I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. I’m just someone who’s been in the publishing business for 18 years, and who’s seen everything from heirs fighting viciously over an author’s copyrights, to individuals, firms, non-profits, and schools refusing to honor an author’s wishes to keep their book alive after they pass. Consult with your attorney for any legal questions you have about beneficiaries and copyrights.
At BookLocker.com, we have a beneficiary clause in our contract. We added that several years ago. After publishing books for thousands of authors over the past 18 years, we have, sadly, lost a few of them. We usually find out from a family member. Other times, someone in the industry will write to let me know. Sometimes, it’s someone claiming to be their beneficiary, and demanding immediately payment of any unpaid royalties.
Sometimes, the spouse or child of the author is surprised when we must tell them that they are not actually the beneficiary the author listed in the contract. We then contact the actual beneficiary, give them access to the author’s account, discuss the book’s future with them, etc.
In some cases, authors have named a company, school, or organization as the beneficiary. The problem is, some of these entities do not want ownership of an author’s copyrights. They have no interest in owning the book, promoting the book, nor even collecting royalties on the book.
While a handful of our authors have listed an organization or university as their beneficiary, two of them have passed over the years. One of them gave the rights to his book to a non-profit. After learning the author had died, I contacted the non-profit and they were very surprised. The author had never asked if they wanted to take over ownership of his academic text if he died. They wrote back to us, saying they had no interest in keeping the book on the market, or anything else. I asked if they wanted to give the rights to the author’s next of kin. They refused. I think they were offended that the author had done this without their knowledge. They asked us to immediately take the book off the market. We had to comply.
Another author assigned his rights to a university and we encountered the same type of scenario. They had zero interest in being responsible for an unknown author’s copyright or book sales, and no interest in the royalties, either. They, too, were not interested in completing any legal paperwork that would give the author’s family the rights to the book. We had to terminate that book, too.
The fact is, publishing and promoting a book and taking care of issues when a book is on the market is something an author is usually happy to do. Someone who didn’t even know the author, and who has no interest in the book at all, isn’t likely going to want to take over control of your baby after you pass.
Even many family members of authors we’ve lost over the years choose to terminate the book immediately after the author dies. They don’t want to complete the contract from the publisher (which is required when a book changes hands), maintain the author’s website, respond to reader email, promote the book, etc.
For books that do sell very well, some beneficiaries will keep the book on the market, but they almost never promote it as aggressively as the author did.
On the flip-side, some family members and even business partners aggressively fight over an author’s copyrights, even if the book hasn’t been selling well at all. See:
When An Author Dies, The Vultures Will Rise!
So, what should you do? Most publishers don’t have beneficiary clauses in their contracts. We do because we were tired of being the referee between heirs fighting over authors’ books. If you don’t use BookLocker, and if your publisher does not have a beneficiary clause, ownership and control of your book(s) will likely automatically go to your primary beneficiary (your spouse, child, or children) when you’re gone, unless you have specifically listed your wishes regarding your copyrights in your will.
If your children are your beneficiaries, you might want to assign the rights to just one of them (while gifting other assets to your other children) to avoid arguments over rights, marketing, royalties, etc. If you are an author of multiple titles, you can give each child a book or two. The saddest thing we see is when the adult children of authors fight over their books. For our children, we have chosen specific assets that each child will receive. One will receive my copyrights, another the vehicles, another the family heirloom piano, etc. Each “gift” is something we have talked to each child about so there will be no surprises and (hopefully) no in-fighting later on.
If you plan to leave your copyrights to a specific organization or school, I strongly recommend contacting them and arranging their acceptance of it now. This will help avoid your book going out of print when you are gone. Whatever you do, don’t think that “surprising” someone with the gift of your copyrights will be appreciated, or even accepted. You essentially asking someone to take over the business of keeping your books on the market. It’s not fair to assign someone to do your business after you die without obtaining their okay first.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
Angela's POD Secrets Revealed Series can be found HERE.
Have a POD Book with another publisher? See if BookLocker can give you a better deal. (BookLocker offers "disgruntled author discounts" to those who want to move from other POD services.)
See BookLocker's publishing packages HERE.
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