Author writes book. Book gets picked up by a publisher. Now, author needs a publicity team to get the word out about the book. If said author is really lucky they get to work with Julie Schoerke and the team at JKS Communications. Over a long chat about books we love, authors and favorite cities, Julie posed me an interesting question. It was the typical “let me run an idea past you” or “should a man do “ scenario.
With Julie’s permission, here is the scenario, albeit with some details omitted and changed to protect the privacy of those involved. A writer has written a book of fiction. In that book of fiction two of the fictional characters discuss a worldwide celebrity. Think blockbuster movies, famous couple names and the paparazzi following this person’s every move type of celebrity. The fictional characters alluded to some facts about the celebrity’s private life. Outside of this fictional book, those rumors happen to also be widely speculated in the gossip magazines, entertainment news and film circles. Finally, said celebrity is also pretty notorious for filing lawsuits and being somewhat successful on those suits. Oh, and did I mention that those lawsuits usually also have a big price attached? They do.
The question was this – how safe would it be for the author to have this segment in the book? And, by helping to promote the book would JKS Communications open themselves up for legal trouble? Julie’s question was interesting to me because while it is firmly grounded in the law and potential litigation, I think there were bigger questions that should first be analyzed related to dreams and future opportunities.
Several legal concepts popped into mind almost immediately. Claims could involve right of publicity, libel, defamation, and emotional distress – just to name a few. And, let’s not forget about the defenses for each of those coupled with depositions, teams of lawyers, briefs, filings and research to determine the reach of the book’s influence.
To quote from one of my favorite songs by Warren Zevon – “lawyers, guns and MONEY!” Let me say it again, M-O-N-E-Y!
I am all for celebrating the art in your heart and for being genuine to your craft, but sometimes it is wise to sit back, assess the risk and weigh the options. Sure you might sell a million plus books telling your story exactly as you envisioned it. Your story might, in fact, be true and there are surely some good defenses. But, if your story is tied up in costly (also read, lengthy) litigation how much will you truly gain? I imagine nothing that could kill a creative spirit faster than answering interrogatories, sitting through depositions and talking with an attorney almost every day for a few months! On the other hand, an expensive lawsuit by a celebrity could get you publicity for your book that you might not otherwise receive. What’s the old saying about their being no such thing as bad press?
On the face of the inquiry, it does look like a legal question. There are certainly legal aspects to what Julie asked, and I do not want to downplay the importance of those. However, with this scenario the question really comes down to weighing priorities with the author, assessing the author’s goals, and finally looking at where the author is in his or her career. Can the author afford litigation as described above? Is the author willing to take on that burden? What about future projects by the author? Will this litigation harm or help those? Is the author at the beginning or near the end of his or her writing career?
All of those things outside of the law are important to talk about, plan and discuss. The takeaway is this – assemble a great team of professionals that can help you plan on a longterm scale, not just for the present. In the creative field a lot of problems will have foundations in the law and can sometimes only be solved via the legal vehicle. However, when your concern falls into the areas where the law is grey, you need professionals on your team to help navigate what YOU want out of your career. Be clear about your goals, chart your plan, work your plan and carry a team of professionals with you. Oh, and it might not hurt to have Julie’s name and number on speed dial to help manage the PR.
Stay Tuned In!
Great article! As Jon Tandler says (pardon, I’m not quoting verbatim), it’s better to make a small investment and get the answers to your questions, than to find out later in the middle of a lawsuit that you messed up! It’s a whole lot easier to avoid mistakes by doing your homework than to work your way out of them.
Isn’t it true that a big verdict on a claim or counterclaim could easily bankrupt an author, or even a small firm, and then what? What a bummer that would be, and all over a little press; for an author it might mean losing the rights to your book and/or your royalties to the Bankruptcy trustee.
Have you seen that happen?
Thank you for reading! Your statements are on point. You can either invest in getting good information on the front-end or pay on the back-end. Usually on the back-end it is more costly. I am one of these people that I like to have a really good offense. I personally have not seen an author bankrupt (or really close) over litigation, but have in other creative business models. Thank you for sharing and check back often!
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