Friday, April 17, 2015

Living the Dream: Patrick Robbins Part III

As some of you might recall, I did a few blog posts back in 2008 following my friend Patrick Robbins as he cloistered himself in an Airstream trailer to write his first novel. While the manuscript came together very quickly, it took six years before the book was published. Read my follow-up interview to find out how Charles Schulz, Greg Brady, and an old friend eventually helped to make Pat's dream come true.   

How does it feel to be a published author?

Oy! (To coin a phrase.) This is something I've wanted for years, decades even, and now that it's here... it's just as good as I always imagined it. Picture a combination of the satisfaction in a long-term job well done and the delirium of an oil well finally coming in. I would compare the whole thing to a sports team winning a championship - on the one hand, "Mission accomplished, gentlemen." On the other hand, "WE WON!!! WE WON!!!"

I mentioned in a previous post that your first book signing felt a little like a graduation party--it's one of those few events in life when you are surrounded by so much love and support from your friends and family. How do you remember that day?

Photo by Alina Pauksis
Sheer unadulterated joy. It was so much fun seeing people from throughout my past - grade school, high school, college, various jobs - mingling with my family, all of them in couldn't-be-happier mode. The event was originally just going to be a signing, but people were clamoring for a reading as well; major, major kudos to Stacy Shea, the Barnes & Noble community relations manager, who whipped up 30 chairs in nothing flat. I hadn't read aloud from my work in years, but I wasn't nervous in the slightest - who can be nervous about having their dream come true? The whole thing went great; people wanted to buy it after hearing it, and one of my coworkers was so overcome she couldn't speak, which was something to see. One friend took pictures and video of the whole event, so I've got a permanent scrapbook. And my dad said he never knew I could carry a tune (part of my reading included the singing of "Amazing Grace"). The expected snowstorm didn't even show up. It was just a perfect day.

Your road to publication was a little bit unusual. Tell us how it came about.

I started sending letters of inquiry to agencies and got between forty and fifty rejections. After a while, you start to believe these people really know what they're talking about. One [agent] said it was clear I had real talent, but my book didn't seize the reader by the throat within the first five pages and that's what was selling these days.

Looking for another way to skin a cat, I got in touch with a friend of mine who's a branding strategist. At the time, he maintained the Facebook page of Barry Williams, a.k.a. Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch; he said he'd have Barry talk about my manuscript  [on Facebook] and ask for help getting it out there. Ninety-eight percent of the responses were "Get it self-published!" or "Can't help, but it sounds great!" But one man said, "I think I can help your friend" and left his contact info. I called, we talked for a few hours, and he said to send the manuscript to his agency, with his recommendation. "But don't you want to read it first?" I asked. He said that it was his experience that when you do good, good comes back to you. I'll never forget him for that act of kindness to a guy he'd never met.

I sent in the manuscript and, mirabile dictu, they were interested and wanted to represent it. I took it through three more drafts per their request. After the third one, they wrote to say that it still hadn't come together the way they wanted, and they were going to step away from it. That was pretty devastating - so close and yet so far. On the other hand, it was three drafts better than it had been.

At this point, enter Thom Hayes. He was my boss [when I worked at] Barnes & Noble. He read a draft or two of the book and told me not to give up on it. But I had. When the world reaches a consensus, it's very, very hard to go against the world. I chalked it up to bad luck, consoled myself with the fact that I'd actually written a novel, and got on with my life.

Then, maybe a year and a half ago, Thom  said he was going to be starting a publishing company, 3 Wide Press, that was going to focus on sports titles. He asked if I'd let him publish my book once he got the company going, even if it was outside the company's mission statement. Hey, sure, I said, it's good to plan ahead. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Last December, Thom wrote and said, "Are you still cool with me publishing TMOH?"  By the end of February, I was holding my book in my hands. One with a bar code and everything. The whole trip took six and a half years; if it had taken half that long, the book would not have been as good as it became. My dad, who taught high school English for over 30 years and still reads two or three books a week, told me after he'd read his copy, "The first draft was the work of an adolescent; this is the work of an adult." I grew up with To Make Others Happy, and it introduced me to a lot of true heroes. I'm truly grateful that the road to publication was as long and winding as it turned out to be.

