Does your book need a legal review? A Simple 5-Item Checklist

Does your book need a legal review? A Simple 5-Item Checklist

Not long ago, an attorney asked me:

“Do self-publishers submit their books for some kind of legal review?”

It was the first time I’d been asked that question, and interestingly never once has a client brought up legal reviews. I’m not sure but my sense is that the majority of authors going the self-publishing route give it only passing attention unless perhaps they have a large exposure—i.e. they have a lot to loose financially. (Not that this should be the only reason.)

Laws and business practices change; a disclosure or disclaimer that used to be “standard” may no longer protect you from defamation or some other claim. I am not a lawyer but doesn’t common sense and respect for fellow rights holders dictate that we authors consult an attorney versed in publishing law before we take our work public?

If your book is going through the editing process, now would be the ideal time to work through this simple 5-item checklist. You owe it to your book (not to mention  your peace of mind!).

1. Book covers: title, images (if any), trademarks, and the statements you make on the back cover in the case of a print book. Are you making promises or using endorsements? Are you making any claims that may need a disclosure?

2. Images: speaking of images, is each one properly credited? Keep in mind that some images are licensed for specific uses and/or can be used a limited number of times before they need to be re-licensed. Perhaps it was a non-commercial license image that you first used as part of a blog post.

One of my non-profit clients found a terrific image in Creative Commons but the license did not provide for commercial use. He explained his situation in an email to the France-based rights holder. She agreed to let him use it, but she wanted payment. So he proposed $25 (lower than I would have offered) and she accepted. His honesty was rewarded with a lower-than-expected licensing cost.

3. Attribution/Credit. Depending on what you are crediting, the rights holder may have their own requirements for attribution. Respect these and credit the work exactly as you’ve been asked. In some cases, such as brief quotes, it is a simple exercise. As an author, how would you feel if someone quoted you with no or limited attribution?

4. Trademarks. Sometimes adding a ® or ™ is sufficient, but it may also be necessary to add specific language to your copyright page. For my own book, my attorney suggested I contact Amazon because I use the trademarks Amazon and Kindle in the title plus I was showing images of their Kindle reading apps. Amazon responded in less than 18 hours that the title was fine as long as I referenced their ownership of the trademarks on my copyright page.

Note: many of the larger trademark holders have a section on their website that addresses issues like this so make that your first stop.

5. Copyright. You can copyright your own works, but did you include any third-party content—song lyrics, photos, text passages? If yes, it’s time to call a lawyer. In fact, if this is part of your editorial plan you should consider talking with an attorney before you begin writing your book.

These are just the more common issues that arise in publishing a book but there are many others such has how the author references events, companies or people. A small investment before you publish can be valuable insurance against future claims. This is one case where it is better to *not* beg for forgiveness.

To find a qualified attorney, consult a trade association such as the Independent Book Publishers Association or Google “publishing law.”

Related link:

Also see my post, Copyright Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers, or contact me at

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Does your book need a legal review? A Simple 5-Item Checklist

  1. Teri Rider says:

    Great checklist, David. All very reasonable and mostly easy to do. Being aware of these things ahead of time can certainly save money down the road if something isn’t quite right. And it makes the author look that much more professional showing credits, for instance, on the copyright page. I’m an advocate for leveling the playing field for independent publishing. Looking like a pro helps! Thank you!

  2. Michael Stang says:

    Thanks, Dave. You know I think about these things as I write and try to avoid trouble but I am not an editor I am not a proofreader and I am definitely not a lawyer. Leave it to the pros.
    Thanks again for your time.

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