Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Death and the Self-Pubbed Writer

This is an idea I've been mulling over for some time, fine-tuned by my friend, bestselling author Barry Eisler, with contributions from my friends, bestselling authors Blake Crouch and Ann Voss Peterson.

It's based on a premise no one wants to face, but all writers should:

What happens to our IPs when we die?

I have dozens of self-published books, and I've spent years learning how to maximize revenue on these titles. There's more to self-publishing than simply pressing "publish." and there's a lot to know about this business in order to succeed.

Which made me realize something important; my heirs aren't the ones best suited to run my literary empire after I die.

My wife knows enough to ask my friends for help when I kick off. But what if we both die at the same time, like if our parachutes don't open during sex sky diving? My family doesn't know anything about self-publishing. They wouldn't even know how to log into my Amazon KDP account, especially since they'll be in shock having to ID our naked, intertwined, smashed corpses.

So my peers and I have been drafting a letter to help my heirs get the help they need in order for my literary estate to continue to be worth money after I'm gone. Self-publishing, like gardening, requires a learning curve and ongoing attention.

This is what we came up with. Perhaps writers should consider adding something like this to their will, or to at have this kept along with a will. But remember I am not a lawyer and this post is not me attempting to give legal advice.

You are free to use this without my permission. If this letter is missing anything, or you have anything to add to make this stronger, please mention it in the comments.

Some Thoughts on How to Handle My Literary Assets After I’m Dead

If you’re reading this letter, it’s because I’m dead. Sorry for that—I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose!  But it happens to all of us sooner or later, so it makes sense to prepare for the eventuality. To that end, before embarking on my permanent journey to the Great Beyond, I was talking to three writer friends of mine—all smart people, all of whom I trust—about how we might advise our heirs on our somewhat unusual writers’ estates. This letter is what we came up with. You should contact all of the people named below. They’re experienced, knowledgeable, and, again, trustworthy.

The four of us are:

(List of names, addresses, email, phone numbers, and names of spouses of four trusted self-publishing peers who understand the biz.)

So here’s why we’re doing this. A lot of my post-death affairs will be pretty straight forward—personal effects, real property, that kind of thing—and consequently, should be easily handled by any competent estates attorney. But one of my most significant financial assets is the revenue stream produced by ongoing sales of the novels and other stories I’ve written, and knowing how to properly manage this kind of intellectual property (IP) portfolio requires some specialized expertise. Accordingly, I wanted to offer some thoughts as a guideline for my heirs so they can make wise decisions about what to do with my IP assets.

If you want my work to continue to sell as well as possible now that I’m gone, I think you’ll want a literary trustee who is able to understand five basic rules in the publishing world:

1. How to access various publishing platforms with my backlist (the novels and other stories I wrote before shuffling off this mortal coil), and do what is required to keep that backlist relevant, including:

a) Which platforms to publish on, weighing the exclusivity of certain programs (such as Amazon KDP Select) vs. widespread distribution (currently B&N, Kobo, iTunes, Overdrive, Createspace.)  I’m talking about not only a knowledge of these platforms, but also the URLs, usernames, and passwords needed to access them.

b) When to change prices on titles, putting them on sale, make them free, and use advertising (BookBub, ebookbooster, bookblast) in order to maximize visibility and revenue.

2. How to exploit my IP rights (now yours) in subsidiary markets, including:

a) Foreign

b) TV and Film

c) Audio

d) Interactive multimedia and other

3. How to franchise IP rights so other authors may continue to create new works using the brands, characters, and universes I created before departing this plane of existence.

4. How to work with current collaborators to continue to maximize visibility and profits.

5. How to work with my current agent(s) to continue to maximize visibility and profits.

Because of the complexity and nuances of this profession, and because you obviously want to work with someone trustworthy, I think the best person to appoint trustee to manage the continued sale of my works would be one of the people I worked with in drafting this letter, contact information for whom is listed above.
Even if they don’t want to take on the role, they can help you find someone who can (for example, a qualified literary agent might be another possibility, but you’d really have to find the right person and make sure the terms were favorable). And they’ll give good advice regardless.

We all think 15% of the revenue generated by my literary legacy would be a fair amount to pay someone for acting as literary trustee, for as long as he or she continues to act in that capacity. If you go this route, a lawyer can help you draw up a simple contract setting forth your respective rights and obligations.

Having talked with these people (who are all generous and eager to help my heirs in this unhappy time of agonizing hell due to my absence), we have concluded that the 15% should be mandatory, even if the appointed literary trustee declines to accept it. Managing my IPs will require a lot of ongoing work, and not only should the trustee be compensated, but having a vested interest in making sure my work continues to sell will make said trustee more likely to put forth a continuous effort, which may stretch on for years.

Please contact all three of the people mentioned above, and let them pow-wow to advise my heirs on the best course of action, and then divvy up the responsibility as they see fit.

[Message from Joe:  I hope my son Talon, who has shown an interest in writing and self-publishing, will some day take on the duties of literary trustee as he learns this business, but only when he’s at least 25 and is deemed to be ready by the then-current trustee.]


List of current works (including Dropbox log-in information and locations of files)

List of collaborators and current contracts/deals in place (with contact info and where contracts are located)

List of associates with contact info (cover artists, formatters, agents, assistants, web-designers, proofreaders)

List of platforms where work is currently available on and has been available on in the past (URLS, usernames, passwords, PayPal)

List of works in progress and unpublished works, and locations

List of current subsidiary rights contracts and end dates