Saturday, March 31, 2007

In the event of death

If you died today, what would happen with your works-in-progress? I thought about that last night while visiting the Lee & Low website. WE is one of their spring 2007 releases. The illustrator for the book, Kenneth Addison, passed away shortly after creating the illustrations.

I don't know anything about Kenneth, or the circumstances behind his death. I can assume WE was a dream of his that will never be realized. He'll never experience what it feels like to open a box filled with books covered by his artwork and byline. And he won't get to share his books with fans, in classroom schools and libraries. Sad.

With Kenneth's passing, I paused to consider my own mortality. Besides obvious familial priorities, what would happen to my works-in-progress if I unexpectedly passed away? My wife — or any other next of kin — has no idea what I'm working on or which publishers I'm working for. Deadlines would come and go, and she wouldn't know the difference. She doesn't even know how to check my email which, primarily, is how I communicate with my publishers. She knows I have a licensing agent, but I doubt she knows her name. I've shared these things with her before but...well, you know, life's complicated enough without her having to know the intimate details of my business relationships, too.

Currently, I've been compensated (advanced) one-half for both books I'm working on. Would I leave my wife in financial debt to my publishers for books I wouldn't be able to deliver? I assume those things are covered in contracts, but she has no idea where I keep my contracts. Heck, I don't either.

I have many properties under license — so many, I couldn't name them all myself without digging through files. I have speaking engagements booked. Submissions are still out. What if one of those submissions received an offer?

I have no idea how to prepare for such a situation, or if it's even possible to do so. People die, yes authors and illustrators, too. Fact of life.

Later this summer, I'll begin illustrating RON, a picture book for Dial. Shortly after I was signed on, one of the co-authors passed away. And the author of FARMER, the book I'm currently illustrating, I'm told, is gravely ill.

Again, I don't know what the answer is. I wonder how others organize their lives for such possible unexpected events. Like death.


Stacey Thomas said...

Good question Don. I was thinking about this today because we got a mailing from the Retired Military dept. at DFAS and they mentioned this too. I have a notebook full of contact names and numbers, all my files husband could at least FIND my stuff, but he wouldn't know what to do with it once he had it...this is really something to be on top of, for sure. I will have to work at this and get more organized.

rindawriter said...

You could, I imagine, will your work, finsihed or not,as tangible property. Usually, lawyers handle copyrights to original work if the person owning it has thought to hire a lawyer for that person. You could donate it to a university or school or art museum. Emily Dickinson, of course, is the prime example of an artist/writer who never saw the bulk of her work in publication. Copyright to her work, in certain edited editions, is owned by Harvard still!

Me???! "I dwell in possibility..." a line from Emily Dickinson that is a favorite of mine.

Kyra said...


Great questions. I gave a lecture last year at the St. Louis Museum of Art to a group of black art collectors. The title of my presentation was... "When I Die..." to get the collectors to think about what happens to their collections... as well as what information they should have about the artist they collect. Really good reception!

Ginger*:)* said...

Hi Don,

I have just written an article for the New England SCBWI newsletter addressing a digital file cabinet for all my current and past work. This includes work in progress. All the contracts, finished books, and current working pages are stored in separate folders in this virtual file cabinet...and it is separate from my main computer in case of some bolt of lightning on the left toe, that catches the computer by surprise.
I keep all these files on an external hard drive. Hopefully that is safe from disaster. In addition there is a file folder in my desk with an outline of where all these files are located.

If you have a computer, you should have a digital file cabinet. Even traditional paintings can be photographed, scanned or video taped and sent to the computer file.

I think I would put my lawyer's name on the file in my desk ... just as an added attraction.

In closing, I hope nothing happens to you because your work is amazing and needs to be shared for many years to come.