Disclaimer (the irony of this is not lost on me): The information contained in this post is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice on any subject matter.
If you’ve recently finished writing a book, or even if you’re just thinking about getting started, you might be wondering if a book disclaimer is necessary. The short answer: it depends.
What is a disclaimer?
In the front of some books, you might see a short sentence or paragraph on the publication’s copyright page, usually found on the back of the title page. Disclaimers might also appear in an Author’s Note or in the Acknowledgements, often with a lengthier explanation.
Book disclaimers are generally a simple statement consisting of one or a couple of sentences specifying that any details in the book may be a coincidence, subject to the fallible memory of the writer, are at-your-own-risk, or, if coming directly from the publisher, the work contained in the book does not reflect the opinions of the publisher.
IMHO, disclaimers are more for the purposes of alerting the reader about what the author has or has not done (changed names, forgotten names, mashed up several characters into one, this fictional character doesn’t resemble anyone living or dead), or to protect from future liability (these recipes haven’t been tested, when in doubt check with your doctor, this does not replace medical advice, etc.). It’s a way of saying “we warned you” or “I told you from the beginning,” so the reader can’t complain later that they didn’t know.
However, it doesn’t automatically afford legal protection just because it’s there. In court, the mere presence of a simple disclaimer at the front of the book may not hold up. Just because you put a statement in your book doesn’t mean it will necessarily protect you, so you’ll want to understand where your exposure risk may be, if any.
Do I need a disclaimer for my book?
If your book is traditionally published, the publisher will generally help you decide if one is necessary, but they rarely if ever assume any legal responsibility over the contents of your book and will sometimes include a statement to this nature in addition to any disclosure you might add.
Both traditionally published and self-published authors assume full responsibility for anything they produce, so it’s a good idea to do your homework on this, and a better idea to consult an attorney if you have any real concerns. If you have a literary agent, they should be able to advise you in this matter. Lawyers are not often needed unless you are writing a biography and/or have potentially inflammatory content.
Disclaimers play an important part of any nonfiction book, most notably memoirs. A disclaimer “sets the stage” for the reader, offering a kind of transparency that help the reader understand the context and manner in which the book was written. It can also help alleviate any concerns they might have about the people or information being presented in your book.
What kind of books need a disclaimer?
You see disclaimers most commonly in nonfiction books like memoir, how to, cookbooks, medical/wellness titles, or self-help. You’ll occasionally see it in fiction titles, a quick caveat that says that the stories contained within the pages are the author’s imagination and any resemblance to someone living or dead is a coincidence (but is it? Just kidding).
Look at your content as a whole before deciding whether or not you need a disclaimer. The question to ask yourself is if anything in your story could cause legal trouble for you or anyone else involved with its publication. Being paranoid is one thing (a lot of writers tend to worry by nature), but you know if you’re potentially at risk or walking the line. If so, consider adding a disclaimer and, if necessary, running it by your agent, publisher, or an attorney.
What should be included in your disclaimer?
The information in your disclaimer will depend on what type of book you’re writing. Here are some things that might be a good idea to address in your disclaimer:
- The purpose of the book (i.e., to inform, entertain, persuade).
- Any limitations on the scope of the book (i.e., it deals only with one aspect of a larger topic).
- Any limitations on the time period covered by the book (i.e., it covers only events since 1800).
- Any limitations on how much you can rely on the information in this book (i.e., it’s based on what was known at the time you wrote it).
- A statement that you are not liable for any damages caused by reading this book
- A statement that you are not liable for any damages caused by using the ideas or suggestions in this book
If you are publishing your work online, like on a personal blog, you might include a disclaimer in your posts that the information contained in the blog is the creative product of the author and for entertainment purposes only. Best practices In some cases it may appear at the top of the blog posts (see mine above).
How to write your book disclaimer
The first step in writing a disclaimer is taking time to think about what you need to say in order to protect yourself from possible legal actions. Look for books that are similar to yours, and take note of their disclaimers. If you notice that many of them are similar or boilerplate, then you can probably draft one in that same vein.
However, if you’re feeling anxious, there is no real way to know if it would protect you unless you let an attorney look it over and seek legal advice.
Fiction books example disclaimers
More and more fiction books are including disclaimers to ensure that it’s clear to the reader that this is not a true story, but a product of the author’s imagination. Following are a few examples:
- This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
- This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, organizations, places and events other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locals is entirely coincidental.
- This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical persons appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Nonfiction books example disclaimers
A disclaimer for a nonfiction book (for creative nonfiction like memoir, see the next section) is essentially an “at your own risk” statement, and any reservations you, as the reader, may have should be taken up with your own lawyer/doctor/accountant, etc. It acknowledges that what worked for the author might not work for the reader. Here are a few examples:
- This publication is designated to provide competent and reliable information regarding the subject matter covered. However, it is sold with the understanding that the author and publisher are not engaged in rendering legal, financial, or other professional advice. Laws and practices often vary from state to state and country to country and if legal or other expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought. The author and publisher specifically disclaim any liability that is incurred from the use of application of the contents of this book.
