Inheriting novels and memoirs--UPDATED

Hi Miss Snark,

I'd like to know what the procedure(s) are/is for submitting the intellectual property of some one who has passed on.

My father left behind, diaries from his whole life, including his war years during WWII. They're fascinating. And on top of that, he's left behind three complete novels and well over 100 short stories. Some of them are fairly good, but need editing. I'd be happy to do that.

What I'm really interested in having published are the WWII diaries, they're stellar, and with the populace of veterans dying, I think it's a shame to let testimonials land in netherspace.

Any advice on how to proceed with this?
Thank you.

P.S. The spell-checker here tells me to change, "Snark". :) (to what??--Snarque? Souffle?)

This is a great question, and I'm so glad you asked. Let's talk about the two things separately, first the diaries.

This project is probably not a good candidate for general trade publishing no matter how fascinating. Publishers want to sell more than 10,000 copies of anything they take on and it's VERY hard to do that if the author isn't around to be on tv/radio etc. Plus, it's also very hard to interest a publisher in diaries/memoirs unless there is a major hook (you didn't mention one, maybe there is, but in any case you'd need it).

There are other places where your dad's diaries would not have such high sales figure hurdle: university presses, niche publishers, or historical society presses.

And of course, even if none of those places are interested, you could contact the historical society or museum to ask about donating his papers so they wouldn't be lost.

They may not have room, or need, for this particular kind of historical record (they have space limitations like everyone else, sadly) but it doesn't hurt to ask.

If you want to preserve the work for your family, here's where POD technology can be very very handy. Don't go with one of the scam/bait houses. Go with something like lulu.com that offers you printing without trying to sell you on getting into BN or becoming famous.

Now, as to novels. I'm sorry but that is pretty much a lost cause. Realistically, the only posthumous novels published are from writers who have a body of work to their credit before they left us. Yes, John Kennedy Toole is an exception, and a famous one, but trust me, he's one in ten million.

However, if you want to send out queries on the novel or the diaries have at it. Writing is property so who ever inherits the estate owns the work (in the absence of a specific bequest of the intellectual property of course --Miss Snark is assembling a list of suitable heirs for her intellectual property if she gets run over by a zambonie anytime soon).

And an addition from a Snarkling librarian:

Hi -- Another place that would like to have diaries and memoirs would be a university library. Most universities (and colleges, for that matter) have Special Collections Depts. where they keep such manuscript materials. In fact, the library of the university where I work has a fine collection of war memoirs, including WWI and WWII. You don't have to give it to the first place you try -- each different library or archive has a specialty. You can do research at your local library to find out which collection is appropriate for your manuscripts.

Many libraries have this reference book, or you can borrow it through Interlibrary Loan (there may even be a newer edition):

Special collections in college and university libraries / compiled by Modoc Press, Inc. ; with an introduction by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern. New York : Macmillan Publishing Company ; London : Collier Macmillan Publisher's, c1989. ISBN: 0029216516


Simon Haynes said...

Before she passed away my gran wrote an account of her early childhood years near London (UK) in the 1920s, up to her first date with my grandfather. It's fascinating stuff (not just from a family member perspective), and I'm only glad I've managed to save it from the manky floppy disk it was stored on.
She must have written it 10 years ago now, and eventually I'd like to publish it on Lulu, just so it's available.

Anonymous said...

I found this an intriguing subject and would be very interested in reading these works even though I'm not in the target demo.

If nothing else, I definitely think POD is the way to go on the less marketable materials. Your father sounds like an interesting man and you should at least pass his legacy on to the rest of your family.

Good luck

Miss Snark said...


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

... aren't working right ...

Aphrodite the Flighty said...

You might want to try the Naval Academy Publishing Company in Annapolis, Maryland. This is just the type of thing they publish.

I bet they have a website.

Heck, this is where Tom Clancy got his start. Why not you (or your dad, posthumously).

Good luck.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Another thing to consider is writing your own novels or short stories based on your fathers diaries and letters. They sound like a treasure trove and a lovely way to honor his memory.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Ah, comments are back.

There have been some wild speculations in the blogsphere and on some forums as to what happened.

wannabe said...

Yeah! They're back!

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...


Yea!...way to go Miss Snark...give 'em hell!

And for that bad person, assuming someone elses identity! Shame on you!

Elektra said...

yay--I kept scolling down all day to read the comments, only to remember that they weren't there

Anonymous said...

Just testing to see if your blog is back to normal...

Mark said...

The Library of Congress has a veterans oral history project. I drummed up an interview for my father, via a vet connection, but I'm sure they would be interested in the diaries. The WWII museum might too, but it's in New Orleans so, they did flood out for a spell.

Sarah said...

I live in New Orleans, and the museum here is technically called the National D-Day Museum. It's a museum dedicated to World War II in general, though. The area where it's located did not flood and on their website they claim not to have had significant damage (except looters in the gift shop, but we all had looters :-/). They do collect oral histories and documents from veterans.

npetrikov said...

Regarding the procedure for submitting works of a dead author: only the duly appointed representative of the author's estate has the power to do it. Not a family member, technically not even the entire family, may do it. There are two reasons for this:

If the stuff actually makes money, the person who receives payment must be someone legally answerable to *all* persons interested in the estate; not only the heirs or legatees, but the tax man and other creditors. Second, publishers want to know they're dealing with a person actually empowered to exploit the copyright. Otherwise, they're just asking for a lawsuit.

Even if father specifically bequeathed his copyrights to your correspondent by will, that will must be probated to make the bequest effective, and the correspondent takes the bequest—at least, under New York law—subject to the executor's need to cash in on the copyright to pay estate creditors. Some kind of formal estate administration is inevitable.

If father made your correspondent a gift of the copyright while he was alive, it would be wise to check Title 17 of the United States Code at FindLaw or the Library of Congress's webpage to learn whether the copyright was effectively transferred. If it wasn't—well, see above.

Unknown said...

As for the diaries, I would keep the originals in the family as heirlooms and then either do POD copies and donate them to the libraries - or make a bound photocopies and donate them to the libraries.

I have many bios written and privately published by early settlers of Los Angeles and I have seen many bound phtocopied bios in research libraries so there is a long history of this.

Rick said...

Excuse me Miss Snarky, you spelled Zambonie wrong...it's Zamboni.
If you're going to get run over by one, you should make sure you can spell it.
Low top speed those things have, you should be able to get out of the way.
Good luck and stay away from Ice Rinks.

Ski said...

I wish you good luck in publishing your Father's diaries. As someone who served in combat I can tell you that there is nothing like facing your own mortality to bring life into focus. How lucky you are to have this insight into a part of what made your Father what he was. I wish I had kept a diary during that time in my life. Even if it weren't worth publishing I would have loved to pass it on to my children. Thanks to your Dad for serving his country during an awful period. I wish you success. Please keep us posted on your progress.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

Thank you very much for posting and answering my questions. And thank you also for the update.

My head is spinning from all the suggestions and good wishes. Thank you to all.

Miss Snark, in answer to your question about the spell check, the answer is Lobster. :)

Yeah, it's me. :)


Anonymous said...

My spell check sees Miss Snark and suggests Miss Snack.
You haven't been cutting down on KY's kibble, I hope.