Libel & Interview Fees: Writing & Publishing A Book

Posted at 09:24am on 16th March 2010

Hello, Mel.

Thank you for your wonderful blob. I find it very informative and helpful!

I am going to write a true story about my experience working for a controversial government funded community project back in the 80's and early 90's.

As part of my research I will be interviewing key members who were involved in the project. Can you advise me if a fee for the interview is compulsory and if so what is a reasonable fee? Also should I pay the fee upfront of on the basis of if the book is published?

My other question is am I allowed to use the real names of people in the book or should I change their names?



Mel's Comment:

Hello Carol,

Thank you for your e-mail, and your kind words about my blog. Your writing project sounds interesting - and the questions you posed. I'll try to answer them as best I can.


As part of your research when writing and publishing a book portraying real events, it may well be necessary to conduct interviews with the people involved. I had to do so, for instance, when writing my book, Stepfamilies. It was intended for the How-to genre and, although my second marriage had created a stepfamily from which I was able to draw on experience, I felt it necessary to interview a number of families in order to give as full a picture as possible to my readers. After all, the experiences and 'lessons learned' differ from family to family.

The same was true of the series of articles I wrote for a magazine some years ago, on the subject of personal debt. Anecdotal material helps to add credence to the information and advice you are offering, as a writer, and to hammer the message home.


Personally, despite having received flat-rate fees or royalties for all my published work, I have never had to pay a fee for an interview. In fact there has never been any question of payment! Of all the people I have interviewed over the years, I have never found one who was not eager to help. I think of Herbert who ran up huge credit card debts because of his compulsive suit-purchasing habit. Even when his debt was under control, he never entirely conquered his compulsive behaviour. But he was only too willing to 'tell all' in order to help others steer clear of the loan sharks. And then there was Betty, who didn't realise it was a criminal offence to default on payment of her council tax.

Likewise with my books, Second Marriage and Stepfamilies: step-parents and step-children were more than happy to have me record their experiences and the advice they had to offer, for inclusion in the book.

The reverse is also true. For instance, although BBC radio stations sometimes pay me a fee for undertaking an interview / being a panellist / or offering telephone advice, that is not always the case. The same is true of internet radio. On Thursday of this week (18th March) I am being interviewed for Healing The Grieving Heart - you can tune in on (9:00 a.m. Pacific Time; 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time; or 5:00 p.m. UK time) - but there is no fee for my half-hour slot.

Like many people, I view such events as an opportunity to share whatever expertise I may have with those in need. It also helps to promote my own work: my books – in particular my last novel, A Painful Post Mortem, which is based on my own experience of grief and loss, and learning to forgive those who were suspected of being implicated in my daughter's death. As all proceeds from sales of the book are for charity, I’m more than happy to bring it to the attention of listeners to the programme.

So in conclusion, I think you will find that most people would be happy to contribute, and may, even, feel flattered to be included in a book. But if not, I certainly wouldn't part with any of your money before you secure a publishing deal!


From what you’ve said, my guess is that your book is not intended for the How-to market, but is more of an exposé or misery memoir? If that is the case, then your question as to whether real names should be used is more difficult. You say your topic is contentious. Ask yourself:

  • Is it likely to be libellous?
  • Will it embarrass the people about whom you will be writing?
  • Is it going to cause a loss of reputation to others?

If you can't answer any of these questions, or are unsure of the definition of libel, take a look at The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. They usually have an article to cover this sort of thing. Failing that, look at this website which defines libel as "a false statement" but then goes on to state that "even truthful statements carry a risk; if you were sued you would have to be able to prove they were true."

Having said that, I have been commissioned to write and to ghost-write a number of books which included topics that were highly contentious: divorce; debt; drugs; death in suspicious circumstances; disease. Providing you are sure of your facts, and can back them up, it shouldn't pose too much of a problem. But be aware that, at very least, publishers may take fright and turn your book down; and publishing anything which 'smears' a person's reputation may lose you a few friends. Remember the old axiom: If in doubt, leave it out.

Hope that helps. I do wish you well with your project.

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