As a nonfiction author, with few exceptions, you’ll likely be in the problem-solving business. You’ll have to clearly identify your target audience, you’ll have to find a big hairy problem that keeps them up at night (which is right up your alley) and then you’ll have to deliver a unique solution that will once and for all solve that problem.
Now, the goal of problem-solving nonfiction is not just to convey valuable information to the reader, but also to entice them to act on it. After all, you’re publishing a book with the expectation that your solution will be implemented by your audience.
The thing is, while many people will find success when implementing your solution, some will fail. This will happen even if you’ve tested your approach repeatedly with a large number of subjects and achieved consistent success.
The reason that a significant slice of your readership will not find success with your solution is predicated on the basis that…
- Some people will only browse your book and not fully read it, yet expect the same results
- Some will simply apply your solution in the wrong way (say, your solution calls for your readers to take 1,200 mg of vitamin C daily and someone will take 12,000 mg instead because they misread or misinterpreted the instructions)
- Some will only read half the book and only apply your solution partially, with poor results
- Some will apply your techniques for a week or two and then give up, even when your book calls for a minimum commitment of 6 months
- Or simply there’s a major disruption (like COVID-19!) that renders your solution temporarily ineffective — say, you’re providing investment advice based on the presence of a balanced market
If you don’t have any disclaimers in your book, some readers will assume that your solution is guaranteed to work no matter what, which is an impossibility in the best of cases, and they will blame you and your book for their presumed failure.
Why Do I Need to Use Disclaimers?
You need disclaimers because they set a realistic expectation for your readers about the nature and effectiveness of your solution. At a minimum, you’ll have to make a statement of use that reflects the many exceptions listed in the bullets above.
In addition, many government agencies require that you include certain disclaimers to inform consumers of what they should expect from your product. For example, the FTC may require that you include a “results are not typical” disclaimer in your book, and the SEC may require a statement indicating that “past results are not an indication of future performance.”
But there’s another reason you need to use disclaimers in your book: they’ll provide you with an element of legal protection. I say an “element” because disclaimers will never grant you legal immunity, far from it. But when they’re well-crafted by an attorney who understands the substance of the material your book and how it’s intended to be used, they do provide a strong basis for your defense in a court of law.
How Do You Write a Disclaimer?
As stated above, legal disclaimers need to be crafted by an attorney. Unchecked boilerplate disclaimers taken from other books or from the internet will likely prove ineffective in court because no two nonfiction books are the same.
By all means do your own research and use your best judgment to come up with your first disclaimer draft, but never go to publication without first getting legal advice from an attorney. For starters, they’ll use the proper legal language to give you a fighting chance in case of litigation, but they may also advise you on other steps to mitigate your liability.
For instance, depending on your circumstances they might recommend that you purchase a liability insurance policy or establish a limited liability company to act as the publisher of your work.
What is a Typical Nonfiction Disclaimer?
Your set of disclaimers will depend on the nature of your book (e.g. investment, weight loss, career, health, etc). At a minimum, you’ll need to cover the following bases:
Errors and Omissions:
No matter how hard you try, even the best proofreader won’t be able to catch every last error and especially not an omission. Here’s a typical disclaimer for this purpose:
Although the publisher and the author have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at press time and while this publication is designed to provide accurate information in regard to the subject matter covered, the publisher and the author assume no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any other inconsistencies herein and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
Similarities with Other Persons:
When you need to relate stories, anecdotes or case studies involving, say, your clients and you don’t have their permission to use their name, it’s always a safe bet to fictionalize their name plus any identifying information. For example, you could use something like this:
Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents in this book are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Promise of Results:
If your book provides a technique for achieving a specific result, say, losing weight, and you don’t want to get in trouble with the FTC for deceptive marketing practices, then you should have a disclaimer indicating that results are not typical. Here’s an example:
The publisher and the author make no guarantees concerning the level of success you may experience by following the advice and strategies contained in this book, and you accept the risk that results will differ for each individual. The testimonials and examples provided in this book show exceptional results, which may not apply to the average reader, and are not intended to represent or guarantee that you will achieve the same or similar results.
Finally, if your book describes an investment strategy, once again, you need to be clear that results will vary and are not guaranteed. For example, you could use the following text:
The publisher and the author do not make any guarantee or other promise as to any results that may be obtained from using the content of this book. You should never make any investment decision without first consulting with your own financial advisor and conducting your own research and due diligence. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the publisher and the author disclaim any and all liability in the event any information, commentary, analysis, opinions, advice and/or recommendations contained in this book prove to be inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable, or result in any investment or other losses.
Here’s my own disclaimer: this article is meant to provide you with basic knowledge, therefore information found herein is not meant to be copied and pasted verbatim on your copyright page (in other words, I’m not an attorney!)
Always remember to enlist the help of a lawyer in order to craft your disclaimers so you can make make sure they pass legal muster, and also make sure to follow their recommendations to mitigate any potential liability before you go into publication.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.