Monday, June 11, 2018

What's the Status of Your Literary Estate?

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  Remember last month how I said my plate couldn't possibly get any fuller?  Well, guess what?  Yeah, that's right.  I'm now overseeing the author programming track for Shore Leave 2018, which is its own enormous undertaking.  But I agreed to that.  Last week, though, something else happened which I didn't agree to, and I wish had never happened.

At about 3:00 pm Thursday I was working at my day job, when my phone rang.  It was my friend and mentor Brian Keene, whom I've written about here on the group blog once or twice.  The funny thing is, Brian never calls me at work.  I told him jokingly one time that one of his prank calls nearly got me fired, and he either took that seriously or still thinks it's true, so I'll usually just get a text that says "is it okay to call" if it's during the work day. 

So I was a little surprised to see the call.  In the space of about thirty seconds he said he'd been badly burned in a landscaping accident and that I should get in touch with Scares That Care founder Joe Ripple and see about starting a GoFundMe fundraiser now.  See, like many freelance authors Brian has no health insurance, a problem that is only compounded when a freelancer is unable to work.  So an accident like this is like a double blow.

I could spend this entire blogpost outlining why I hope you'll contribute to the fundraiser, which you can find here.  And I hope you do.  But I've already done that elsewhere, and I also think that Brian would want this to be an instructive experience for young and aspiring writers.  So let's do that instead.

The reason why Brian called me (after his immediate family and the ambulance, of course) is because I'm the executor of his literary estate.  So what does that mean?  Well, it means that when Brian does finally shuffle off this mortal coil, many, many decades from now after getting to see his sons grow up into fine young men, I will be in charge of overseeing his body of work. 

You're probably more familiar with the executor of someone's will.  The executor is a lawyer or trusted friend who ensures that the kids divide the money evenly, the house stays in the family, and Aunt Ginny gets that cuckoo clock she always had her eye on.  Well, a literary estate is similar to a financial estate, except that it only applies to the art you've produced.

For instance, two of my novels were released by their original publisher this year.  It was my decision, then, to seek a new publisher, let them remain unpublished, or self-publish them.  I elected to self-publish them. 

Now if, Cthulhu forbid, I had gotten into a car accident and been left in a vegetative state, what would have happened to my books?  Well, basically they would have been in limbo.  I have no heirs and I'm recently divorced.  I suppose my father, or possibly my estranged mother, would be considered my next of kin.  Now my parents have no idea what I would want done with those books.  And even if they took their best guess, they likely have zero wherewithal to accomplish it.  If I told you to self-publish something tomorrow, and you didn't know anything about self-publishing, how long would it take you to figure it out?  Not to mention, would they have known what edits I wanted?  What forewords, what blurbs?  What kind of cover I would have approved of?  That stuff would be difficult for someone who knows me very well to figure out.  For my parents it likely would be impossible.

Oh, and by the way, they'd be doing all this while mourning me and trying to figure out my funeral arrangements.  Yeah, right.  I'd probably prefer for my sister to run my literary estate.  But she's not my next of kin, so in the absence of anything written down, she wouldn't have any claim to it.  Any publisher that attempted to reach out to me?  Well, she wouldn't have the passwords to my email account.  Amazon tries to pay me?  Well, they can't pay a dead person, and how is someone else going to claim that money?  What about my unfinished work?  Will that be published, unfinished, as with Douglas Adams's SALMON OF DOUBT?  Or will she be able to find someone I trust as an author to finish my work and publish it?

The truth is, though, that I wouldn't really want my sister to run my literary estate, either.  She's a more-than-capable nurse, social worker, and anything else she puts her mind to.  But realistically I wouldn't want her to have to spend the next ten years learning the publishing industry the way I have.  So it would make more sense for me to name, say, Mary or Kimberly or as my executor.  They know me, I trust their judgment, and while they'll probably miss me, they won't exactly be overcome with debilitating grief and unable to function when I die.

Which brings me back to Brian.  You might wonder why Brian, who's been in the industry for twenty years, and has scads of friends all over the field, would name somebody he's only known for three years, close though we may have become in that time.  Well, basically I just laid out the whys and wherefores for you.  Brian knows that I'm eager, young, organized, and ambitious.  I also have a day job, so I wouldn't be put in the position of being a full-time author neglecting his own writing in order to manage a literary estate.  We're close enough that he trusts me, but not so close that I'll be despondent and unable to actually do my duties for months or even years. 

A literary estate is a burden to manage.  Frankly, I'll be fielding phone calls from every idiot who thinks they can make a buck riding the back of Brian's corpse.  So I don't want you to misunderstand how laborious an undertaking this is.  Nevertheless, whoever you are, wherever you are in your career, you need to have a literary estate.  No one wants to think about their own death, but in the same sense that you can't just ignore life insurance or your will because it's icky to think about death, you can't ignore establishing your literary estate, either.

The good news is, you don't have to shell out a single dime to a lawyer to set up your literary estate today.  Just go to Neil Gaiman's blog and follow the instructions in this blogpost.  At least have that on file.  If you do have the means to speak to a lawyer, that's always preferable, but this is a fair enough stopgap measure.  Don't leave your work in pieces for your loved ones to try to pick up.

What about you?  Have you thought about what will happen to your work when you pass on?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks, Stephen - it's not stuff we want to think about but should. I know I need to. And I hope your friend Brian recovers quickly!

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Great advice, I never thought about protecting my work. Thanks.

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