Life Rights - Creative Law Center

Life Rights

Life Rights: Telling Someone Else’s Story [Live Workshop]

When you are planning to write someone’s life story, do you have to pay your book’s subject?

If you can write your book using resources available publicly, you probably don’t have to pay your subject.

But if the writer is working closing with the subject and is given access to details that other writers would not have, that has value.

The question is how is that value measured? In dollars? How much? Percentage or flat fee?

Is it enough for the subject’s story to be told? Is exposure enough? The subject may well benefit from prestige the book will bring, speaking engagements, or other career benefits.

Does the answer change if the subject approached you or if you approached the subject?

Remember, ideas are important, but it’s the execution that counts. With biography, the “idea” is the subject’s story. They are the expert on their own life. The writer takes the events of that life and shapes it into a readable book. Does that change the calculus?

What about a co-author arrangement? Is that the way to address the situation?

What if the book gets optioned by a producer to be a movie or episodic production?

These are all questions that need to be considered when telling someone else’s life story – especially when the writer is working closely with the subject of the book.

That’s the topic of this month’s workshop in the Creative Law Center – Life Rights: Telling Someone Else’s Story.

Bottom line: the answers to all of these questions are negotiated. There are no hard and fast rules. There is no right answer, but there is a way to structure the relationship that takes into consideration what both parties bring to the table:

  • the time and labor each person contributes to the story
    • constructing the story
    • research
    • interviews
    • preparing the manuscript
    • editing
    • query letters
    • proposals
  • the intrinsic value of the story, its authenticity and intrigue
  • the skill and qualifications of the writer

Once an understanding between writer and subject is reached, the agreement should be in writing.

A well-considered contract at the beginning of the project manages everyone’s expectations, even when the arc of possibilities about the success of the book is completely speculative.

This workshop is being offered as a stand alone opportunity. You do not have to be a member of the Creative Law Center to attend it (members will have access, of course, and need not purchase the workshop separately). You’ll get an email with the Zoom link for Wednesday, August 17 at 1 p.m., ET once you sign up. You will have lifetime access to the replay.

Join us for what promises to be a lively conversation about life rights and a look at actual contract language (which is maybe not particularly stimulating, but is practical).

About the Author

Kathryn Goldman helps small business people, writers, artists, and creative professionals make a living from their creative work by teaching them how to protect and enforce their rights. She is an attorney who writes these posts to help you be more thoughtful about intellectual property and the law as you build your business, write your stories, and create your art.