Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Now that you're dead, about that novel

The tragic recent death of a journalist who had recently signed a two-book deal made me wonder – I am keen to think about anything other than the death itself -- what happens in this case? Would the project be abandoned by the publisher or would the first of the two, perhaps, be carried on if that manuscript was mostly on its way?

Sometimes a publisher will include a clause that says "if the author dies, the publisher can find a new author to complete the book."

I usually have that clause struck out because it's my client's work, not the publisher's, and they don't get to dictate stuff like that.

The heirs who now own the intellectual property, or the literary executor, decide what to do.

It's case by case; there's no industry standard; there's no common practice.

Unfortunately I know this first hand. When Andrew Britton died at a very young age, his agent worked in the office next to mine, albeit for a different agency.  She came in to tell me, and I knew at once from the shock and sorrow on her face that something was terribly wrong.

When the dust had settled, so to speak, the question was what to do with Andrew's unfinished novel. His family, his agent, and his publisher worked it out.

It was a matter of solving the problem, not doing what a contract dictated.
And often times, that's the way things really get done in publishing.


13 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Considering my recent medical episode the ramification of a post like todays certainly has winked and spit in my eye. I have unfinished works, hundreds of articles and enough intellectual property on paper to line tens of thousands of birdcages. It would just be my luck that out of my Staples storage boxes a best seller would emerge posthumously. If that happens I’m coming back to haunt their asses.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My greatest fear is becoming another verse in Alanis Morisette's song, Ironic, - signed a book deal and died the next day...

Diet and exercise will not be enough to save me from random falling objects and distracted drivers. Death will get us all in the end, but for all that is Holy, just let me have a few published works before I go out. Please. You think publishing is a mess here, it's boring in Heaven and burning in Hell. No good options there.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I recall when the box of comps of my first book arrived from my publisher. The range of emotions went from awe to zounds. I clutched a copy to my chest, squeezed my eyes shut and uttered, "Now I can die happy."

Lennon Faris said...

And make sure your loved ones know how important it is to you. It seems so obvious to us - but no non-writer, not even your soulmate, quite understands. Writing is part of the soul.

Somebody here (K.D. James? was that you?) once went to a funeral, and the family of the deceased mentioned some unpublished poems. Can't remember details but the end result was, no one thought they were very important. Well, no one but the (alive) writer there.

My writing wouldn't be my #1 priority once I'm kicking the bucket, but it would be up there. I'd want someone read what I poured my soul into.

Aphra Pell said...

Neil Gaiman has a bit of a campaign going to make sure writers and other creatives have literary wills so that their wishes with regards royalties, future use of copyright etc are understood, and an approporiate executor chosen.

I think there is a template, at least for a US version, on his website.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

One often hears about authors whose book didn't become widely known, or influential, until after the author's death.

Of course it would be more fun to live to discuss your characters, writing process, etc with readers ... But it's one of the best things about truly good novels that they can go on speaking, even changing readers' lives, for decades after the author has gone on.

Beth Carpenter said...

Just to make it more complicated, the decision of whether I would want a story published after my demise would rest entirely on what stage the story was in. If it's a first unedited draft, I want it burned. Second draft: feel free to read and edit.

BJ Muntain said...

Hi, Lennon. That was me - rather, it was my sister's mother-in-law who passed away unpublished in anything but her obituary (yes, she wrote her own obituary, in which she called herself a writer. No one had known she was before that.)

Here's the link to Neil Gaiman's Journal page, with the template.

Make sure people know your writing is worth something. Get someone to act on your behalf after your death at the ripe old age of 113.

MA Hudson said...

It's a funny thing isn't it? I mean, I care a whole awful lot about what happens to my writing while I'm alive, but I'm not all that sure how much I'll care when I'm dead....

Lennon Faris said...

Ah, sorry about that, BJ. Thank you for the link!

KDJames said...

Yes, it was BJ who related that story. But I have previously mentioned (and linked to) the Gaiman post about adding a stipulation for Creative Property to your Will. I used that wording in drafting my own Will a couple years ago, prompted by impending knee surgery (during which I was not expected to, and in fact did not, die). Because you never know. My attorney found it very interesting, as she'd never had a client express that particular concern.

I appointed my daughter to be in charge of Creative Property and then had a talk with her about my wishes. Which are basically that she is to say "No" about someone else completing/publishing any unfinished work. There's an important clause about her having the right NOT TO publish work, even if to the detriment of the estate.

My feelings on this stem from something that happened years ago, when someone asked for (demanded) a short piece to be written for an event. I wanted no part of it and ignored the "request," thinking that would resolve the issue. Found out afterward that the person in question had instead written something "for me" in what they considered to be "my voice" and included it in the event. And put my name on it. Presented the thing as my work. I have never been so outrageously, blindingly furious in my entire life. It's fortunate that person was hundreds of miles away, or I'd still be in prison.

It turns out I am not ambivalent about having anyone attribute words to me that are not mine. Your wishes may vary. It's important to express them, in a legally binding document, provided it matters to you one way or the other.

Miles O'Neal said...

BJ, Thanks for including that link again!

KD, I would have considered contacting an attorney. In some states, at least, such impersonation is illegal (since it was to gain a benefit for someone) and could have affected your reputation as a writer. At the very least they would get a letter firmly requesting they publicly retract it and apologize, followed if necessary by the threat of legal proceedings (if permissible by law).

KDJames said...

Miles, I did consider it. So tempting. But it was a complicated situation (no gain from the event, other than to buff someone's ego) and that approach would have damaged other relationships that I value far more than my wounded pride. It did teach me a lesson, though, about the folly of simply ignoring a problem as a means of avoiding an argument.