No one wants to dwell on it, but seriously, what if (god forbid) something happens to you, what will happen to your work?
We knew a writer who printed out copies of her manuscript (this was before computers) and stashed them in her home freezer before she took a trip. If her plane went down or her house caught fire, her work would be safe. But who would have known to look for it there and then what?
Another writer we know tells his friends that all his drafts, notes, half-finished novels, and random ramblings should be burned. He doesn't want anyone poring over his not-quite-good-enough stuff after he's gone. But how likely is it that his friends will be the ones to go through his possessions?
Sure, there are writers who have an eye on posterity no matter what they’re writing, even emails. They save copies not just of letters they receive but also the ones they write. The point is to leave a legacy. But who exactly will be preserving that legacy and where should they look for all those papers?
One of the best things a writer can do is appoint a literary executor. Though it sounds as if it’s meant for the elite few - the wildly successful and the maddeningly prolific - it’s actually something every writer should consider. Why burden your family and/or friends with the task of trying to sort through your work and then wondering what to do with it all?
First you’ll need a will.
And yes, you can leave your general executor in charge of your work, but it might be better to pick someone who’s familiar with writing, publishing, and copyright. Preferably someone who is interested in protecting and burnishing your reputation.
A literary executor will manage your published and unpublished work; act as gatekeeper in the event someone wants access to your writings; and manage royalty distributions, if you're lucky enough to have them. If your family is likely to squabble over your intellectual property, a literary executor can keep it all out of court. And if suddenly it appears there's a market for your work, the literary executor can see to getting those 5 old novels published.
It could almost go without saying that we’re not lawyers or estate planners, so we won’t try to give advice, but you can read up online. Here are just a few places to start.
- Estate Planning for Writers by Marguerite Manor
- Final Drafts: Selecting a Literary Executor
- What is a Literary Executor?
- Literary Legacies: Executors, Duty, the Law -- and a Proposal