Publicity and marketing for a first-time author can be a real eye-opener. What has surprised you the most?

The biggest surprise was that I didn't get responses to emails that I sent stores. I crafted a hell of a cover letter, emphasizing my/my book's connection to the various towns these stores were in, and got no responses. I would've guessed that emails were how many of their author contacts were born, but apparently not. So I've switched to actually driving out to the stores, letting them hold the book, making eye contact as I make my pitch. It's worked a lot better. It's also nice to see their faces light up when I tell them the book has a national distributor.

Have you used social media to get the word out?

I've created a Facebook page and have taken initial steps on my author page for both Goodreads and Amazon. I'm also a regular contributor to two blogs - I'm features editor for Cover Me, a blog about cover songs, and I'm "Grandpop Culture" on Acts of Geek - and I spread the word there. I don't Tweet, but frankly, some might consider that a blessing.

You've said that TO MAKE OTHERS HAPPY is inspired by Charles Schulz. What's the connection?

A series of Peanuts comic strips from 1961. Lucy asks Charlie Brown why he thinks we're put here on Earth, and he immediately responds, "To make others happy." Instead of saying "You blockhead!", as is her wont, Lucy dwells on this response over the course of three strips. [TMOH] is divided into three parts, and each part begins with the dialogue from those strips (thanks so much to the Schulz estate for granting permission). An even closer look will reveal that each part of TMOH is a sort of mirror to the Peanuts dialogue - but where I take a hundred pages to tell that segment of the story, Schulz only needed four panels. He was a genius. He had punchlines like "There's no heavier burden than a great potential" and "This world is filled with people who are anxious to function in an advisory capacity."

In many ways, the relationships at the center of the story reminded me of THE GREAT GATSBY. 

Very much so - of all the Books You Have To Read In High School, it's probably my favorite. I like books where the first person narrator isn't the center of his own story (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is another good example of that); you're as close to the hero as you can be without being in his head, and as the hero affects the narrator, so he affects us. Also, in TMOH, Ned and Nadine are second cousins, while in Gatsby, Nick and Daisy are second cousins once removed. And Tedd Long, Nadine's unpleasant partner, is a sort of Tom Buchanan. I didn't set out to write a Gatsby Jr., but as I wrote, I recognized that there were distinct echoes; I figured the best thing to do would be to not look at Gatsby at all during the writing and rewriting, for fear of being too influenced. But I couldn't resist one good tip of the cap; Nadine, talking about a restaurant says, "The place is full of money," which is a mini-tribute to Gatsby saying of Daisy, "Her voice is full of money."

At my last writing group meeting, we all lamented the fact that what we write is often so vastly different from what we love to read. For example, a friend of mine loves literary fiction with a gothic or fantasy element but is finding that her latest work is a straight-up genre piece. Do you find this disparity in your own work? 

To be honest, no, I don't. My work is grounded in old-school storytelling, in no small part because that's the kind of stuff I like to read the most. I'm talking William Goldman, Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Stephen King, the short stories of Irwin Shaw, that kind of thing. But I also love the lyrical flourishes of Fitzgerald, Amy Hempel, Kyril Bonfiglioli, Mark Kram, and more. So if the writer is keeping the story moving, but also taking the time to have fun with the language, the field they're writing in doesn't matter so much to me. I see the genre as the clothing and the storytelling style and craft as the body. Keep the body in shape and you can dress it any way you want.

I met you when we were both undergrads at Colby, where we both studied with Jennifer Boylan and Richard Russo. You later went on to get your MFA from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. What are your thoughts on the MFA/no MFA debate among writers?

