SPS-362: Estate Planning for Authors – with Michael La Ronn
Estate planning is hard, but as authors it is vital. In most countries, our books can generate income for our loved ones up to 70 years after we pass. Author Michael La Ronn demystifies the estate planning process and gives us essential advice on making it as smooth and easy as possible.
- The 3 Steps to Author Estate Planning
- Figuring out who will manage your author estate
- How to find and work with the right estate lawyers as authors
- Organizing your author business for heirs (passwords, files, and more)
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SPF COMMUNITY: Join the Facebook Group of 27,000+ authors.
THE AUTHOR ESTATE HANDBOOK: Check out the book from Michael La Ronn.
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS LIVE! 2023: Grab your early bird discount ticket for next year’s event in London.
SPS-362: Estate Planning for Authors - with Michael La Ronn
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show-
Michael La Ronn: It turns out the attorney didn't understand at all how books operate, how property gets passed down, and if my wife and I had passed away at the same time the attorney would have structured it in such a way that I would not have had an estate.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. It's another solo effort today. Mark is dealing with some family issues this week. We send him our best. So it's just me, and we're going to be talking about estate planning, which sounds I know not the most exciting of topics for a podcast, but you know what? As Michael La Ronn points out in this interview that's coming up in a few minutes we can be very busy now, worrying about now and forget to plan for the future.
One of the great things about us, the self-publishing authors, we're also the publisher, so we the rights for life and beyond, for us 80 years, whatever it is in your particular territory, and that's money on the table for your loved ones. Whatever age you are unfortunately live can intervene, death can intervene, and so having some form of estate planning now is really important, so a good interview to listen to. Michael is very thorough on the subject, published books on the subject, so he's coming up in a few moment times.
We also have a blog available to you today, a Friday, that has been released, Improving Your Book's Production Value. It's very important to get your product correct and maximise your chances. It's all about small margins, little margins here and there. I know there's a lot to focus on and concentrate on. Breaking it down is what we help you do on this podcast as well.
So you can get the blog, and of course every previous episode of this podcast, which covers a myriad of subjects, at selfpublishingformula.com. You'll see it on the top. There's the various dropdown menus for podcasts and blogs, et cetera.
Well, here we are. December the 3rd I'm recording this, just a few days ahead of its release. Now that NaNoWriMo has finished how did you get on? I know that I've been closely following a lot of you n the groups who've been doing the word challenge, 50,000 words in November. Some of you absolutely smashed it, which was amazing and brilliant. Others faltered a little along the way, but hopefully it was an encouragement to remember any words you did. Whether you got 16,000 done and then life intervened, it's still 16,000 words, which is really good.
Personally, I love targets. I'm target driven. You're not supposed to be target driven anymore. You're supposed to be forming habits. That's what you do now, you form habits for the rest of it, but I love targets. They do work for me. Therefore I love NaNoWriMo. I was halfway through it when I finished my draught of my novella. It's only about 32,000 words, something like that.
I did think I was going to rewrite it, but having gotten to the end of it it wasn't going to change as much as I thought it was going to change. Basically the first half needed to be a little bit more heavily revised, the second half was probably okay, so I decided to revise it rather than rewrite it, which meant I couldn't word count anymore.
Actually on some of the days it was like minus 400 despite the fact I had done a couple hours of work over the day on it, because that's what a revision is like, so that was a bit disappointing for me, that I couldn't carry on with NaNoWriMo. I'm going to time it better next year, so I'm trying to do some planning for the next year, trying to get book four done, writing, by the beginning of NaNoWriMo, so NaNoWriMo maybe next year.
November next year could be for me drafting book five. I think it's a really good way of using that month, is to draught your first draught of a new book.
So where am I with my book, with book three, my novella? I've just come to the end of the revision. I'm on the last few chapters now. I think what I'm going to do next, I think probably it needs another... Certainly at least one or two more sweeps from me before it's ready to copy-edit, and that's booked in for later this month in December.
