Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 27, 2023

How to Gift Your Author Estate – Writing to Retire Part 2

By Kris Maze

handing a baton to another person 
close up of hands

When a writer stops writing, maybe to retire or perhaps because they can no longer craft stories, where do their words go? What happens to the manuscripts, finished and incomplete, the notes, journals, social media accounts when a writer wants to or has to quit? How can a writer pass on their hard work and legacy to the right people?

When a writer ends their career by choice or by fate, there are many considerations. Before continuing, I want to disclaim that this post is mostly my reflections. My goal is to encourage others to think about their writing legacy and how to handle it with grace. This typically involves experts like lawyers and accountants, and if you want to get the best advice to match your specific needs, I suggest working with those experts.

In this post I will reference The Author Estate Handbook by Michael La Ronn. It is a good starting point for authors when they want to figure out how to handle and pass on their writing assets to others. Doing this with thought and planning can be satisfying and affirming for an author and their loved ones.

In part-1 of this 2-part series, we looked at reasons why someone would want to become a writer mid-career and why they may want to leave.  Sadly, we cannot always control when we need to write less.  Health reasons, memory loss, burnout and death could happen to any of us, being prepared can ensure that your work, its emotional significance, and potential income would go into proper hands. Keeping in mind that your copyrights extend generally 70 years past the life of the author, your work can benefit generations that follow you with planning. Take ideas from this post to plan for handing off your writing assets.

Today in part 2 we will explore ideas about how writers can tactfully hand off all their word-work to their significant others. Who are the best candidates to take your work? What are the assets and where do you keep them? What approaches can you use to communicate your wishes to others? These questions are the focus of planning for your estate.

Potential Candidates to step into your writerly shoes

Who you give your writing materials to takes careful thought. Consider these options.

  • A family member who shares an interest in creative writing
  • Critique partners who you know get you and the value of your work
  • Younger writers in your genre with a similar style to your own
  • An indie entrepreneur with an interest in story and savvy for small business

If you don’t have anyone in mind, there is another possibility…

Ask at a university, community college, place of worship, if they would appreciate the works.

Sometimes when a writer passes away, they don't leave any directives for what to do with their work.  When my grandfather had an aneurism decades ago, we found out he was a closet composer. In addition to his detailed work of fixing clocks of all complexity, he had also spent many quiet evenings planning extensive compositions for a big band he intended to reinvigorate.  My family found several filing cabinets full of scores, handwritten, with parts for individual instruments. Regretfully, the Eddie Shumway Orchestra never played a single note.

It overwhelmed my grandmother, who thought he was busy fixing clocks and didn’t know how many compositions he had created. She called around to local organizations who suggested reaching out to Universities in the region.  After a few phone calls, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana decided his collection had encapsulated the Big Band Era. They accepted his works into their collection, honoring the work my grandfather had done. The solution made everyone happy and shared my grandfathers creative works with the world.

Take Inventory

Writers have many assets to consider.  How these are handled is important to carry on the work of the writer.  It is important to honor their work and to pass on their knowledge to others. Knowing what you have is a necessary step to solidify your wishes for your books once you pass on.

Questions to Consider

  • Who in your world has access to these following items? 
  • How would you feel it it was left in their care? 
  • Who would you feel would handle it well?  Or poorly?

Writing materials

As a keeper of messy paper notes and rolled up scrolls, I wouldn’t want to subject someone faint-of-heart to my system of spontaneous notetaking, but it could happen. One illness, one accident, one family tragedy could derail the trail of research leading to my next-big-thing. It makes me want to organize these gems into something more manageable if I were to unexpected pass on.  

Consider what your next of kin or writer bestie would do with your precious notes and figure out what you would want to happen with them. Writing materials can be anything you use in your writing process, from your lucky troll doll ornament to your favorite stash of pens. Create a list of the items you value with a simple explanation that nonwriters would understand.

Social media accounts

This is a tricky one. Writers spend a tremendous amount of energy and resources to create a presence online building their brands.  We should include the access information in a place where your heirs could find it.

Your passwords

How do you store your passwords, usernames, and emails is only one part of this complex gift. In the world of increased security, many social media platforms require regular reauthentication.  Many now use two-factor authentication and if the person taking over your author business doesn’t have your email or phone number, they may never get access to your work.