I'm pro-MFA. Quick story: I was in a tavern with several others from the program, and there was a lot of griping going around about office politics, who taught which classes in which rooms, etc. Someone said I must be mad with the program, as I was unable to land a teaching gig and was therefore paying off the whole thing with student loans (I'm currently $49K in the red). I said that I couldn't be mad because I was becoming a better writer, which was exactly why I went there, so anything going on around me that didn't interfere with that was just white noise to me. Kind of brought the discussion to a grinding halt.

Where it helped me the most was with rewriting. Grad school was where I finally learned how satisfying it was to rip out the middle of a story, to arrange a sentence so the most important part came as close to the period as possible, to always look for better verbs, to seek and destroy the passive voice.

If you learned everything you needed to know about writing from a quality undergrad program and from extensive reading and writing, God bless you. Nothing wrong with that at all. Me, I needed that extra fine tuning, and in my MFA program, I got it.

Are you working on anything right now?

I've got two ideas I like - wunza road trip / treasure hunt, wunza story of an actor turned cop. I'm further along on the first idea - I've got the whole thing plotted out on index cards and have written about twenty pages - but I'm taking down good plot points and quotes for the second idea as they come to me. Now that I've quit my job of five and a half years, I'll get to make some real progress on both of them. That's the plan, anyway - if things progress like they did with the first book, we may not see them until 2021 or so. Well, something to look forward to!

Patrick is scheduled to read from and sign copies of To Make Others Happy at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, NY, on May 9 at 3pm, and at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA, on May 19 at 7pm. Good seats still available.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Professionalism (or, Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot)

For those of you who don't know, I used to work in the accounting department of a literary agency. My job was to process royalty statements, but I'd often make the rounds to chat with agents and assistants. The mountains of unsolicited manuscripts the agents had to read was staggering. Stacks and stacks of paper would cover every available surface, bookshelves, and occasionally the floor (this, clearly, was before the age of electronic submissions). And every day the mail carrier would bring more. The assistants' jobs were to separate the wheat from the chaff. If the assistant liked a particular manuscript they'd write up a report about it and then pass it on to the agent. It's a wonder they ever had time to do anything else.

One time I remember chatting with an agent who was bemoaning the fact that she was interested in a particular manuscript, but found the writer to be difficult to deal with on a personal level. "He calls every a day to see if I've finished reading it and then I can't get off the phone with him," she said. "I can tell he would be a difficult client." After a lot of careful thought--and one too many calls from the author--she decided to pass.

It was so unfortunate that this talented author shot himself in the foot. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I've seen it happen time and time again. While good manners won't make up for a manuscript that's lacking, bad manners can definitely tip the scales against you. There are simply too many talented writers out there and too many choices for agents. They have the luxury of being extremely selective.

I'll admit that the submission process seems a little backwards. You are submitting your work to gain the approval of someone who is ultimately going to work for you. It's like going to an audition before hiring an attorney. Since agents work on your behalf, some authors feel they have the right to be aggressive or intrusive during the submission process. Also, publishing is a competitive field and our culture rewards ambition. But really, the author-agent relationship is more of a collaboration and the submission process ought to be looked upon like a job interview. You apply for a job at a company that interests you and the employer decides if you're the right fit for the company. Likewise, you have chosen to submit your manuscript to a particular agent because you like their reputation and area of expertise, and now it's agent's turn to decide if they want to be in a partnership with you. If ever there was a time to be on your best behavior, this is it.

During the course of their careers, writers develop reputations based not only on their writing ability but also on their level of professionalism. We've all heard stories of famous writers who act like divas and I can't help but think that their lack of manners close doors on occasion. Likewise, those authors who are a joy to work with are revered within the industry. Agents and editors move around a lot in publishing. Whether you choose to build bridges or burn them, your past actions will likely affect you at some point in the future.

So what does it mean to act like a professional? Much of this is obvious and falls under basic manners.