So I'll probably read it from beginning to end. I find it really difficult to do though without intervening, without immediately going in and changing things. I find it really difficult to do that. I know people say put it on your Kindle so it's in a different place, but then I just end up using the notes function, writing notes.
So I do need to get out of that habit, and sit back and just read it. Forget the typos, forget words missing, forget names you got wrong, because you can do that slow time afterwards when you're going through your big changes, your small changes, and so on. So I need to probably do that, read it, and then I'll go through each chapter again.
When I start moving commas around, that's the point at which I'll hand it over to Andrew, my copy editor, and we'll get it ready for release in the new year. I hope to get it on pre-order. This is brave of me, but that's March of next year, so it should be in plenty of time for that.
And excitingly on my book's front... Mark's not here so I'm going to talk about my books, I have my first BookBub on quite a few times. Last night I was just about to go to bed and I looked at my emails on my phone and I saw an email from Hannah of BookBub saying, "We notice you haven't taken advantage of your feature deal. I can keep it open for one more business day." I thought what? Honestly, I could not find the original email, could not find the original.
I knew I had applied for it and I hadn't had a rejection. I thought that was a bit odd. It was taking a few more days, and I thought maybe that was a good sign. The truth is they offered me the feature deal like 24 hours after I applied for it and I just never saw... It's been on my phone but it's not in my laptop anymore. I don't know how that works. It really annoys me. Emails always does tricky things like this.
But luckily Hannah emailed me and I didn't miss it. So I grabbed it and I set that up, so that's... December the 21st I think is the... Or the 22nd, one of those two days, I've got down the five days. I always have a free day before. Obviously I've done them before for other authors, not for myself. I start the five days the day before the book is out so that there can be no... You don't want to miss the BookBub basically, so if there's any problem with the book going free that can be resolved 24 hours ahead of the BookBub email going out.
I tend not to do anything on that first day and then let BookBub happen. Those three days I'll probably line up a Freebooksie see and a HelloBooks and then run Facebook ads on those last three days as well, so I'll offer stack, whatever you call it, promotion stack, promo stack, and I do find that has worked really well for me.
It's very intrigued to know what it's going to do for me. I only have two and a half books out, so I've got another novella people can buy and a book company order. It's pretty early for me to have a book out but I hope it can't do any harm, at least I hope it can't. If I get the wrong audience for the book and they give it negative reviews that would be harmful.
I've got 960 reviews I think at the moment, and 4.5 out of 5, which is... I think anything above 4, looking at Mark's and Lucy's and all my friends' books... I think anything between 4-4.5 is really good. 4.5 plus is superb, and the more reviews you have. But if you get the wrong audience, that's when those marks can come down. I don't think that often happens, but who knows? The cover sort of says what the book is about, which is a key thing with that.
So all that's coming up. I'll give you the blow-by-blow of how my book club goes nearer the time, and perhaps if you're interested you can post in the comments in the group if you want to know more about exactly how I'm going to build up to the book club and how I'm going to support it around the other promos.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, you don't know what BookBub is or you don't know what promo stacking is, which is completely understandable, it's all gobbledygook when you first start in this business, go back to our podcast episodes where we do have some specifically on BookBub featured deals, which is what I've got, and you can learn the nuts and bolts and the strange language that we speak in self-publishing.
Okay, enough rambling from me. It is time for our interview, Michael La Ronn. I had him on not that long ago actually. Michael is a very hard-working young man, very driven. Life experience I think changed him a little bit and made him... Or changed him probably fundamentally and made him this person now who's very driven, but I think also Michael has a very structured approach to life and business, which makes him an ideal person to think about stuff that we don't want to think about, which in this case estate planning, so what happens after you've gone.
Your books still have commercial value. If your other half has nothing to do with your publishing business, which my other half does, she wouldn't know what KDP login meant, what level and where it is, and what to do when you logged in. She would need considerable help from my publishing friends to realise any kind of further income from my books. But I can make that whole process seamless and easy by doing some planning now so that something is in place should the worse happened to me, so if the proverbial bus hit me. Actually I don't mind being hit by a proverbial bus. Being hit by an actual bus would be the problem.
