Several years ago, I was working through a checklist my attorney had provided to guide me through the process of setting up a revocable trust. The idea was to simplify my estate by putting all of my belongings in one place so they could be distributed without creating a legal and tax nightmare for my heirs. List your assets, the form said, followed by prompts for real estate holdings, cash & investment accounts, insurance policies, vehicle titles and big-ticket personal possessions, like expensive jewelry and works of art. At the end was space for patents and copyrights.
That’s right, authors — our copyrights are a tangible asset that passes to heirs when we die. Now all we have to do is figure out who cares most about preserving our works. Who among our heirs — and our heirs’ heirs — will see to it that our lesbian-themed books stick around for future generations of readers?
Current laws protect copyrights for 70 years after an author’s death, keeping profiteers from making unauthorized copies of our work, and thus preserving the value of our estate. My existing contracts (i.e., with Linda Hill at Bella Books) remain in effect even after I die, so what’s the big deal? Hmmm … suppose Linda wins the lottery (“Yay, Linda!”) and she decides to quit work and put her feet up somewhere? My books could go out of print! What if my contract language doesn’t cover the next technological innovation, the one everyone switches to when ebooks become outdated? What if someone wants to adapt The Shaken Series for the stage or screen and there’s no one around to give the okay?
Copyrights are like beloved pets — we need to be sure someone will take care of them if something happens to us.
All of us like to imagine there’s a permanence about our work, that our books and stories will live on long after we’re gone. Whether or not that’s true will depend on what sort of legal preparations you’ve made. Think about it — will your heterosexual heirs care about making your lesbian books accessible? I’m not going to take that chance. Like Lee Lynch and Michael Nava (click here to read their thoughts), I’m designating LAMBDA LITERARY as my literary executor, leaving them not only my rights, but my future royalties as well. Someone has to cash the check, right? As the world’s premier organization for LGBTQ literature, they’ll advocate for my works — I’m sure of it — because it’s their mission to ensure that our stories are written, published and read.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, how healthy you are, or that your grandmother lived to be 112. Shit happens, so please take care of this now. Some of you might be thinking you want those rights and royalties to go to your partner so she’ll enjoy a little income after you’re gone. No problem — just make sure her trust spells out what happens to your works when she’s gone. I hope you’ll consider letting LAMBDA LITERARY be your caretaker. Click here to find out how.