Years ago, an interviewer asked me what I thought my legacy as a writer would be.
“I don’t think in terms of legacy,” I said. “I don’t expect anyone to care about my stories after I’m dead.”
I’m almost sixty now, and as you might guess, my feelings about legacy have changed somewhat. I’ve long held a mental image of myself falling down a pit toward the ultimate darkness, rapidly writing as many stories as I can and hurling them upward before I hit the bottom. (Horror writers are cheery folk, aren’t we?) It occurred to me that preserving my work for the future would be the same as throwing my writing out of the hole – although this time I’d be hurling all of my work, forty-something years’ worth so far. And while I don’t expect future writers and scholars to pour over my stories, drafts, and correspondence in order to glean enlightenment from my genius, if my materials aren’t preserved, there’s no chance they can ever be of use to anyone.
I also thought about my wife and daughters. I didn’t want to leave piles of manuscripts, notes, and author copies lying around for them to sort through after I’m gone. They’d have no idea what to do with that mess, and I don’t want to leave them with that burden. My mind changed about legacy when I began to think of it as something practical as opposed to merely an expression of my ego.
My legacy planning took two paths: 1) creating an archive of my work and 2) providing information for my heirs so they can do as much, or as little, with my writing as they like after my death. Here’s how you can do the same.
Let’s start with the archive.
What’s the purpose of your archive?
First determine who and what your archive will be for. I wanted my material to contribute to the horror genre now and in the future, so I decided to send my papers – notes, drafts, correspondence, page proofs, copies of published work, etc. – to the University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Horror Studies Collections. When I asked them if they’d like to house my work, I expected them to politely decline since I’m not an especially important writer, but luckily for me they said yes. Here are some different purposes for archives, not all of which are mutually exclusive:
· For heirs. Your archive can be solely for your family to remember you, and maybe inspire some of them to follow in your artistic footsteps. All you need to do is decide what to include in it. organize the materials, and find a place to store them, perhaps in your home office if you have one, a spare room, the basement, etc. Maybe one of your relatives would like to store it at their place.
· For libraries. Ask any libraries you have an affiliation with if they’d be interested in housing your archive. (Don’t feel bad if they decline; libraries – especially smaller ones – don’t have a lot of extra space.) Check with your hometown library, your local library (if you live somewhere else now), your college library, etc. Find out how much material they can house. They might only be able to host a portion of your archive.
· For schools. Check with your high school, any colleges you attended, and any local schools that you may not have attended but which are part of your community. Not only do they have libraries that may want your archive, they have English departments that might want some or all of it.
· For local historical societies. You’re a writer, and that makes you a local celebrity wherever you live. If your town has a historical society – or maybe a small local museum – that might love to house your archive.
· For fans and other writers. You can create a digital archive of your work housed on the web. You’ll need someone to maintain it after your gone, but the advantage an online archive has is that it can be accessed by anyone at any time.
What should you include in your archive?
· Anything that might be of interest to fans, writers, and scholars in the future. How do you determine what’s “archive-worthy”? It’s up to you. Maybe you’ll prefer an archive that covers the highlights of your career, or maybe you’ll want to document everything, from your humble beginnings to the lofty heights you currently occupy. The people who will host your archive can help you decide, since they maybe only have room for a certain amount of material.
· Notes. Include written notes that you used to develop your drafts.
· Drafts. Include any printed drafts. If you compose solely on the computer and work with one file, revising it as you go, you may not have anything but a final draft.
· Page proofs. Physical page proofs editors have sent you to make one last check for typos and mistakes. Mine usually come to me as PDF’s these days, but I could print them out for my archive if I wish.
· ARC’s. If your editor – or you, if you’re indie – prints advanced reading copies, those make great additions to your archive.
· Correspondence. Rejection letters, acceptance letters, editorial and agent correspondence, correspondence with other authors and with fans . . .You might not have physical correspondence, though. I started writing in 1982, and I have plenty of letters – up until the early 2000’s. After that, all my correspondence has been digital.