Respect Other People's Time. Be on time for meetings, functions, appearances, scheduled phone calls. Honor deadlines. If you think you can't make a deadline, contact the person as soon as possible so they can plan around it. During phone calls a little small talk is appropriate, but keep in mind that the person you're speaking with has a lot of work and other authors to attend to. Read social cues. Keep it short and to the point.

Be Kind to Assistants. Sure, assistants are usually fresh out of college, but they are also the ones who picked your manuscript out of the slush pile. Most are sharp, friendly, and eager to please. They are also the ones who get things done. Treat them like the ally that they are.

Show Your Appreciation. Hand-written thank-you notes are rare and classy. So are gift baskets. When someone goes above and beyond for you, let them know how much you appreciate them. Kind words are free and always welcome.

Don't Talk Trash About Others. Not just editors and agents, but other authors as well. The publishing world is small and fluid. Snarky comments will come back to haunt you, guaranteed.

Be Humble. There are thousands of talented writers in this world-- remember that you are one of many. Nothing will alienate your colleagues faster than thinking you're God's gift to the literary world.

Respectfully Disagree. When the inevitable dispute arises, state your case calmly, clearly, and respectfully. As in any business partnership, being honest while carefully choosing your words to express yourself will get you much closer to your goal than failing to keep your anger in check.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Being Part of the Writing Community

Over the past week, I had the pleasure of attending two book signings for first-time novelists. The first was for my longtime friend Patrick Robbins, who just published his novel TO MAKE OTHERS HAPPY (Three Wide Press). It was heart-warming to see Pat surrounded by copies of his book, as well as the crowd of friends and family who came out to support him. A friend stood by with a camera to snap pictures for a memory book (including the one below). It reminded me a little bit of a graduation party--one of those precious few days in a person's life when you are showered with so much love and support and admiration and pride. It can be overwhelming and humbling in the best possible way. Pat's busy with promotional duties at the moment, but soon I'll have a follow-up interview with him to fill you in on all the details about his road to publication.

Patrick, me, and my daughter, Kate.  (photo credit: Emily Richards)

The second event I attended was a literary introduction series co-sponsored by The Author's Guild and Richard Russo, who currently serves as one of the guild's vice presidents. Russo has long been a champion of young writers (myself included) and understands how difficult the publishing landscape is right now for unknown authors of what he describes as "hard-won novels" or literary fiction. To help these writers get discovered, Russo has launched a reading series where established writers interview up-and-comers whose work has caught their attention. There will be a few of these readings in Portland, Maine and in New York City, with the hope that they will eventually roll out across the country.

The featured author of the night was Eddie Joyce, author of SMALL MERCIES (Viking), a story about a Staten Island family devastated in the wake of 9/11. While I was waiting for the even to start, a woman sitting in the row in front of me turned around and noticed I was reading the book flap. She touched my arm and said, "It's a wonderful book, you know. My son wrote it." We both started to laugh and I offered my congratulations. As it turned out, Richard Russo happened to be her favorite author. Joyce and Russo share a publisher, so the young author's editor suggested they send Russo a galley in hopes that he might blurb the book. The fact that Russo had chosen her son's novel to feature among the enormous pile of requests he regularly receives was a stunning turn. Other members of Joyce's family were in attendance and once again, like my friend Pat's signing, the room was filled with the most wonderful spirit of excitement, joy, and awe.

One of the goals of this literary series is to not only to help new authors break out, but to establish a sense of community among writers. When it came time for the question-and-answer portion of the program, a man stood up and acknowledged that it was a difficult time for writers and asked what we, the public, could do to support them. It was such a brilliant question--so many questions in this type of forum are limited to the "inward" pursuit of writing, such as inspiration and process. How often do we, as writers, look outside ourselves and to the larger community of writers to see how we contribute to the culture as a whole?

Both Russo and Joyce stressed the importance of shopping at your local independent bookstore. We all know the economic arguments for shopping locally, but the added advantage to both writers and readers is that local bookstore owners read widely and can make recommendations. By developing a relationship with your local booksellers, they can learn your tastes and suggest new writers you might like.

