Protecting Identity

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Jampot

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Hi, I have agreed to write someone's (true) story for her. She would like to keep anonymity, not for her own sake, but for other people involved. However, the story revolves around a very famous, fairly recent tragedy which cannot be disguised. There are some things I can do to disguise the person but there is a lot which will be recognisable to others who know of this person and therefore other characters will also be recognised. She has an amazing story to tell and intends to be completely honest. I don't know whether we will find a publisher, but it is a story people will want to read, so I hope so. What I'm looking for is some feedback on whether anyone else has found themselves in a similar situation with regard to difficulties in protecting identities and whether anyone has any suggestions. Thank you
 

gettingby

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Are you saying she wants you to ghostwrite her memoir but then keep her name out of it? Or are you writing the story about this based on interviews with her and will try and publish it under your name? Either way, this could be tricky. If this is a story people will want to read like you say, part of the appeal is probably that it is this person's story. That could be a real selling point, and if you take that away, it could lose some of its appeal to both publishers and readers.

I would suggest talking some more with this person and trying to address some of her fears. If the story is already out there, telling her side of the story could be a good thing for both her and the potential book. And if this is a high-profile story like you have implied, it doesn't seem like concealing her identity will work. And if it does work, it surely won't reach all the potential readers who would be interested if they knew it was her story.
 

Jampot

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Hi gettingby and thanks for your response. I agree with what you say but it is not the person whose story it is that needs protecting. She comes from a family that has secrets and part of her story may cause family members to feel exposed.
 

gettingby

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I guess my next question would be why she wants to tell this story. You can't cash in on this being a high-profile story without saying who from the story is telling it and why. With nonfiction, writers often pitch editors and writers with why they are the best person to write this story. It wouldn't hurt from this woman to have a talk with her family about why she thinks this story should be told.

I wouldn't do too much work on this project without knowing who and what you are going to be allowed to write about.
 

Old Hack

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I've worked on several books where their author has wanted to retain anonymity. While using a pen-name does help it doesn't guarantee anonymity: all it does is provide an easily-breakable barrier between the author and the public.

It's very easy for people who understand a little about how publishing and writing works to find out who the author really is.

If the story focuses on real-life events which have been reported in any way in the news, a pseudonym becomes even easier to break.

If people might be hurt or upset by the story being told, the author is going to perhaps--probably!--face legal action from those people.

There is no way to guarantee anonymity under these circumstances. The best bet is to contact the people who might object to the book and try to get their approval; if that can't be done, take out an insurance policy to protect against legal action before a word is shared anywhere. Even that might not protect you, but it's a start.
 

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