YESTERDAY'S WINNER of a copy of Joseph Finder's Suspicion is James Montgomery Jackson! (James, please email your mailing address to me at hallie "at" hallieephron dot com.)
HALLIE EPHRON: Earlier this week, there was a little kerfuffle in the COMMENTS department over what's meant by literary executor.
Our friend and frequent commenter Ellen Kozak pointed out: "There is (in most states) no such thing as a literary executor. Not a term that is recognized-- and most lawyers who draft wills know nothing about copyrights and have no idea how to work around that myth."
Really? I had no idea!
Ellen, is a Milwaukee copyright, publishing and media lawyer. She is also the author of, among other things, Every Writer’s Guide to Copyright and Publishing Law. Like me, she graduated from Barnard College and is a Star Trek fan, as an aside.
She told me a sad story about a friend of hers, Miriam (not her real name), who 30 years ago sold a novel for $20K to a major publisher. It got to the copyedit stage... and they delayed the pub date. And delayed it. So her agent at the time took it back.
Over the years, Ellen would say, "Miriam, let us sell it for you" and Miriam would say, "No, I'd have to give the money back." Ellen could not convince her that the publisher would be so thrilled to get anything that they would probably settle for "first monies" which means the advance from the second publisher, even if it was less than they'd already paid-- indeed they might even have convinced new staff at the first publisher to bring it out.
Sad ending: Miriam got Alzheimer's, and was a hoarder, and they tore down the building next to hers and mice got into her place as a result. Friends went through her place and couldn't find the manuscript. It probably got chewed up and/or thrown away.
Such a shame. The moral is... what? I invited Ellen back to explain what exactly we writers should do protect our published and unpublished works. Ellen?
ELLEN KOZAK: Maybe the most important takeaways from this is:
(1) MAKE LISTS. Explain that the box under the bed is the Great American Novel. Make sure someone you trust will have the authority to go through your stuff and will know what to look for and where to find it. (PASSWORDS-- make sure that person has or can find your passwords!) Make a list of all your published works. Are they still in print? (Copyright for published OR unpublished work extends through the life of the author plus seventy years.)
(2) If any of your contracts are still in force (not reverted), make sure the person who will be going through them knows where they are. He/she can always take them to a lawyer. A folder full of copies of contracts, with the agent's name and contact information (unless you outlive your agent), and maybe a master list at the front of the folder? (And when I say folder, I mean real, not virtual).
(3) FIND and perhaps establish a relationship with or at least have a list (yep, again) of names of lawyers/agents the people who will be looking out for your stuff can go to: a list of lawyers who do copyright and publishing law, either in your area or elsewhere (copyright is federal, and the publishing lawyer can work with your local estate lawyer).
(4) MAKE LISTS OF YOUR FAMILY/HEIRS. Even if your long-time agent (as in Lorrie's case) is willing to handle your literary estate, how the hell is he/she supposed to know who your relatives are? And which is the one you do NOT want to be anywhere near your work?
I guess it boils down to MAKE LISTS and LABEL THINGS.
HALLIE: Check! Ellen will be stopping by today, so if you have questions, fire away! This is your chance!!