Michael La Ronn, the author of The Author Estate Handbook suggests solving this problem with trying out various authenticator tools. Using a password keeper, or a protected spreadsheet, can also save these important keys to your work.  Also consider keeping your access information in a safe space and tell someone where to find it in an emergency.

Your systems and workflow

Writers use many tools that make the magic happen, but someone in your family may have no idea how to use all the digital pieces that go into the work of an author. Save them the trouble and find a way to communicate what you do, so that they too can keep your system going. Perhaps write out a list of your tools and describe their purpose in layman's terms. Draw or describe your process and keep it with your passwords information.

Here is a sample list of programs writers use to self-publish. Think of the tools that you use and pay for. I've created a spreadsheet and notes about my overall system in OneNote.  This information can keep the person taking over your author business sane and allow them to keep your books in front of readers even after you are no longer writing.

  • Scrivener
  • Email services like Mailchimp and Mailerlite
  • WordPress
  • Webhosting services and all the smaller providers that keep it running smoothly and spam-free
  • Post office box (key, number, receipts)
  • Resources like One Stop for Authors access
  • Plotrr (story lines and outlines)
  • Vellum
  • KDP for authors
  • Vella
  • Smashwords
  • Ad services
  • ARC delivery and Author Swaps, like Bookfunnel
  • Microsoft 365
  • Google Suite
  • Programs for doing taxes and business related records

Connections to organizations

Your heirs may want to know which organizations you belonged to in order to get help regarding your works, especially if they’re not in a genre they are familiar with.  Keep a list of your organizations, passwords, roles you took on, contacts you worked with, and a general description of the group to gain access to their resources as needed.

If they decide they can't or don't want to spend their time churning out books, maybe they can find someone interested in your work in the writing groups. Another possibility is the support other writers could give the newbie taking over your work.

Manuscripts (finished and incomplete) digital and handwritten

Whether these documents are digital or in the back of a dusty closet, let your next writing partner know where to find these gems. Keep details on where you are with these with the other important pieces of your author business. They can use these to keep your publication going, even after you’re gone.

In OneNote, I have a page assigned to each project under which pen name it was written under.  The information includes meta data and cover material, blurbs and releases, and general ways I have promoted each story. These also include links to where the files are stored and where I keep backups in addition to the cloud.

If you have a process to keep track of the versions of you WIPs, write that down as well. Remind them where you keep your copies and how you track the process from rough draft to cleaned up after Beta Feedback. Letting your heirs know which books were edited and ready for publication can save sending the wrong copy into the world.

Annotated books, Journals, notes, personal processing on paper

I have several books that I have written in that helped me develop into a better writer.  What a gift this can be to someone trying to fill your shoes? Let them in to the secrets that helped you and give them tools and insights into improvement as a writer.

There are novels that my children have shared with their friends in which they write about how the book made them feel as they read. When the give the book to the next reader, they too write about their reading experience.  And as the book is passed between kindred readers, the book becomes more valuable as a record of their friendship. 

If there are books that are special to you for various reasons, it’s a good idea to leave a note in the cover explaining the significance. Share with your loved ones who you want those books to go to.

Writing craft books and inspirational resources for writers

Think of how you have worked on any of these following things.  How would you feel if someone carelessly tossed these into the trash?  Or simply could not access them online?  Or carefully handled and revitalized the works to connect with your readership if you could not. Who you leave your work is a critical decision and one that can leave you satisfied. There are 3 general methods one could take to pass on their work.

Final Thoughts

How to pass the writerly torch, 3 methods to consider

Dread Pirate Roberts

In the movie The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts is a character that captures a simple farm boy Westley and forces him to work on his pirate ship. The Dread Pirate Roberts holds Westley hostage, threatens to kill him daily, but lets him live as they develop a friendship. He eventually retires and hands over the dark mask, chest-barring, puffy-sleeved black shirt, and cutlass to the former farm boy. Westly assumes the role of the feared head pirate, to make his own fortune and pass on the business to another unsuspecting soul.

This may not be the best way to hand over your writing business. *wink. We can surprise someone with our business, but it could be a resented gift, as it is full of expectations and responsibility. A person's experience level with technology and business and desire to write should be strongly considered. What was once a joy to you could become a burden to another. 

