Author Etiquette - The Future of Your Work

by Jennifer 28. November 2018 12:51

Every author when they start a story--whether it’s a flash piece or 180 page novel--should know the future of the characters within that story. The start, the now, is something different than the ending, whether it takes five minutes or five centuries to end. The author knows the future, but the characters do not.

Unfortunately, in the real world, no one knows exactly what will happen to you, family, or friends, except everyone dies sometimes. That’s why it’s important to not only think, but to plan for that eventuality. Even if you are a beginning author, with only a single publishing credit to your name, making a will, establishing a trust and who is responsible, and planning for your literary estate, should be just as important as writing those stories.

Planning for that is complicated and many times you will need to involve a lawyer or someone who is knowledgeable about literary estates or both. This post is is the very bare bones basics to make you aware of what you might need. This is not legal advice. For everything else please contact a professional.

Reprints and Collections

Planning for “THE END” isn’t all gloom and doom and loads of paperwork. The start of your literary estate begins after your contracts expire on your stories. Many newer authors are surprised to learn that you can sell a story several times, and in fact earn more than the original sale with reprints.

Reprints are story sales that happen after you’ve sold first rights and your contract on that story expires. Usually the first time a publisher purchases and publishes a story, they obtain first rights. Hopefully, you’ve gotten a contract that states how long this is (which can last from 3 months to a few years). Once it expires, you are free to resell that story to another publisher.

Many times authors sell these to anthologies or keep a select few for personal collections. Anthologies are stories from various authors, but a collection is stories from only one author. Anthologies and collections are published and then the cycle begins again. Over the course of years, a single story can net an amazing amount of money.


For those not in the know, a will is a legal document that outlines how some of your property is distributed. This includes your written works, published and unpublished, emails, hand written notes and other writing related items. If you do not have a will, when you die the state you live in has rules on what happens to your possessions. Sometimes, those you love have no say in what happens or any subsequent money that is earned later.

Wills can define who is in charge of your estate, where your possessions go, whom receives property or money, and what happens to your work after you die. It’s not a thing many people like to think of. But it’s better to have it planned out for now, rather than have your family members be responsible for it after your death.

There are a few different kinds of wills that you need to be aware of.

  • A self-proving will, one that is written out and signed by witnesses (not mentioned in the will itself) is the most familiar and is recognized by law.

  • A holographic will is one written out and signed by the entity. Courts rarely uphold this type of will.

  • Oral wills are those spoken aloud. Legally they are the least recognized form of will.

  • Living wills are a set of medical care instructions in case you are unable to express those yourself.

Everyone should have some sort of self-proving will and a living will.  In that will there should be lists of property of sentimental and monetary value, along with details on the distribution. This should all be overseen by an executor of your choice.

Literary Estate

The next piece of the to do list is planning your literary estate. If you are an author, your work can still help support your loved ones, IF you plan accordingly. While we might think literary estates are for famous authors, but if you are indie, have several books and stories in print, or are about to, you need to make plans.

Your literary estate consists of several parts that can depend on what kind of publications you are doing. You need an administrator, someone to handle the copyright, physical notes, income streams and other things. They need to understand copyright laws, how the publishing world works, and have the ability to make contracts on your behalf. Your agent or an author who is well versed in this field can assist you in finding someone to fill this role.

Copyrights and Public Domain

What you are protecting with your will and literary estate is the ability of your chosen individuals to collect income from your work. The copyrights only last a number of years before other people can legally borrow your characters and your world. Currently, a work slides into public domain 50 to 70 years (depending on the first copyright) after your death. While that might seem like a long time, it can greatly affect the income of those you care about especially if you die young.

Updates and Changes

Once you write out your will, you can make changes, in fact, you SHOULD make changes. Your situation with family members, relationships, friends, and children will impact your life and should be reflected in the documents that state where your resources go. Some changes are simple, amendments or notes that are added to the original document (witnessed and signed of course). Other changes might require a new document. Don’t be afraid to make major changes when you need to as SOON as you realize a situation has changed. Don’t wait until later, because there might not be a later.

Preparing for death is a pretty somber thought, however it will help your family and friends out later. To find out more visit with a lawyer, consult other writing professionals, and check out these sites and publications.


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