Okay, so let's talk to Michael about the steps we can take to plan for the future and I'll have a quick word at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Okay, Michael La Ronn, welcome back to The Self-Publishing Show. We have had guests on twice, but never this close, but I think we identify this is a specific subject. It's actually a quite important one. This could be an important interview for lots of people to talk about, estate planning. But, yeah, welcome back to the show.
Michael La Ronn: Hey, James, great to be here.
James Blatch: You're an early morning guy, aren't you, because this must be early morning on the great plains of Iowa?
Michael La Ronn: I am. Yes. On the great plains of Iowa it is 8:00 a.m., but I was up much earlier than that.
James Blatch: 8:00 a.m. is not too bad.
Michael La Ronn: I do a lot of calls with England, so there's no issues.
James Blatch: Okay. Okay. They're often in the evening for me, so I appreciate it. Okay. Look, a quick catch-up with you. How's it been going? How's your writing been going, both fiction and nonfiction?
Michael La Ronn: It's been going great. Continuing to publish at a steady clip, and just dictating away, and just having fun. It's always fun for me.
James Blatch: Yeah. I know you're a hard worker, and you help the author community I think in a lot of different ways. One of those ways is to become a bit of a specialist in this area of estate planning. Why don't you start, Michael, by telling us what we're talking about here?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. Estate planning is the process of preparing for what happens when you're gone. I think a lot of us as authors, we keep our heads down, keep our nose to the grindstone so to speak, and we don't really look that far into the future. Because if you really think about it... And the last time you and I talked, James, we talked about productivity and how to get more done in the space of a day. None of that really matters if you die and you leave an estate that's a mess for your heirs to clean up, right?
So you kind of have to think longterm and put it into perspective, that all the things that you're doing today you want to continue to have your family be able to reap those benefits from all the hard work and all the books and intellectual property that has immense value that you're creating right now. If you don't do that what will happen is you'll leave a mess and you'll jeopardise your legacy, so that's what I mean by estate planning in life is so important.
James Blatch: Yeah. It obviously is important, and really important for this year. We've lost a couple of authors actually in our community. In fact, I'm sure Kathy won't mind me mentioning John Hindmarsh, a science fiction author who we lost earlier this year, and I've actually spoken to Kathy a little bit about planning in the wake of John's death... And I know Craig Waddell is helping out there, which is brilliant, but it does require planning, there's no way around it, and in our normal lives we perhaps... Outside of authors we perhaps look at our pension setup, our savings and everything else, but I don't know how may people really do think about your books, which can be an incredible asset to your family after you've gone financially, how we organise that when we're no longer here.
Michael La Ronn: It's helpful to think about this in three stages, and I've got a group of books, one of them is called The Author Estate Handbook that's for authors, and I've got another book called The Author Heir Handbook, so I'll probably refer to those a few times throughout the talk.
But essentially there are three phases to estate management. The first is the planning phase, so this is when you figure out what are your goals, what do you want to happen to your books when you die? How are you going to pass them on? So this is when we talk about wills, we talk about trusts, we talk about all the legal stuff that sometimes makes people eyes gloss over.
You get that settled, and an attorney and financial advisor, and an accountant can help you with that. Fortunately, you probably already have those three people hopefully that you're working with.
The second phase, just at a high level, is the organisation phase, and this is the phase that an attorney can't help you with. This is when you're trying to figure out things like passwords, things like two factor authentication, which I'm happy to get into, because it's a huge threat for authors. Things like where do you store your book files, just simple stuff like that. What's on your phone that's related to our writing? It's like organising and herding cats that don't want to be organised and herded.
Then the third phase, and this is the phase that begins when you pass away, this is the phase when your heirs or the person that you've designated to run your estate begins managing the estate per your heirs. If you were organised, then the management phase is what allows you to continue having a legacy moving forward.
