Your Literary Business Essentials

What every author should do right now, before getting seriously ill or dying

You are a writer who’s become a published author. What if you should be in a car accident and become paralyzed? Even worse, what if you should die? Would someone be able to carry on the business side of your writing career in the event of your disability or death?

Because your writing is a business endeavor, the published author should be an organized person who keeps good records. It is useful to yourself while you are alive, and it will become even more useful to your loved ones if you should become incapacitated or die. Here are the specifics of what you should keep in order and easily accessible at all times.

Information about your literary works, including:

  • A list of everything you have published, the date it was published, and who published each work, whether it was a book or an article.
  • A copy of every contract for every published work.  Put them into am accessible file for your executor to consult. The originals should probably be in your safety deposit box.
  • Any royalty statements you’ve been issued should be attached to the matching contracts. It would be helpful if you included a separate schedule of when payments are due. (In book publishing, royalty statements are usually sent every six months.)
  • A copy of your written agreement with your literary agent. The executor will need to provide your agent with a legal document about how to handle your business affairs, including details about who gets your earnings. If you are unagented, your executor must provide this information to each book publisher.
  • Detailed records of your pending sales for books and articles, including notes about what you’ve discussed about the agreements, payments, word length, etc.
  • A list of your completed but unpublished work. Particularly if you are well known, this material might get published posthumously. It’s more likely to happen with book-length material than with articles.
  • Your email addresses and passwords. Published authors do a lot of business via email these days, and your designated representative will need to be able to access your messages. The legal issues surrounding access to email after death are not resolved; at the very least your executor will need to keep the accounts current so that important messages do not bounce.
  • Well-maintained records of all your writing expenses. These will be needed for your final tax return.
  • Other documents every person needs to have available in the event of their death: copies of your tax records, details about checking and savings accounts, etc.

What happens to your current writing projects?

If you have signed a contract to deliver a manuscript and you have died before it is delivered, your agent, editor and executor will discuss how to proceed. If the material is substantially complete, perhaps another writer will be called in to finish the project. If your book manuscript is far from completion, your estate may be required to return the advance money you received.

Looking to the future

No one enjoys planning for his or her own serious illness or death.

But taking these steps will not only insure that your desires are carried out for your literary properties, but it also makes it easier for your loved ones, who may not understand the business of publishing, to carry them out.

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

See also:

Mourning a Passing

Authors, Prepare for the Unthinkable: Your Death

Your Will, Letter of Instruction, and Obituary or Author Bio

Discuss This Article

Security Code: