I was working recently with an elderly writer who asked a question I’ve often wondered about. “What happens to my book when I die?” I suppose that’s what prompted me to finally look into the subject. It’s an item that is covered in most publishing contracts… but what about Createspace… the biggest self-publishing outlet? Surely they have experienced this situation.
First things first, an author ought to stipulate rights to his or her intellectual property in a will. It is preferable to do this step before death. Hopefully that joke points to the fact that I am not a lawyer and this post should not be taken as legal advice, but should rather point you in the right direction. Every situation is different; get a lawyer, people.
I shot this question up the chain at Createspace customer service. (FYI, unlike other parts of Amazon, since Createspace focuses on the creators rather than the customer/retail side of business, customer support is typically very responsive and easy to work with.) Here was their response to “What are the proper steps to take for my family/executor of my will when I die?”
In the event of your passing, your estate or heir can open a CreateSpace account with a new payment address or bank account, and we can help them publish your book and sell it through the new account. For security purposes, we will need a copy of the death certificate and legal documentation indicating they own the rights to the account.
It wasn’t quite as detail laden as I’d hoped, so I asked if there is a specific department that heirs should contact. I also should note that logging into/using someone else’s Createspace account is a TOS violation, so it’s good to do everything by the book at this point. Here was their response to what steps to take:
Your next of kin will not be required to log in to your Member Account.
The required documentation can either be faxed to us at (206) 922-5928 or an email can be sent with a picture of the documents attached to firstname.lastname@example.org.
They will need to include all current information that is on the new account (first and last name, email address, phone number, etc.).
That does confirm that, for any movement to happen with the files, Createspace will need someplace to move them to. You will need a new Createspace account owned and operated by the new rights holder. You may need to consult a lawyer on how to best proceed, especially if the rights are left to multiple people (those folks may need to form an LLC or company, etc.) Armed with that knowledge, if you only sell a few books annually but want them to remain available to the market after your death, it may be easier to leave the rights to one individual who you trust to make this happen.
I did have one final question for the friendly folks at customer service: What happens if nobody claims those rights?
Please know your book will remain as it is (all the information under your name) on Amazon through CreateSpace if no one claims the rights to the files.
I found that too murky of a response and asked for some clarification…in my mind, I immeidatley saw the potential for a company to keep the profitable books and ideas of deceased authors upon their shelves and, by playing the long game, become the largest recipient of publishing royalties on the planet… like, Lex Luthor meets Jeff Bezos. I did get a response, though, not that it means Bezos is not a top tier super villain:
In the unfortunate even of your death, your book will continue to remain available and royalties will be credited to your CreateSpace account for every sale.
As you have already set-up your royalty payment profile (Check/Bank account details), your royalties will be paid at the end of each month. Payments will be made either via Check to the address or Direct Deposit to the bank you have provided in the payment profile.
Once your next of kin claims your account, royalties will be transferred to his/her account and paid to the kin.
Probably best that you leave at least a notarized letter for your family with all of your info and ensure that you grant all rights to someone (or a group) in order to make a clear chain of ownership for your rights. The best thing to do, if this has any significance to you at all, is to consult your attorney when you make or revise a will. Your book is part of your legacy—preserve it!