· Unpublished work. I started writing at eighteen, and it took me almost ten years until I started selling my work regularly. I had a number of unpublished stories and novels in printed form to include in my archive.
· Promotional, publicity, and appearance material. Any material from conventions where you were a programming participant. Posters/advertisements for bookstore appearances, readings, and literary events. Materials from workshops you’ve given.
· Pivotal career/learning/change-of-direction moments. Any material that shows an important moment in your career where you leveled up. For me, these are things like my first published pro short story “Mr. Punch,” which appeared in the anthology Young Blood in 1994, or the email I received from Don D’Auria after pitching Like Death to him at The World Horror Convention in 2002.
What about material containing contact info?
· Other people’s personal info, such as addresses, phone numbers, and email. No one wants their private info stored in an archive where anyone can access it. You can choose not to include it or redact such info. The librarians at the University of Pittsburgh’s Horror Studies Collections won’t let anyone see such information unless it’s a special circumstance and they sign a non-disclosure agreement.
· Contracts. Most publishing and agent contracts specify that their terms aren’t to be shared with others, so you’ll have to either redact certain information, not include contracts in your archive, or only allow people to see them if they sign an NDA.
Copies of your work
· Print. Books, stories, nonfiction, poetry. etc., regardless if they fall into your main writing genre or not. I included print copies of newspaper articles I wrote back in the late eighties in my archive, as well as copies of scholarly articles that appeared in journals like Teaching English in the Two-Year College.
· What if you only have one physical copy? It’s up to you whether to keep it or archive lone copies of your work. Since I didn’t want my heirs to have to deal with too much material after I die – and because I had an ODC-like need for my archive to be complete – I sent copies of everything, even long out-of-print books that I’d have great difficulty replacing.
· Save digital copies on flash drives or an online account. Check to see if the place that’s going to host your archive can also take digital materials. Many of the contributor’s copies I receive these days are PDF’s, as are proofs and, of course, correspondence. I haven’t done so yet, but I plan to save such material to flash drives and then ship them to Pittsburgh.
Online material to archive
· Links. To interviews with (text and video), your blog. your Patreon, your YouTube Channel, podcast appearances, etc. Consider backing up material that might not remain available on the Internet after you’re gone.
· Physical awards. I didn’t send any of my awards or nomination certificates to Pittsburgh. I want my wife and daughters to have them as keepsakes if they wish, but if they decide they don’t want them, then I’ll include them in my archive.
Whether or not you decide to create an archive of your work, you should consider getting your literary affairs in order to make life easier for your heirs. This means recording your final wishes and making them known.
Leaving a legacy for your heirs and loved ones
· Collect copies of your published work. For heirs to keep or sell, depending on their preference. If you care exactly what they do with your work, make your desires clear. Me? When I’m dead, I’m dead. My family can do whatever they want with my books.
· Create an author’s will. It’s important that you spell out everything you want done with your literary estate once you’re gone. Neil Gaiman has a wonderful template for a writer’s will posted online. You can find the link at the bottom of this article under Resources.
· Choose an executor for your literary estate. Select someone who doesn’t mind the responsibility and who will carry out your wishes. I’ve made my wife and two daughters equal executors. This way, they can decide which of them wants to deal with my estate or they can divide up the responsibilities.
· Record your accounts and passwords. I’ve made list of all my various accounts – email, social media accounts, etc. – and their passwords so my heirs will have access to everything.
· Social media/websites/blogs. Let your heirs know if you want your online presence to continue or if you want it all shut down. If you want to leave this choice up to your heirs, and that’s okay with them, that’s fine too.
· Agent info. I have old work represented by a former agent’s company and new work represented by my current agent. I’ve made sure my heirs have all the contact information for both agents, along with the work each represents. This way, if my heirs want to republish any of my work, or if any editors approach them about republishing stuff, they’ll know who to talk to make it happen. Plus, I want to make sure my heirs get any royalties that my work may earn after I’m gone.
