Skip to main content

What is a Literary Executor?

  • Author:
  • Publish date:

Q: I was recently approached by one of my relatives (my father's cousin), who asked if I would be her literary executor. I don't really know what this means and thought you might be able to shed some light on the subject. Do you know what this might entail?—Anonymous

A: Often people choose executors of their will to carry out their wishes and oversee the handling/distribution of their estate. A "literary executor," as defined by Merriam-Webster.com, is a person entrusted with the management of the papers and unpublished works of a deceased author. In other words, a literary executor specifically handles all your literary property, including overseeing your copyrights, contracts with publishers, outstanding royalties, etc.

While you can designate anyone to be your literary executor—your child, your neighbor, your old English sheepdog whom you affectionately call "Tots"—it's best to assign it to someone who knows a thing or two about publishing and copyrights. After all, this person will be in charge of all your published and unpublished writings. You want to be certain that your work is handled with care, so the money generated goes to your heirs and favorite charities instead of being "donated" to the bottom line of the publishing houses (unless, of course, you want the publishers to have all your money).

So where do you find someone with the wherewithal to handle your posthumous publishing affairs? If you have an agent, start with him. If he's 20 years your senior, a heavy smoker and likely to pass on long before you, his agency should be able to handle it. Just ask them how to go about setting it up. If you don't have an agent, turn to a friend who has publishing experience. The more knowledgeable the person is with rights, the better off your literary estate will be. And if both of those options are dead ends, select the family member you trust the most to contact/contract the proper professionals (e.g. lawyers, agents, editors, etc.) as needed.

For a more in-depth breakdown on the subject, you can read Copylaw.com's "Final Drafts: Selecting a Literary Executor" by Lloyd Jassin and Ronald Finkelstein. It's filled with great tips and advice to make sure that the value of your writings stay intact after you type that last word and head to the big writer's lounge in the sky.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 597

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an "Imagine a World..." poem.

How To Create a Podcast, Develop an Audience, and Get Your Novel Published

How To Create a Podcast, Develop an Audience, and Get Your Novel Published

We’ve discussed podcasting to help promote the book you’ve written—but what about podcasting as a way to tell the story itself? Here, author Liz Keller Whitehurst discusses how the podcast of her novel, Messenger, came to be.

Hunter or Hunted?

Hunter or Hunted?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, we're in the middle of a hunt.

Announcing the Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory

Announcing the Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory

Announcing the Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory from Writer's Digest magazine, which includes advice from 41 agents, 39 debut authors, and 27 small presses.

The Idaho Review: Market Spotlight

The Idaho Review: Market Spotlight

For this week's market spotlight, we look at The Idaho Review, a literary journal accepting poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction submissions.

Abbreviation vs. Acronym vs. Initialism (Grammar Rules)

Abbreviation vs. Acronym vs. Initialism (Grammar Rules)

Learn when you're using an abbreviation vs. acronym vs. initialism with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

What Is Investigative Journalism?

What Is Investigative Journalism?

Alison Hill breaks down the definition of investigative journalism, how good investigative journalism makes for sweeping societal change, and how the landscape of the work is evolving.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 6 WDU Courses, an Upcoming Virtual Conference, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce six new WDU courses, a romance writing virtual conference, and more!

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Past experiences taught bestselling author Alan Russell to tread lightly when it came to collaborating on projects. Here, he discusses how the right person and the right story helped him go from a “me” to a “we.”