Perhaps build a relationship and teach the person who will take over for you is better. At a minimum, leave someone directions with instructions about what your wishes are. See the next example for ideas on how to compile your business for a nonwriter.

Keep a Secret Capsule

Keep all the passwords, instructions, lists, spreadsheets, and manuscripts in a safe place. Have a simple way someone can access it with minimum effort and a passcode or key.This method is a way to enable you to have access to your work in the worst case scenario.  Similar to the pirates booty above it provides the keys to the captain’s ship, but only when he or she is ready to retire.  In the case of death, the captain knows that his first mate will likely find the capsule and know what to do. 

Another benefit of this method is you can create it on your own schedule and little by little while you continue to write. If you have someone you can make into your first mate, someone who you believe would make a good replacement to keep the work going, this may be the method for you.

Michael La Ronn also has a companion book, The Author Heir Handbook to giver to an heir. He wrote it in a way that nonwriters can understand that is less overwhelming.

Bring someone on board and transition them slowly into your shoes

As a fan of transparency, this method is a strong one to consider if you want to know in advance whether your person is the right one to take over you works. Spend time with a young protégé and show them what you do. Take their input and suggestions and let them know you would like them to take ownership of your work someday. Teach them the tools and how to keep up with the ever-changing technology that runs our systems.

This method provides peace of mind to the writer because they know that they have chosen the person and trained them.  It also gives the new writer the tools necessary to make the transition a success, along with giving them a step up into the world of publication.  

You are writers.

You know the importance of a good ending.

Make yours the best it can be. Be thoughtful about the hard work you have invested in your authorship.

As you have done well this far, continue to influence others with your words. 

Pass on the pen the best way you can.

What advice do you have for other authors, including younger ones who may be starting out? Who do you have in your writer team that could take over for you?  What is your hope for what happens with your writing when you retire?

About Kris

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications, including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and young adult writing on her website. Keep up with future projects and events by subscribing to her newsletter.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.

And occasionally, she writes scary stuff at KrissyKnoxx.com.

All post photos from Canva Pro.

novel cover by Krissy Knoxx
Available now!

Sylvie's Summer of Scary Shi*t! A Campfire Ghost Story

This little scary project is now available at Amazon and at my website.

Being stuck in a dead-end town really wasn't teenaged Sylvie's worst nightmare.

When 8th grade Sylvie Morgan's parents travel to Africa to study insects, she is left with relatives in the Midwest for a summer of endless boredom and babysitting.

Sylvie's Uncle Toby tells a horrifying tale around a campfire of a destructive ghost that terrorizes Effingham County every 17 years, but she thinks it's not as terrible as not having phone service.

But an axe wielding neighbor and a polydactyl cat may soon make her a believer in this town's legendary ghost. The legend that now seeks her as she faces and fights the terror of the entire town.

6 comments on “How to Gift Your Author Estate – Writing to Retire Part 2”

  1. Excellent advice, Kris. There are so many moving parts to an author's business it can be overwhelming for us, not to mention a complete newbie. I've started my survivor's notebook, but based on what you've mentioned I have a lot of work to do yet. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Sure Lynette,
      I'm glad you found some good tips here.

      One part of the process is simply getting the conversation started.
      It can be overwhelming otherwise.

      1. It's important to note that these are my reflections. And to get better advice is to hire someone who does this for their daily living.

        I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of Michael La Ronn's books for authors and those who have no idea what being a writer is all about. See links for his info in the post. 🙂

  2. There's no one to take over.

    I was part of an anthology and one of the authors died. I think it became a moot issue since that publisher went out business and we all received our reversion of rights. No idea if his relatives did anything.

    There is one author I think didn't have relatives assigned for anything. I realized she had passed away when her Twitter account was hacked--this was several years ago. I reported the account. I think her Facebook account is still around. It always seems to be active on her birthday and people wish her a "Happy Birthday" without a clue she has passed away.

    1. Oh, Denise. That is an exact scenario I would hope our author friends can avoid. Thanks for the story.
      I hope all our writing can get into proper hands after we are gone.
      Thanks for your insights. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this, Kris! I've just been updating my will and this is very timely.

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