One of my authors, a wonderful person I consider a friend, was recently diagnosed with a cancer for which there is no cure and for which the best available treatment might give him 2 or 3 more years of life. He writes a successful book for us, and we had thought, obviously, that he would be writing new editions well into the future.
The diagnosis and prognosis are awful, horrible, despicable. As a friend, I will provide as much support as I possibly can. Of course I will, just as he would do for me.
But from a professional point of view, the news takes on different meaning. It's sad to even have to think about having a professional point of view about this, but there it is and there it must be.
We talked recently about what a succession plan, a kind of Plan B so that we know what to do in the event of his death. It's a difficult conversation under normal circumstances, never mind when death has become more than an abstract concept, more than letters on a page, when it has become, in all its frightening detail, real.
The discussion about succession brought home the fragility of life, certainly, but also the worth of the partnership that exists between a publisher and an author. Publishers sign authors because they believe in each author's vision, ability, and dedication. We publishers want to maintain a lasting, mutually fulfilling relationship as long as possible, and we don't like it when a good author leaves us, especially under these circumstances.
Leave us they do, however, and for that we all need to prepare.
If you're a textbook author, do you have your own succession plan? Where will your future royalties go? Into a trust, for example, or into probate?
Who would you want to continue writing your textbook? Do you have someone specific in mind? If not, what are the qualities you want us to look for in a successor? What degrees, experience, and abilities should they possess before we consider them?
These are the questions publishers face when an author dies, and they're questions we might want to answer now, before the reality of our own demise becomes all too real.