In today’s post, I reply to a topic started on Kboards about how to manage book rights and an authors’ legacy. The original post can be found here: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,222887.0.html
I’m tackling a major health issue (I’ll be fine, just taking it easy for a few months) and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about one’s legacy. It isn’t an upbeat topic, but in business it is important to keep the end goal – or at least your exit strategy – in mind.
Consider this common scenario:
You are an author with several books under your belt. Your catalog is generating a considerable (or at least respectable) monthly income. Now, your goal is to write the next book in the series and schedule the next pub date – Fantastic!
Then, as you’re sitting there – writing your masterpiece and thinking about how your books could continue to generate income for years to come – a question sneaks into your mind: how would you handle a large setback? A major health issue, perhaps? Or, in the longer term, your retirement?
What would you do with your work? How could you ensure that the income generated went to your family members? How will they manage the accounts, the cover design updates, the sales?
Bottom Line: What are the necessary steps to take to ensure your work continues into the future?
The good news is, if you are well-prepared and take the necessary steps in securing the future of your work, it can continue to generate income for your family or successors.
This isn’t such a comfortable subject to ponder, but to neglect one’s estate as an author would be a huge mistake. Today I’m going to plant a couple of seeds for thought concerning your literary legacy, in hopes that you follow these instructions in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
- If you don’t already have a will, go out and get one today.
Inheritance laws are determined by the state, and not the federal government. Depending on where you live, the future of your works will be determined by your state government if you have not designated an heir. Do you have enough confidence in your state government to manage the future of your estate? Does the idea of it send a chill of fear through your bones? Good — It should. Don’t put this off another day.
Maybe you’re thinking it won’t be such a big deal if you don’t have one, and that it’s not worth the hassle. In that case, I’d like to share some enlightenment.
If an heir cannot be clearly determined based on a will, your estate will go into probate. That might not sound scary because it’s difficult to understand what it actually entails. “Probate” is a fancy term for saying that the state will look at your estate and conduct an audit to determine what you actually own: property, land, collections, debts, etc. If there are debts, they are paid off. Following that, the actual act of handing over an inheritance can take years. Your loved ones may not live long enough to inherit anything that you would have liked for them to have.
An additional constraint of probate is that the state doesn’t estimate the value of copyrights in the estate, despite the fact that they are your property. The future of your works depends on who is managing them and how. If your works are tied up in probate for a lengthy interval, it’s likely that they will fade into darkness, and their potential future earnings will be lost.
- Now that you’ve decided to get your will taken care of, choose your heir wisely.
The person who inherits your works is very important, if you want to make sure your works will continue to be read, shared and loved for years to come. To help you with your will and in choosing your heir, an attorney can be a very useful ally given that it only costs a couple hundred dollars. The value of your copyright in the future depends on who is licensing your work, the royalties that are being paid out, and of course current trends as well.
Your copyrights are good for up to 70 years after you’ve long left this world — that’s 70 years of revenue for your offspring, or 70 years of missed potential.
It’s important to ensure that anybody who inherits your copyrights will maintain your publications after you’ve gone. Sometimes we don’t see success in our lifetime, and a well-chosen heir could have the opportunity to push your products — and then publish your backlist — were your novels to see a sudden burst in fame.
Technology and media present a spectrum of posthumous possibilities that writers would be wise to keep in mind. What would happen if somebody wanted to make a TV show, movie or game based on your work? Your heir could ensure that licensing fees are paid if they are aware of the copyrights and the laws surrounding them. Will they update and adapt your works to the latest technology and innovations? One would certainly hope!
UPDATE 2018: A recent article about how to handle your finances called ‘What is a ‘death clean’ and why should you do it?’ was published by MarketWatch HERE.
In short, the first step to ensuring your legacy as a writer is to have a will and to choose your heir carefully. Your works and your family will thank you for it!
Happy writing and legacy building,
— Marquina (@Marquina) December 1, 2015
Also published on Medium.