So often it feels like we writers are at the mercy of a difficult industry, but the events of this past week made me feel empowered. If we--members of the writing and publishing community--decide to come together and support one another by attending readings, purchasing books locally, and taking a chance on lesser-known writers, then just maybe we'll begin to turn the tide in our favor.

In what ways do you support your writing community? Please share your thoughts. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Questions to Answer Before You Give an Author Interview

When I was getting ready to go on my first book tour oh-so-many years ago, I spent a lot of time preparing for interviews and appearances. I had banners and posters made up for book fairs, created a tour schedule, purchased tasteful clothes and good pens for signings, sent out press releases and mailings, carefully selected and edited excerpts for readings and spent hours practicing reading aloud. In short, I felt I had done everything I could to get ready for the tour.

Unfortunately, I failed to do the most important thing of all--which was to understand my book.

I had thought that working on a manuscript intensely for five years made me an expert on the work. Hardly. It wasn't until I had a live interview for a writing website that I realized how underprepared I was for discussing it. The interviewer typed the very simple question--"What is your book about?" and I completely froze. I stared at the blinking cursor for five long minutes, prompting the interviewer to ask if I was all right.

It's not that I didn't know what my book was about, exactly. It was a novel that spanned forty years and followed two boys into adulthood. A whole lot happened in between, but nothing I felt I could pin down in two sentences. Or at least two interesting sentences. Much of what is appealing about literary fiction lies in the telling more than that concept. Or at least that's what I told myself. As I discovered too late, you still need to have a pitch.

Over the course of the next month or so, as the reviews started rolling in, I started getting a little perspective on what the story was about. Through other people's eyes I began to see themes and connections that I didn't realize were there. I know it sounds strange to be so removed from the story, but sometimes you can be too close to a project to see it properly.

I decided that in order to feel more comfortable discussing my book I needed to approach the story like a reader. I thought about some of the questions I was asked during my first interview and began writing down the answers. Basically, I wrote a report on my own book. I also came up with a list of commonly asked questions that I had often heard asked at readings and answered those, too. Even a question as simple as, "What is your favorite book?" can be difficult to recall in front of an audience. By taking a little time to think about my answers beforehand, I felt much more confident with each subsequent appearance. By the end of my book tour I had my pitch down and I was a bit more relaxed when answering questions.

Here are ten commonly asked questions I try to think about before I do an interview or reading:

1. What is your book about?

2. How long did it take you to write it?

3. Where did you get the idea for the book?

4. What is your writing process? How often do you write?

5. Who/what are some of your favorite writers/books?

6. How did you get published?

7. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

8. What are your thoughts on self-publishing/print-on-demand?

9. What advice would you give an aspiring author?

10. What are you working on now?  

Share your experiences. How do you prepare for author interviews?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Care About the Work, Not the Result

One of the best books I've read recently is comedienne Amy Poehler's Yes, Please. Part memoir, part advice book, it's chock-full of wisdom for anyone in a creative field. One of my favorite lines in the book is: CARE ABOUT THE WORK, NOT THE RESULT.

Creativity, Poehler says, is where we find our joy and comfort. We need to put our effort into making the highest quality art that we can. This is THE WORK. It's what sustains us, nurtures our soul. It's what we'd want to do even if we weren't getting paid for it. The work is what is in our control.

THE RESULT is something else entirely. It is how our work is received. The result is agents and publishers and bestseller lists and awards. It's our career--and much of it is outside our control. Poehler describes career as "a bad boyfriend" who "ignores you and doesn't call, who flirts with other people right in front of you. With a bad boyfriend, you're never satisfied." You'll always want more.
The best way to handle a career, like a bad boyfriend, Poehler says, is to ignore it. If you ignore it, it will come to you.

While this approach may work with bad boyfriends, it's easy to wonder if the analogy is truly apt for writing careers. How can we ignore our careers? We all know that in a crowded marketplace we have no hope of getting noticed if we sit idly by. It seems easy for Poehler to say 'ignore it' when she's among the most famous comedians of her generation. She can afford to ignore it, while the rest of us can't.

