Some years ago I received a call from a former publicity client. He was tennis friends with a woman who'd found herself the executor of a literary agent's estate, and she didn't know what a literary agent was. My client knew I'd gone over to the dark side; could I help?
I ventured upstate to the now-gone agent's home/office. Sufficient unto this blog post to tell you that I ended up going through her check register to find the names of her clients, then cross referencing it with her 3x5 file box of cards for phone numbers. (This was before email was as common as it is now, but still, email is not how you made the calls I now had to make.)
I called her clients with the news. Most of them wept. They loved her. Many of them had worked with her for decades. Some were grand-clients: the grandchildren of clients long since departed to the great library in the sky.
Every phone conversation started that way. And they all ended with "and what do I do now?" Because there had been no planning for "what happens next" I was unable to help them very much.
I'm reminded of this now because it's become public that Prince, gone too soon, has died without a will. What will happen to his income is less important to me (and to him!) than what will happen to his music. Who decides on license renewals? Who decides on going into the vaults and bringing out the unfinished work? Who decides on who will finish the work, if that's an option?
The person who makes those kinds of decisions for writers is called a literary executor, and yes, you need one. Even if you're not published.
Please please please make this a higher priority than you think it is.
One of my clients heeded the lash last year and was in my office with the lawyer to sign all the paperwork that goes along with organizing your affairs.
I must tell you: his lovely significant other and I both had tears in our eyes when we were reading those papers. It was Not Fun to contemplate why we'd need them.
But as my client said then, it gave him peace of mind to know that someone who loved and respected his work would be his executor (it was NOT me, since I have a financial interest in my client's works) not simply his next of kin as defined by the state of New York.
Please please please get your literary affairs in order. Here's what I mean by in order:
1. You have a will that specifically designates a literary executor by name. It should also designate an alternate. (You need to ask someone to perform the function; you can't surprise them!)
2. You have written copies of your work, clearly labelled, in a file folder, and your literary executor knows where it is.
3. You have your final draft of every published book or story in a file folder. This is particularly important for those of you who write and publish short stories. Some short stories might have been edited for publication in a way you don't like. Unless you want THAT version in anthologies forevermore, you need YOUR version in your estate.
4. Your literary executor knows who your agent is.
I never want to need this information, but the week Prince died was a sad reminder that I am still not the Queen of the Known Universe.