From Joe Konrath:
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.
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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.
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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.
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[O]ne 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.
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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.
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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.
Link to the rest at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and thanks to Sarah for the tip.
Passive Guy doesn’t do estate planning any more (he got tired of keeping up with tax laws), but, based on his experience in an earlier age, Joe includes some excellent principles in his essay.
For ongoing business management, establish a method of picking someone competent to manage the business instead of writing a zillion restrictions into your will or other estate-planning documents to “guide” your heirs in managing your books.
PG’s brother is a financial planner who advises a lot of wealthy farmers and during a recent conversation, he shared some issues he deals with for his clients. ”Whatever you do, don’t sell the farm!” may be sound policy while you’re alive, but if your heirs are living in New York and San Francisco and have no desire to drive a corn harvester every October, more flexibility is needed.
No matter how thorough you are, you cannot possibly foresee all the potential business situations that may arise after you’ve gone. You’re far better off to give a competent trustee who knows the business the leeway to make decisions that will be correct, given all the factors present when a decision is necessary.
An author’s estate plan made fifteen years ago would almost certainly not have included anything about Amazon, Kobo, ebooks, self-publishing, online marketing, etc. Fifteen years from today, the best practices for maximizing revenues from an author’s work will almost certainly be substantially different than they are today.
Because copyrights last for 70 years after an author dies, there is definitely going to be something to manage. Unlike farm land, there is no real market where you can sell copyrights for fair value, so selling the literary “farm” is probably not a very profitable way to deal with an author’s books after he/she dies.
Another mistake that lots of people make is to get their plans worked out, written up and signed, then put them in a drawer and forget about them. It’s a good idea to calendar a review of estate plans every few years to make sure they’re still going to work. As a simple illustration, if Joe’s three smart writer friends all die before he does and Joe neglects to name new people in their places, his plan could fall apart.
UPDATE: It’s probably obvious, but PG is talking about what works under US law.