Scattered thoughts on estate plannIng

I continue to use my little digital typewriter dealy-hickey. It has three folders: A, B, and C. I use A for novel stuff, B for any form of non-fiction, and C for short stories. Right now I’m writing in the B folder, obviously.

Again, I do not by any means think that this is a necessity, or even necessarily an improvement over a computer. But it is kinda neat. It’s very light, about one and a half pounds (perhaps the weight of an iPad Pro), with an interesting form factor: long and narrow, like some old clamshell phone that had a physical keyboard. And the barriers to just opening it up and beginning to write are very very low.

You just open it, turn it on, and start typing. If you get frustrated with what you’re writing and want to start over, you hit the two red NEW keys on either side of the keyboard and a new blank document opens up.

It’s just very neat. And it is nice how it frees me from having to carry the computer around the house. What can I say, I like gadgets.

I’ve rejoined the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Association of America) in order to improve my Nebula campaign for my recently published story “Everquest“. Oh! I think Nebula nominations opened yesterday or today or something. Just, you know, noting that here for anyone who might care.

Anyway, SFWA sent out an estate planning kit for writers. I took one look at it and my head started to hurt. There was all kinds of stuff about maintaining a file of all your contracts, etc, etc. It’s actually quite important: there are numerous writers who would be reprinted much more frequently today if anyone had any idea who owned their rights! Even in cases where you have a literary executor or a family member willing to act as one, they’re going to need a list of stories and of the unsold rights, which in each case is different and is governed by its own individual contract.

Yikes. Kind of a nightmare. I have informally appointed my friend Courtney as a literary executor, but I need to actually, you know, write a document. In my case, both my books were sold by different agents, who were at three different agencies, with three different publishers now involved. It’s potentially a big mess.

One of the better pieces of advice I got when I was starting out as a writer was to get and stay organized! When you’re making those first sales, it feels like such an irregular occurrence that you’re like, well I can just refer back to the email if I ever need to look at the contract. Which in one sense is true, but it’s better to have a folder in your computer where you have sub-folders for every completed story, and in those sub-folders it’d be good to include a copy of the contract (preferably the signed, fully-executed contract, though in most cases the unsigned contract is good enough.

Note, I do NOT follow my own advicce. I have contracts in boxes, on my email, in random folders in my computer. I do create a folder for each story, but it’s mostly a shorthand to manage the revision and submission process. Once a story is sold, I STILL go woo-hoo and forget about it. I am also terrible about returning signed contracts to editors. I keep meaning to just sit down and get organized, and I keep not doing it. And it only gets harder as you sell more stories (YES I KNOW THIS MIGHT SOUND LIKE FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS BUT YOU WILL HAVE THEM TOO SOMEDAY, I AM NOT EVEN THAT SUCCESSFUL OF AN AUTHOR).

You also might feel like oh well I’ll have an agent to sort this out, but you’ll probably have multiple agents over your career, and none of them will probably handle your short fiction, and almost all of them will refuse to handle subsidiary rights for books whose primary rights they didn’t sell.

I have no idea how people run real business (like with real revenues). I have friends who are freelance marketing consultants and designers and stuff; there must be so many contracts! Agh, at least in that case, your work only has value to THAT client.

I strongly believe in planning for both success and for failure. That means thinking about “What happens if this goes terribly wrong? How do I get back my rights? How do I avoid having to pay people money?” It also means thinking, “What if I have a breakout book and suddenly all my work is hot?” There are numerous cases of authors who couldn’t capitalize on success because they were tied up with bad contracts.

Anyway, one way of planning for success is by being organized. Another way is by leaving things in such a way that your heirs can make money off your books if the possibility arises. For most authors, your backlist is, at the time of your death, largely valueless. But something could happen! A fan of your book could become a film director and want to option it! You never know!

Anyway these are my assorted thoughts on the project of estate planning. Did I mention that this device makes it really easy to just write and write and write?