- Neither the publisher nor the author is engaged in rendering professional advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures, and suggestions contained in this book are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your health require medical supervision. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this book.
- The author and publisher specifically disclaim all responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, that is incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents of this book.
- Please note the information contained within this document is for educational and entertainment purposes only. All effort has been executed to present accurate, up to date, and reliable, complete information. No warranties of any kind are declared or implied. Readers acknowledge that the author is not engaging in the rendering of legal, financial, medical or professional advice. The content within this book has been derived from various sources. Please consult a licensed professional before attempting any techniques outlined in this book. By reading this document, the reader agrees that under no circumstances is the author responsible for any losses, direct or indirect, which are incurred as a result of the use of information contained within this document, including, but not limited to, — errors, omissions, or inaccuracies.
- The information contained in this book is intended for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting based on any content included in this book without seeking legal or other professional advice.
- The information contained herein is not presented with the intention of diagnosing or prescribing, but is offered only as information for use in maintaining and promoting health in cooperation with a physician. In the event that the information presented in this book is used without a physician’s approval, the individual will be diagnosing for himself. No responsibility is assumed by the author, publisher or distributors of this publication for use of the information contained herein in lieu of a doctor’s services. No guarantees of any kind are made for the performance or effectiveness of the preparations mentioned in this publication.
Memoir example disclaimers
Out of all the books you could write that cause the most stress regarding a disclaimer, the memoir is it. Because a memoir is a slice of real life from one person’s emotional truth or perspective, what one person remembers may be different from what another person remembers. In addition, the use of real people in your book, living or dead, may elicit a negative response from that person or their family members (or, in some cases, a corporate entity).
The use of a disclaimer in memoir acknowledges that 1) memory is imperfect, and 2) some people may have had their name changed, or multiple people have been morphed into one person (i.e. if they serve the same emotional storytelling person in the book), or a location has been changed.
Memoir falls into the realm of creative writing, which means that there is a storytelling aspect to the story. No one was carrying around a tape recorder when they were a child, capturing conversations verbatim in the event they wrote their memoir forty years later. It’s implied in the genre of memoir that the book is written through the eyes of the narrator, and small details of fact may be incorrect or conflated. That being said, making stuff up is not okay, and you could get James Frey-ed if you’re not careful.
- The names and identifying characteristics of some individuals have been changed.
- The names and identifying characteristics of some people described in this book have been changed.
- This is a true story of my lived experience. Some names and details have been changed.
- I have changed people’s names and basic descriptions.
- Some names and descriptions have been changed to protect privacy.
- To the best of my ability, I have re-created events, locales, people, and organizations from my memories of them. In order to maintain the anonymity of others, in some instances I have changed the names of individuals and places, and the details of events. I have also changed some identifying characteristics, such as physical descriptions, occupations, and places of residence.
- Most names and identifying details have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.
- This book was written by memory, and mine is imperfect. I’ve done my best to be faithful to my experiences, and when possible, have consulted others who were also present during that time.
Memoirs may include a longer explanation in an Author’s Note or in the Acknowledgments.
I relied on letters, journals, interviews, and conversations I had with many people who appear in these pages, as well as my own memory. In some cases I have edited conversations for brevity. To protect the anonymity of certain individuals, I have modified their identifying details and/or their names.
A quick note: Most authors who are self-publishing a memoir worry about copyright and libel issues more than they need to, and often prematurely. Before you spend you’re hard-earned money on a lawyer: 1) make sure your memoir is final and ready to publish, 2) do your homework on what kind of protection you might need, 3) make any last-minute revisions to your manuscript based your research, 4) drop a disclaimer in anyway, and 5) if you’re still not sure and don’t have an editor or publisher to give you reliable feedback, then consult an attorney. Spending time worrying about a book that’s not even written or finalized doesn’t make sense.
Don’t stress about something that isn’t fully written or revised; a lot can change as you go through multiple revisions of your book. Should you choose to seek legal advice, they’ll want to know exactly what and how you presented something in your book, so anything short of a final draft may be a waste of time and money.
U.S. copyright law (Title 17) covers issues such as the scope, duration, copyright ownership, and what happens in the event of a copyright violation or copyright infringement. You have copyright protection of your work from the moment of creation, regardless of whether or not you officially submit it to the copyright office.
You don’t need to overwhelm yourself with the ins and outs of copyright law when drafting a disclaimer. However, it’s good to have a basic understanding to ensure that you’re not violating someone else’s copyright (in which case, a disclaimer won’t cover you at all). You should be familiar with what it entails and what your legal liability and obligation might be. Check out my webinar, “You Can’t Write About That! Permission, Privacy and Emotional Truth in Memoir.” It offers an overview of what what it means when we choose to write about real people. Includes a downloadable cheat sheet. Visit the Shop to learn more.
What else should you know before creating a disclaimer?
The legalities of book publishing can be daunting, but writing a disclaimer doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. Take the time to do your due diligence. Understand your legal rights (and the legal rights of others) and how to protect your best interests. Then get your work into the world.