Real-Life Non-Fiction Stories

by Ricky Lobo

Question: I'm thinking about writing a book using real-life stories.... What kind of permission would I need from those who share their stories with me? Would they be entitled to royalties or some other sort of payment?

Answer: The problem with using real-life stories is that you may get people worried about how they're being portrayed. They may want a say in how you write about them, and that's a nightmare to deal with.

It's much better to fictionalize them. Change the names and make the characters different enough that there's no clear resemblance. That gives you the freedom to alter the stories to make them better, and it also ensures that no one can accuse you of slander if they don't like how they're portrayed.

Never offer to pay people a share in royalties. Most books don't make much in royalties, and you need every penny to survive as a writer, considering how many hours it takes to write a book.

Besides, most of the time their stories are not what's valuable. What's valuable is how you can express them in words.

The exception is if you are writing about someone famous, in which case there such things as unauthorized biographies, but if you can get people's permission, you're on safer ground.

With an unauthorized biography, you need to be accurate with your facts and careful to respect the rights of your subject.

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