Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Grave Matters

Contemplating my mortality and being obsessively organized, I have given considerable thought to what happens when I die. Having dealt with our parents’ deaths has reinforced the need to think about the logistics of dismantling the detritus of a lifetime.

There are special matters that must be addressed upon a writer’s death.

If you are a traditionally published writer, you have a contract with a publisher and an agent. In the digital age and with self-publishing, the list is a little longer.

1) How will your outstanding royalties be paid?

Are they paid into a business account or a personal account? Will that account be closed? If the payments are direct deposited, the executor of your will must change the bank account information for payments. If the account belongs to a corporation that will remain intact, the payments can continue as is.

2) Who will you give access?

If you self-publish, make certain you leave instructions as well as your sign-on and passwords for Kindle, Create Space, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. with a copy of your will. Your executor needs to access your accounts to follow through with your wishes. If you are unwell but not deceased, who holds the power of attorney to conduct your business for you?

3) Who controls your royalties and copyrights?

If you have a contract with a publisher and agent, do your royalties and contract end with your life or will they be paid for as long as your book remains in print? Do the copyrights transfer to your designated beneficiary? If you own copyrights to your self-published works, can you will them to your estate or a beneficiary?

4) Will your books remain for sale?

If you self-published, will your books be taken off the market or will someone continue to manage them? Have a talk with your designated beneficiary. Do they want to continue to deal with it? Kindle, Create Space, etc. will continue to issue 1099s at tax time and the beneficiary must claim the amounts as income. We may be talking peanuts or, if you are lucky, a decent amount of money. Do they want to be responsible for claiming the income? Are they capable of learning the ins and outs of how to manage the books on the various platforms? They have to keep up to date on the status of those sites.

5) What if you have books in the pipeline?

Will they be published? Will your agent and editor continue to work with your “estate” or your heir? Will your designated beneficiary desire to finish the project and upload it to the self-publishing entities?

6) What happens to your business entity?

Did you form a Limited Liability Corporation or sole proprietorship? If so, the LLC needs to be dissolved or transferred to a new owner. Forms need to be filed with the appropriate documentation. Taxes have to be paid. It will help greatly if you have all of the necessary documentation printed, prepared, and ready for the eventuality, especially if your beneficiary lives in another state.

7) Are your records easily available?

If your record-keeping has been slipshod, you need to tighten it up. Make sure you leave explicit instructions and make important papers easy to find. You might know how to take care of these matters, but your spouse or other beneficiary may not.

8) What happens to your copies?

If you have stacks of your own books lying around, what do you want your beneficiary to do with them? If you have specific wishes, make them known. Do you want them to be sold, donated, or sent to special people? Is your address book up to date?

9) Who will have Power of Attorney?

Who do you trust to make certain your literary legacy is handled properly? As much as you may love those near and dear, they may not be up to the task. Choose wisely.

10) Do you have it in writing?

In addition to making your wishes known, you must make them legal. Draw up a will. Consult an intellectual property lawyer if necessary.

By providing in-depth information and instructions, you lighten the burden for those you leave behind. In the digital age, your literary legacy can continue to make an impact long after you are gone. It is important to make provisions for the care and keeping of your “book babies.”

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Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. All my Amazon sales money goes into a joint account. I'm sure my husband will know what to do with it. Other publishers send checks. I would also make sure my sons have access to my computer. .

  2. It is a good idea to have a list (somewhere - I have a spreadsheet) of all of your online account signons and passwords. Your executor can go through and close the important ones, be they social media, shopping, memberships, email, Amazon, B&N, etc.

  3. Good advice. Thanks for putting it all in one place.

  4. Good advice ... but doesn't apply to me, since I'm not going to die.

  5. A good reminder, Diana. I have some of this in place, but not all. I need to get it all finished.

  6. Thanks for all your work for this post, Diana. An uncomfortable but inevitable task for all of us!

  7. Great advice, Diana. My daughter has been nudging me to get my affairs at least somewhat in order, but I'm a procrastinator—not a good thing to be. Since she is the organized one who would likely take care of matters, I need to get busy and do what she (and you) recommend.

  8. Good advice, Diana--things we don't necessarily think of as we're pounding out the words to finish our latest work. We all need to think about this!

  9. Thanks Diana. We all must contemplate our mortality. I shall keep a link to your advice and take action soon, after all, although I have only one beneficiary, I would like my work to continue to be available long after I've shuffled off this mortal coil.


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