'Ignore' is perhaps the wrong word here, though I think her sentiment is essentially correct. Poehler references Buddhism many times throughout the book and what I think she's trying to espouse is the Buddhist concept of non-attachment. Yes, we must do all of those things required of us to bring attention to our work, but we need to free ourselves from caring about what happens afterwards. For instance, we should definitely schedule author appearances but try not to be upset if the crowd is small. We do what we can and then recognize the rest is out of our hands. We should promote our work to the best of our ability, but not be disheartened if it doesn't hit the bestseller list.

The hard truth is that fame and fortune in any creative field is a crap shoot. While we'd like to believe that if we work hard enough we can make ourselves successful in the most conventional sense of the word, luck and timing have a great deal to do with it. It's impossible to know what will strike a chord with the public. Just look at what is popular in current culture right now. What we choose to elevate as a culture is funny and unpredictable.

My daughters both participate in a computer programming community on the web. The most popular program? A three-second animated loop of dancing yams. Thousands of people like it. Personally, I don't get it--they look like orange polar bears to me. The point is, it's impossible to predict what is going to take off. I doubt even the kid who created up the program could have dreamed it would receive so much attention. [Actually, if you look at his comments in the sidebar, he's just as surprised as anyone.]

Instead of being discouraged by outcomes, we need to put our energy not into what we can't control but into the work itself--the very thing that sustains us. Do it for yourself and no one else. Take pride in creating your very best work, then let the rest go. The work must be its own reward.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Giving a Generous Critique

The first round with my writing group went well--but boy, was I nervous. I started having flashbacks of the creative writing seminars I attended in college. While most of my fellow students gave thoughtful feedback, we were all young, a little tactless at times, and maybe a little competitive, too. There was always a student or two who seemed to have an ax to grind and the tear-down could be brutal. Let's just say it was good training for future Amazon reviews. Luckily, this time around was a more pleasant experience.

Because our work is so personal, we writers can sometimes be--how should I say?--a little self-absorbed. Today, I want to turn the tables a bit. Instead of thinking about how others critique us, let's pause a moment and think about how we critique others.

If you're not currently in a seminar or writing group, there will come a time when someone will ask you to read their work. Remember--you're not required to read every manuscript someone hands you, but if your schedule allows and you're so inclined, then take a little time to share your expertise.

Here are some things to think about when you give a critique:

Always Ask First. The first question I always ask is, "What do you want from me?" There are so many ways to critique: readability, grammar and typos, structure, missed opportunities, etc. You don't want to spend an hour or two proofreading when all the writer wanted was a general impression. Ask the writer how to approach the piece.

Honor the Work. Keep in mind that it probably took a lot of courage for the writer to show you the piece. Approach the work with respect.

Consider the Writer's Ability. Writers of different abilities need different kinds of feedback. Beginners need to be reassured. Be supportive by focusing more on the overall mood and tone. For more experienced writers, you can delve into the technical aspects. Advanced writers often appreciate a detailed critique. Generally, the more advanced the writer, the more thorough the critique.

Be Complimentary. Every critique needs to begin with a word or two of praise. Sometimes that can seem like an impossible task, but with a little careful thought you can always find something to admire. If you have nothing positive to offer, the writer may dismiss everything else you have to say, even if it's valid.

Allow for Differences of Opinion. This is a tough one for me. By nature, I'm both opinionated and a fixer, which means I often have strong feelings for what I think a story needs and how the writer ought go about fixing it. While my intention is to be helpful, I have to remind myself that the writer has her own vision and style. There's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. I still share my thoughts on how to fix a problem, but try to offer them more as examples of how it could be done rather than dictating how it should be done.

Opinions can also get in the way when you are asked to critique a piece that falls into a genre that you don't like. Good writing exists in all genres. Keep an open mind and judge the piece on its own terms. For example, don't judge a YA dystopian story by the same standards you'd apply to a literary satire. They are entirely different beasts with their own rules.

