Friday, March 13, 2020

Grandma had a novel

I've been given a manuscript written by my great grandmother over 60 years ago. She never got it published, in fact, she never got beyond just writing it. My grandparents didn't get it published and it was forgotten by my mother.

It was written on a typewriter and I have typed the entire thing onto a word doc (well over 500 pages). It's currently with a proofreader. I will then go over it, edit where necessary (nothing serious), add notes and definitions (there are some archaic and old terms) and then get some opinions on it from friends and family.

Essentially, I would like to get it published because she was a fantastic writer (wrote and directed plays) but also because her personal story adds so much value to the book. It's set during WW2 in Poland & Russia and I think it has real potential. I believe she did in fact meet with publishers who wanted to take it forward but then life put a stop to it I suppose.

I am pretty sure that the first step is to officially obtain the rights, and although she had one son, and he had one daughter, and she had one son (grandfather, mother, me!) and although there's complete faith and trust, it still seems like I need to get this sorted legally. I'm not entirely sure how to do this though?

Furthermore, once the rights are obtained, I really don't know where to begin with the next stage. I'm totally new to this and haven't got any contacts I could talk to.

N.B. I am based in the UK

You need a UK intellectual property lawyer before you do anything else.
As I understand this, you are now working on a manuscript that doesn't belong to you. It belongs to whomever your Great Granny left her estate to, and if that person has joined her in the great Library Beyond, it belongs to the heirs of that estate.

Possession doesn't count here.
You're going to need real live paper documents here.

Beyond the question of ownership, you've fallen into the "this is great everyone will want to read it" trap.

You don't know ANYONE, let alone everyone, will want to read this.

You should get some objective (ie NOT family) eyeballs on this, and by that I mean a professional editor.

You can't get an agent to read this right now; because you're not the author, most agents including me won't even respond to your query. (You're not the author is #7 on Query Letter Diagnostics).

That your Great Granny had a career in the theatre is certainly a bonus point.

Any publishing contract you sign will REQUIRE you to warrant you created, or are the owner of the material. The last thing you want to find out the hard way is that Granny left all her intellectual property to the British Library, and they now want all the proceeds from the hit Broadway musical made from the book.

And if you think that kind of thing doesn't happen, you're 100% wrong.

Seek advice. NOW.


Kitty said...

OP, I hope the book is eventually published, because I'd love to read it. Your description reminds me of Anya, by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Good luck!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP I hope it carries forward. It sounds like something I would love to read as well. Good luck.

Ann Bennett said...

In going through probate for my brother, it is hard for others to understand that his belongings are not mine to give out willy nilly. I am just the administrator for his estate not the owner. I hope the writer finds out they are the owner.

Aphra Pell said...

This seems like an appropriate time to mention we should all have a literary rights clause in our will even if our greatest publication success is an honourable mention in a reef flash fic.

For example, my husband and my wills both leave everything to the other, and if one of us predeceases, everything in equal shares to my brother and his sister. It's all very equal handed.

But which of those fair siblings ends up the legal owner of my entirely unique epic dino-porn narrative poem picture book?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Years ago while cleaning out my attic I found a small black suitcase. In it a manuscript my mother completed a decade before she died. She wanted me to read it and suggest edits. As I remember it wasn't very good and I never finished it. All these years later when I think back to how I failed her expectations it breaks my heart.

I wrote about finding the book and how I wanted to build on her story. Never did that either. It was hers to write not mine. The part of all this I find so disheartening is that I found the book on her birthday.

OP do what it takes to see it through. Granny deserves it and so do you and your family.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, that sounds incredible. No matter what its future is, your family has a treasure. Best of luck.

2Ns -If your mom's sense of humor was anything like yours, if you asked one of your kids to do something and they didn't (as kids do), and then you went to the Big Upstairs, I feel like you would say *hey kiddo, hellooo* and shove a reminder under their nose, and right on your b-day so they'd get it. Maybe she just wanted (wants?) you to read it, and maybe share a laugh too.

Android Astronomer said...

This is a life lesson for all of us as content creators and copyright holders to consider, but from the other end.

Copyright must be transferred explicitly by way of a written document (or, in the absence of such a document, through probate, which is a pain).

So please preclude anything like this happening to your great-grandchildren by putting explicit copyright transfer documentation in your wills.

Mister Furkles said...

We have two books my mom worked. One is a completed children's book with Elephants as characters. She did the text and all the color illustration in art deco but never tried to get it published. We need to get my brother and sister to agree before doing anything.

The other is a hopeless cause. It's a children's book about an eleven year old girl whose father's firm sends the family to Japan; while dad meets Japanese businessmen, Mom and the girl visit all the sites, ancient and modern, in Japan. My mother didn't write it, she did the jacket and color plates. She would have been on the map with NY publishers. It was all set to go to press first thing Tuesday morning December 9th, 1941.

Colin Smith said...

Another Gem for the Treasure Chest!

KDJames said...

OP, I'm feeling all sorts of empathy on this topic (sorry to be so very late in commenting; rough day/week). I have several dozen letters written by a great aunt who was an Army nurse in WWII, during her training and when she was deployed and saw action in the Pacific theater. They're fascinating. Well-written and incisive. Interesting in a way I believe many people would enjoy. A different perspective on war, specifically that war, a venture where women are so often invisible in spite of their significant influence.

She had no children, didn't marry until she was in her 60s. So my "claim" to the work is the same as that of my sisters. And my cousins. And probably all my remaining aunts/uncles. It's so hard to unravel that web when most everyone of her generation has died or can't remember or can no longer reliably tell you what happened or was intended. My only option would be to publish and make buckets of money and then see who came out of the woodwork to claim a portion of it. Not an ideal situation. So I do nothing, and regret that the world at large will never share her perspective. I hope your efforts meet with more success. Best of luck to you.

On the topic of control over your literary estate, I have no hesitation whatsoever (speaking of the advisability of links) quoting a brief excerpt from my blog post in 2015 where I discussed the issue and linked to this excellent post by Neil Gaiman, where he in turn links to an example of wording to use in your Will (in fact, I used it in my Will):

[Creative types: You must go read Neil Gaiman's post on this topic. My attorney had never before drafted a Will dealing with Creative Property and she used the language in the sample. Thank you, Neil.]

With all the information currently available on this topic, there is NO EXCUSE not to make legal provisions for this situation upon your eventual death or incapacity. Do. It. Now.

2NNs: Stop it. What every writer wants above all is an audience, someone to hear their voice and their story, even if it's only one person. Clearly, you were your mother's audience. I strongly suspect she would have been pleased and content and even proud about that. You should be too.