Responsible Publishing – Legal and Moral Considerations
So, you’ve written a short story, an essay, a non-fiction book, a memoir, or a novel. You’ve done the plotting, the research, created worlds and words and honed it to a very fine piece of writing. You’ve used Beta readers, editors, proof-readers, formatters and designed a wonderful cover and a tight blurb and finished it with an author bio. It’s ready to publish, and that’s so very exciting but scary too.
Putting a manuscript out for publishing, no matter if you use a traditional or hybrid publisher or go totally Indie, it is your work, and you are responsible for how it is received in the wider world.
Before publishing, it may be a good idea to think about what you have written. We all know the pitfalls of plagiarism, making sure all the ideas and words are yours alone. If not, then other contributions must be acknowledged fully and honestly, preferably in the authors’ note or in a bibliography. If you refer to actual events and people, you have to be one hundred percent accurate or risk the ire of your knowledgeable readers. The adage, think about every reader as an expert and an editor is sound advice.
If you change historical dates and timelines, fudge a fact for the sake of a better story, make sure you fess up to this in your author notes. It’s acceptable but acknowledge changes to the public record and why you made the changes.
The legal issues to consider before publishing include copyright, permissions to use another person’s image or writing, and defamation. The Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Copyright Council have information sheets that you can download.
Defamation laws were amended recently, the same laws now apply to all Australian states. The act of defamation involves making false statements, either written or verbal, that damage a person’s reputation. Make sure your written piece is accurate and the truth. A person who believes you have damaged their reputation can sue and the outcome may be costly. If you include real people in your written piece, maybe get it checked out for a legal appraisal.
In addition, you have a legal obligation to make a National Library of Australia deposit of your published book, but an ISBN is not mandatory but highly recommended. Indie Scriptorium will have more information on ISBNs in a later blog.
As an author, it is imperative to consider how your work, fiction or non-fiction, impact on your readers. You may include scenes of violence, rape, incest, murder and other challenging tropes but have you considered how a vulnerable reader could be disturbed by your storyline. I’m not advocating censorship, but as writers, it makes sense to reflect on how readers may be affected when they read about the violence and distress of your characters. You may need to ask, is it essential to the plot or gratuitous violence? Can you write a scene without graphic descriptions but leave the reader with an impression of the damage wreaked by your protagonist? You need to consider if your storyline can justify or inform deviant behaviour or increase racial and sexual vilification. If a book or scene is overtly graphic and potentially disturbing, consider a warning that the content may cause distress for some readers. Include it in the blurb. I presume that some warnings may intrigue some readers and encourage sales.
Sensitivity readers are in the news at present because of the controversy over re writing the Roald Dahl books, but they are a useful type of editor to use if your book involves some contentious issues. For example, if you are writing a book which includes references to indigenous people, then a sensitivity reader can provide expert information about the accuracy and consequences of your work. Again, it is not about censorship, but it is about consideration and empathy and ensuring that your work will not cause distress.
Writing cannot all be all pleasant subjects and happy endings but consider the legal and moral pitfalls to avoid. The best antidote is to get honest feedback from other writers, editors, beta readers and whoever else will read your manuscript. And kill your darling’s if you need to–but not with too much gratuitous violence.
Elsie King © 2023
Image– The Thinker © Creative Commons