RAD parents have unbelievable, and unbelievably important, stories to tell.
Too often the issues around parenting kids with complex mental health issues, like Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), are told from the armchair of a clinician. But it’s our stories of lived experience that have the unique potential to highlight the dysfunctions of the system, raise awareness about the disorder, and effect change.
For this reason, you may have thought about sharing your story, perhaps writing articles or a book. This can be a worthwhile and noble endeavor, but beware: parents writing about their kids comes with ethical and legal issues, and will be even dicer for you because RAD is a controversial topic. Through the process of writing blog posts, articles, op-eds, and my memoir, But, He Spit in my Coffee, I have learned a lot about this space and gained some wisdom.
Here are some of the important lessons I learned that may help you along the way.
Agents only want stories with a “happily ever after”
(but you can self-publish)
I received over 20 requests for full or partial manuscripts from book agents when I queried But, He Spit in my Coffee. This is a staggeringly good response, but none of them picked me up as a client. The feedback I received was positive about my writing, but pretty much unanimous that there isn’t an appetite from publishers for stories without a happily-ever-after ending. This was disappointing because I could not change the ending of my story. In fact, the whole point of my memoir was to underscore the lack of happily-ever-afters for RAD kids and their families.
If you choose to tell your story, you may receive a similar reception. Fortunately, there are several options to explore other than traditional publishing. One is self-publishing through a vanity or subsidy press. These publishers will charge you a fee to publish your book, along with providing services including editing, book cover design, and marketing. Generally you share royalties with the press. If you go this route, do thorough research because there are many authors who have been scammed by these types of deals. Another option, is to self-publish through a publisher like Amazon’s KDP. This is the route I chose for my memoir. You’ll still need to invest in an editor and book cover design, but you do not share the royalties. (I went with KDP, but there are several other self-publishers including Apple Books and Barnes & Noble Press worth consideration.)
You’ll miscommunicate and you’ll be misunderstood
(but you can work with beta readers on that)
It took me six years to write But, He Spit in my Coffee and thousands of hours of writing and rewriting. On my first round of beta reading I received the invaluable critique that the book was dark and hard to read. Since I was writing for the general public, not only the RAD community, this feedback was the impetus for a complete rewrite including several lighter subplots and also incorporating writing techniques from famous suspense authors to draw the reader through the book. I went on to hire a professional editor who, after his initial read, emailed me something like: “I have to tell you, I’m really struggling reading this book. I don’t like you or agree with a lot of what you do. Do you still want my feedback?” Absolutely, I did. I’ll tell you, his feedback was hard to read, but it made the book what it is today. Without changing the facts, I was able to change how I told my story, including foreshadowing and internal dialogue, to help the reader better connect with my meaning.
If you choose to tell your story, don’t assume you come across to your reader exactly as you intend to. The feedback you need to correct and clarify any misunderstandings won’t come from beta readers in the RAD community. They “get it.” You need to get your manuscript in front of people who don’t get it, who have never heard of RAD before, who are predisposed against your story. You won’t necessarily be able to change their opinions, but you can work to ensure they clearly understand what you are trying to say.
RAD is a topic fraught with landmines. Finding a guide to learn to navigate them, especially in our cancel culture, is invaluable. I was fortunate enough to have an editor, who at the time worked with the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. RAD is very controversial and the language we use to communicate with those outside the community can make the difference between our message being heard or not heard. It’s important to keep in mind who your audience is and not set up any unnecessary barriers to them connecting with your message.
You can get sued for violating your child’s privacy
(but there are protective actions you can take)
I went into writing my memoir assuming I had no real legal concerns… then I talked to an entertainment lawyer. I knew about libel, where writers can be sued for damaging another person’s reputation by telling untruths. But I was telling the truth, so I knew I had minimal legal risk in this area. However, the lawyer said the huge risk memoirists (especially parents) don’t consider is invasion of privacy.
While this cannot substitute for legal advice, I’ll share what I understood about my memoir and my situation. My child, or anyone else I write about in my book, could sue me for Invasion of Privacy if I am revealing information they can expect to be private and/or is embarrassing to them. The laws vary state-to-state, but harm is assumed by the court. This means that, unlike libel, the plaintiff does not have to prove damages.
Contrary to pop legal opinion, the following do not protect you from Invasion of Privacy lawsuits:
- Changing names and identifying details does not protect you from legal action, because these are our children so no superficial changes are enough to shield their identity.
- You “consenting” on your child’s behalf when they are a minor does not protect you from legal action once they turn 18. They cannot consent under 18 and you consenting as their guardian is not sufficient defense for invasion of privacy.
- Sharing details of someone else’s story only when it intersects with yours does not protect you from legal action if it invades their privacy
Most importantly, carefully consider the ethics of sharing the information. In my own story, I left out gratuitous details and some events my son specifically asked me to not disclose. I made an effort to include only what was necessary for my purpose. In addition, you can consider getting a legal release from your child and anyone else featured in your book. I obtained a written release and compensated my son, daughter, and their birth mother.
Also, learn about plagiarism. Plagiarism cannot be avoided by merely restating something in your own words. Plagiarism occurs when you use someone’s words, ideas, or even mimic their style without proper attribution.
My top recommendations for writers
The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers by Matt Bird. This is an amazing resource with techniques and strategies that can be applied to any type of writing.
Scribophile: Online writing group and writing workshop This is a great place to find beta readers.
Natural Reader: AI text to speech. Listening to your manuscript will help tremendously in the editing process.
Writing for Audiobooks: Audio-First for Flow and Impact If you plan to turn your book into an audiobook these are important techniques for making the manuscript audio friendly.
Print sample paperbacks using KDP for your own editing and beta readers. Even if you don’t plan to publish through KDP you can easily format your manuscript and print proof copies which will be enormously helpful in the editing process.