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Have you ever wondered what’s “legal” to include in a book? What can you say, or not say? It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, some things are okay—others will get you in trouble. And the last thing you want is to get rejected by literary agents or publishers due to legal issues. You also don’t want to get involved in a lawsuit.

Now, in case you’re wondering if this article applies to you, here are a few scenarios I’ve seen (for both fiction and nonfiction authors) that you might not have considered. As a former literary agent, Marketing & Licensing Manager for a well-known publisher, and now, author coach/consultant, I’ve pretty much seen it all.

Here’s what you need to think about.

Which of the following scenarios
applies to you and your book?

* * *

Fiction Examples

1. Although your book is fiction, it’s based on (or inspired by) true events. How much of the real characters, settings, or events can you use in your novel?

2. The title of your novel has been used by someone else before. Maybe it was for a different book in your genre or a different genre. Maybe it was a movie or a TV show. Can you use it?

3. You’ve written what’s commonly referred to as fan fiction, a story based on existing characters from a television series, movie, comic book, or other sort of pop cultural character that you’re a fan of. Can you profit financially from your book?

4. You’ve written a novel that’s somehow “inspired by” one of your all-time favorite movies or books. Your work isn’t a copy by any means, and it isn’t based on any of the characters from the other work, but your project is clearly influenced by the other work and benefits from its creation. Readers of your book will see and appreciate that influence. Is it legal?

* * *

Nonfiction Examples

1. You’re writing a memoir or autobiography that chronicles your story of triumph over personal trauma or abuse. What can you say, and not say, about the other people in the book?

2. You want to write an unauthorized biography about someone famous. Could the subject of the book bring a lawsuit for libel, invasion of privacy, misappropriation of the right of publicity, copyright infringement, unfair competition, or breach of confidence?

3. There’s a new collectible toy series that’s become a worldwide sensation and you want to create a book about it. Do you need the company that created the toys to sign off on the project or endorse it?

4. Your book has quotes by other people and some music lyrics in it. How much can you include, if any? What do you need to know about “Fair Use” and does it apply to your situation?

* * *

What Should You Do?

My author coaching clients frequently ask me
what they should do in these situations.

“Should I take this or that out of my book?”

“Will I scare agents away with this stuff?”

“Should I hire a lawyer?”

The answer I give depends on the genre of the author’s book, the type of situation they’re in, and the size of their bank account. Some scenarios are more likely to cause problems than others.


Nine times out of ten (if the book is already written or mostly written), I tell authors not to worry about it. For the time being, anyway. That’s because literary agents and publishers will almost certainly have different opinions about what you should or shouldn’t say in your book.

And, lawyers are expensive.

It’s that simple.

If, on the other hand, you haven’t written your book yet, you should definitely talk to someone first. However, I suggest you talk to someone like me instead of a lawyer.

Just post a question for me below.


If you haven’t yet had an introductory coaching call with me, click here to learn more about it and sign up: Introductory Coaching Call.

During your time with me you can ask me any other questions you have as well… about writing, publishing, and promoting your book.

Either way, don’t be a stranger,

–  Mark

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