Whether you are self-publishing or using a traditional publisher for your memoir or other nonfiction book, you may want to include a disclaimer on your copyright page.
Disclaimers serve to protect the author and publisher against liability when their book’s topic might invade someone’s privacy or result in a claim of defamation. They are also suitable when your book offers health, fitness, diet, or financial advice. Legal disclaimers can’t stop a lawsuit, but they can put an obstacle in the way.
Including a disclaimer is optional. A good attorney can help you decide about including a disclaimer in your book, or you can decide on your own. A disclaimer is harmless to include. You may want to err in favor of using one.
What Should You Say in a Disclaimer?
Here are some disclaimers some authors have found useful.
—> The names and identifying details of some characters in their book have been changed. (The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls; Scribner)
—> I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. To protect privacy, in some instances I have changed the names of individuals and places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and places of residence.
In other nonfiction, disclaimers like this have been used:
—> Although the author has made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at press time, the author does not assume and hereby disclaims any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
In nonfiction books on topics of health or alternative healing, this is the sort of disclaimer that has been used:
—> This book is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.
The disclaimer used in Kathryn Harrison’s best-selling memoir about her incestuous relationship with her father, The Kiss (Random House), concerns the author’s name.
—> Kathryn Harrison is the author’s married name. She has not used her maiden name in a number of years.
The author never includes mention of her father or her mother’s names in the book even by pseudonym. They are “my mother” and “my father.”
Where to Put the Disclaimer
The essentials on a copyright page include:
- the © symbol, or the word “Copyright.”
- the year of first publication of the work
- an identification of the owner of the copyright—by name, abbreviation, or some other way that it’s generally known.
More belongs on the copyright page as well, and this can include a disclaimer.
Attorney Helen Sedwick (author of Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook), writes that the more interesting the disclaimer, the more likely it is to be read. She believes that a well-written disclaimer is the best disclaimer. In her own book, this is the disclaimer she used:
—> Although I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. Reading this book does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. . . . This Handbook should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a competent attorney admitted or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.
Other authors are creative in their wording in disclaimers, and even in the placement of those disclaimers. Tobias Wolf (The Boy’s Life), for example, puts a disclaimer in the acknowledgments section in his book. Wolf writes:
—> I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology. Also my mother claims that a dog I describe as ugly was actually quite handsome. I’ve allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story.
Whatever you do, use the disclaimer you write as an opportunity to explain your purpose and point of view, and most of all, to highlight your literary voice. But keep it short and succinct. It’s there to do a job, and an important one, and a little goes a long way.