of a ghostwriter as a professional midwife for books.

2. Do I secretly want to be a writer, or do I simply want my story and ideas told in my voice? An excellent ghostwriter will listen to how you express yourself in person or over the phone. She will notice the complexity of your sentence structure, your pet phrases, and your tone. Then, as she begins to ghostwrite your book, she’ll create a voice that sounds as if it were yours. She knows that if you’re serious and dignified, your voice on the page should be different than if you’re playful and whimsical.

If your heart tells you that it’s you who must write every word of your book, you must be willing to master the craft of writing a book. Hire a writing coach, take writing classes, and read books on writing. Commit to the time it will take to master your craft and write your book. If you hire a ghostwriter when you truly want to be the writer, you’ll find it difficult to create a good partnership with her. You need to trust the ghostwriter to capture your voice and ideas or she won’t be able to do her job properly.

A ghostwriter or developmental editor may be key to getting your book written

3. Do I have the money to hire someone to interview me and write a book based on my life or ideas? It can take hundreds of hours of a ghostwriter’s time to interview you and ghostwrite a quality book for you. You’ll need tens of thousands of dollars to hire a professional ghostwriter to ghostwrite a memoir, self-help book, or novel based on your ideas and synopsis. If you procure a book contract and an advance against future earnings from a publisher, you can use that money to hire someone to ghostwrite or coauthor your book. If your budget is too tight to pay a five-figure fee to a book ghostwriter, remember that you get what you pay for. Will you be content with a book that isn’t well structured or well-written, a book that doesn’t have rich ideas and a narrative flow that’s engaging and entertaining? If you don’t have a publishing contract and paying a ghostwriter will be a problem for you, see question #1 and rethink whether you might be willing to learn to write the book yourself rather than hire someone to ghostwrite a book for you.

4. Do I know what I want to say? Everyone has ideas and stories to write about, but you may not have enough to say to fill a book unless you work with a professional ghostwriter who can draw stories out of you, find the narrative arc to your book, and help you develop your ideas. In fact, if you want to write your own book and you have good writing skills, but are stuck on what to say, you may not need a ghostwriter so much as a developmental editor. A developmental editor can help you flesh out your ideas and structure your book.

Whatever your goal, I hope you won’t let fear, insecurity, or embarrassment influence your decision about whether to write your book yourself or hire a ghostwriter to ghostwrite it for you. If you honor your strengths as well as your weaknesses, you’ll come to the right decision for you regarding who should write your book. Know what type of assistance you need and you won’t regret your decision, whatever it turns out to be.

And if you are serious about hiring a ghostwriter and have a budget in the five figures, do contact me at and let’s see if I’m the write ghostwriter for you.

One of Bob Marley’s sons, successful musician Ky-Mani Marley, is embroiled in a battle with his newbie publisher over editorial changes he’s unhappy with, including what I think may be the worst subtitle I’ve ever seen: “The Story the Marley Family Apparently Doesn’t Want You To Know.” Can you smell the lawsuits with that one? Ouch! Story here

A “frantic call” from an author wanting to make changes before a book goes to press is not the fault of a first-time author. It’s the fault of a green publisher who hasn’t had the book vetted by a lawyer to ascertain whether there are any liability issues. Did the publisher bother to ask the author who, if any, of the family members had read the edited manuscript before it was copyedited (copyeditors fact check–at least, professional ones do) and then set into galleys (the typeset form, where pages now look like book pages; this is the stage at which the book is first sent to potential reviewers)?

As an author, you need to be aware that any anecdotes you use that might embarrass or cast a negative light on living people need to be looked at very carefully. You may decide to:

1) eliminate them

2) heavily disguise them by changing so many details that the person wouldn’t recognize the anecdote as being about him, or

3) do research that shows that these details have been revealed before in the media with no protest from the person who might have felt offended.

As you can see, in the latter case, you are unlikely to find anything on nonfamous people whereas you can easily establish that certain well-known figures have been publicly inebriated, entered rehab, been charged with a misdemeanor, and so on.

If you have any concerns whatsoever that someone might be offended by how you’ve portrayed them in your book, make sure that a qualified lawyer literary lawyer vets the manuscript or sections of it. Major book publishers have lawyers on staff who do this work regularly. There are also independent literary lawyers who can vet material for you.

And read your book contract carefully. Push not just for “mutual agreement” on a title or subtitle, but for “approval.” You may not get this concession but it’s worth asking for. In the end, this is your book and you want to feel proud of it. Don’t get pushed into a wretched, potentially libelous title or subtitle!