· Web designers. If you don’t run your own website, make sure your heirs know your designers’ contact info (as well as which service hosts your site) so they can maintain it or shut it down, depending on your wishes.
· Create a Death Stuff Packet. I’ve got both a print-out of all the information my heirs might need along with a digital copy on a flash drive. I put all of this into an accordion folder and labeled it Tim’s Death Stuff, and I stored it in my office and showed my family where it’s at. I also included a copy of book that’s a guide for writers’ heirs (it’s listed under Resources). I’ve also emailed copies of all the info to my wife and daughters. You know, in case the house ever burns down. (There’s that cheery horror writer optimism again.)
· Any final wishes for your literary estate. This could be anything. Do you want to endow a creative writing scholarship at the high school or college you attended? If you don’t have heirs, is there any person or organization you’d like to donate the rights of your work too?
No one likes to think about dying. Well . . . that might not be exactly true for horror writers. But planning for our own death isn’t fun. I hope I have a lot of healthy and productive years ahead of me, but now that I’ve finished creating my literary archive and my author’s will, I know that when it is my time to take the last train west, I can do so without worrying about what I leave behind – because I know it’ll be in good hands.
· The University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Horror Studies Collections: https://horrorstudies.library.pitt.edu/
· Neil Gaiman author’s will template: https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html
· The Author Estate Handbook by M.L. Ronn
· The Author Heir Handbook by M.L. Ronn
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
Let Me Tell You a Story
My next book on writing will be coming out soon from Raw Dog Screaming Press, and this one’s a little different than my previous ones.
From the publisher:
In Let Me Tell You a Story, Tim Waggoner continues what he started in the Bram Stoker Award-winning Writing in the Dark (2020) and Writing in the Dark: The Workbook (2022), both of which focus on the art of composing successful horror fiction. This latest guidebook takes a different approach, foregrounding Waggoner's prolific, decades-long career as a professional author. Partly autobiographical, partly tutorial and diagnostic, each chapter features one of Waggoner's stories followed by reflection on the historical context of publication, insightful commentary, and exercises for writers who are just learning their craft and who have already made a name for themselves. As always, Waggoner's experience, wit, and know-how shine through as he discusses and re-evaluates material from 1990 to 2018. Let Me Tell You a Story is a vital contribution to his evolving nonfictional oeuvre.
Amazon Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Let-Tell-Story-Writing-Dark/dp/1947879642/ref=sr_1_3?crid=2Y27YWQGQQ6QW&keywords=tim+waggoner&qid=1693058194&s=books&sprefix=tim+waggoner%2Cstripbooks%2C140&sr=1-3
Amazon Hardback: https://www.amazon.com/Let-Tell-Story-Writing-Dark/dp/1947879634/ref=sr_1_4?crid=2Y27YWQGQQ6QW&keywords=tim+waggoner&qid=1693058359&s=books&sprefix=tim+waggoner%2Cstripbooks%2C140&sr=1-4
Barnes and Noble Paperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1143990468?ean=9781947879645
Barnes and Noble Hardback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1143990468?ean=9781947879638
eBook Links: Still to come.
Moth to the Flames Podcast Interview with Marie Lestrange
I had a wonderful conversation with Marie Lestrange on her Moth to the Flames podcast a couple weeks ago. You can check it out here:
Beyond the Book Festival. Sept. 30th. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Starke County Public Library. Knox Indiana. For more info: https://scpls.org/beyond-the-book
Butcher Cabin Bookfest. October 18th. 5pm – 10pm. Pivot Brewing, 1400 Delaware Ave, Lexington, Kentucky.
Scarelastic Book Fair 2. March 2nd. 12pm – 6pm. Scarlet Lane Brewing. 7724 Depot Street, McCordsville, Indiana.
StokerCon 2024. May 30th to June 2nd. San Diego, California.
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