Provide Useful Criticism. Even if you love the piece from start to finish, there's always something that can be improved upon. Dig deep. Really give the writer something useful and specific to work with. If you have no suggestions for improvement, the writer might feel that you're not being honest or that you didn't take the time to give it a careful read.

Above All--Be Kind. No story is worth ruining a relationship over. It's always better to be kind than to be clever, supportive rather than competitive. A good, thoughtful critique is an act of generosity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Preserving Your Literary Legacy

We hardly had but a minute to absorb the earth-shattering publishing news that Harper Lee's second novel will be published this summer, before social media was buzzing with questions : How could the manuscript go missing for 50 years? Who discovered it? Why now? And more importantly: Did the 88-year-old Ms. Lee, who is reportedly deaf and nearly blind provide adequate consent to having her work published?

Many of these questions have come from Ms. Lee's fans, whose interest in preserving her legacy has trumped their curiosity about reading this long-lost manuscript. I suspect Ms. Lee's representatives will have a lot of questions to answer before the public is satisfied that the beloved writer is not being fleeced. We should all be so lucky to have such loyal fans.

Whether or not Ms. Lee's manuscript is being handled properly, this situation should sound a warning bell to all of us who write. We need to think about the work we've produced--both published and unpublished--and how we want it handled when we are no longer around or unable to make decisions on our own.

Protecting Your Legacy

As we age, acquire property, and start a family, we are often encouraged to create a will and sign advanced care directives. The reason behind estate planning is to protect your assets for your heirs, but even more importantly, to assist your heirs in decision making. You may not realize it, but your creative works--even unfinished ones--are potential assets. Therefore, it's important to include them in your estate planning. Often, our literary heirs are people who don't know the first thing about the publishing business. It only makes sense to put a plan in place that helps them in the decision-making process. Literary estate planning is about more than just posthumous sales, it's about protecting your reputation.

Think about the unpublished works kicking around in your drawer right now. Do you have the first draft of a short story? Maybe it looks complete to the casual observer, but it's not up to your standards of quality and you plan on revising it. Would you want your heirs to publish it?  Maybe you have an editor you trust, who knows your style and vision. Would you trust them enough to revise it for publication? Or maybe the thought of anyone reading your unfinished story is horrifying and you'd rather have all copies of it destroyed.

What about a half-written novel? Would you be comfortable with having it published as-is, or would you want someone to finish it for you? Maybe you wouldn't want it published as a novel, but wouldn't mind if finished chapters were published as short stories.

What about published works? Would you want your work turned into a movie or a TV series? A stage production? A video game? What about merchandizing? Would you authorize someone to write a sequel on your behalf?

Would you want your characters made into action figures?

Right now, while you're of sound mind and body, think of your most trusted advisors. Who cares more about the quality of your work than the money it produces? At least one of these advisors should be named among those who will have decision-making power over your estate, preferably as your literary executor.

Put It In Writing

Once you have given a little thought to your literary legacy, you need to find good counsel. If you have many manuscripts and books, it might make sense to hire an attorney that is familiar with publishing law. If you're like me and your oeuvre is less extensive, you can simply add a rider to your will detailing how you would like your works handled.

Discuss Your Intentions

Like any good estate plan, it's better to discuss your intentions openly with your spouse, dependents, executor, agent, etc. than to rely just on the will. Be honest and clear about how you want your works handled and what kinds of decisions would align with your values.

Organize Your Papers

Did you know that your rough drafts, notes, and correspondence might be valuable some day? Special collections and universities often purchase and archive these papers for research purposes. Or maybe you'll have plans to donate your papers to a particular organization. Gather all your materials relating to a particular project and store each project's papers in a well-labeled sturdy banker's box in a cool, dry, secure place. Be sure to let your loved ones know where they can find it.

Have you thought about your literary legacy? What steps have you taken to protect it?