James Blatch: Right. This sounds like a good structure for our chat then. So why don't we start at that high level. What are our options then looking at what might happen to our books after we pass away?
Michael La Ronn: Well, you have a few options. It depends on what your goals are. Before we even get into any options, the most important thing I recommend people do is figure out who is going to manage your books when you're gone and have a conversation with that person, assuming they don't know everything that goes into an author business.
I think a lot of people can relate to what I'm about to say, which is that you spend the majority of your time in a room alone making stuff up or working on your business, and your significant other, spouse, child, grandchild have no idea what you do every day. I think it's important to bring them to the table and say, "This is what I do. This is how much work it is. This is what is involved. Can I count on you to continue this forward?"
And let them know the financial incentive too. Let them know how much your making, what could potentially be in it for them, and see if they're willing to do it. This is not something you want to surprise somebody with, right? I mean, James, you and I spend a lot of time on our author businesses and I think it's unrealistic for me personally to ask my wife to do everything that I'm doing at the same level that I'm doing it because she's got other interests, other hobbies, other things that quite honestly light her up as opposed to writing books and managing books, right?
So you just got to keep that in mind and understand what their goals are, understand how much effort and time they're willing to put into the business, and then structure your plans around that. That's what I recommend people do.
James Blatch: Yes. Finding that person I think is an important thing. And a bit like your wife, my wife I think would not be the person to look after my books. It's just not something that she I think would feel comfortable about. So in my case I guess I'd have a couple of options. One is to find an author friend who could take on my books, the sort of think Kathy's done with John's books and with Craig Waddell.
Another thing is to go to a small imprint, like the one we run, Fuse Books. We actually do publish the books for a late author, for Robert Story. Are there any other options I'm missing here?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, those are the big ones. Other options could potentially include like a university or something like that, but I think that's outside of the realm of most people. I think honestly it boils down to family and people that you know and friends that can help you with this.
Because, remember, you can continue earning money from your copyright in many countries for your life plus 70 years. That's a long time. If you're listening to this, it could potentially be your grandkids or great-grandkids managing your estate when your copyright expires, so this requires a lot of longterm thinking, and it honestly requires somebody who is either going to be young enough or forward thinking and smart enough to be able to continue to pass down your estate to their heirs.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. So we have to identify what's going to happen to our books, where the copyright or the licencing is going to go. What's next then to ensure that there's some sort of smooth transition?
Michael La Ronn: The first thing you want to do is draft a will. I would imagine that many people listening to this probably already have wills, and that's fantastic. The first question to think about is does your will address the copyrights of your books? If it does not, then I would get your attorney on the phone, better yet I would get an intellectual property attorney on the phone to talk about what that should look like.
Let me tell you a horror story. I'm fortunate enough to have gone to law school, but before I went to law school I had my daughter, and when she was born my wife and I wanted to look out for her, and put together a will, and make sure that her needs would be taken care of if anything were ever to happen to both of us.
So we went to an attorney, and I don't know why I remembered to do this, but I remembered to tell the attorney that I was an author. At the time I only had a few books, and the attorney was like, "Oh, that's great. Yeah, I will definitely account for this," and so on and so forth.
So they gave me a copy of the will and I looked in the will and it mentioned that my books would be passed down and I was happy. Then I went to law school a few years later and I happened to pull up my will again, and I read it and I was horrified. It turns out the attorney didn't understand at all how books operate, how property gets passed down, and if my wife and I had passed away at the same time the attorney would have structured it in such a way that I would not have had an estate. They just made a complete mess of everything that I wanted.
So just because you hire an attorney is not enough. What I recommend that people do, and I know this going to cost a little bit more money, but as an author you really can't afford not to do this, either find an attorney that specialises in estate planning for authors, which is a rare unicorn, no matter what country you live in. It's almost impossible to find. I only know one in the United States and they're not even in my state. They're not licenced to practise in my state.
So either find an attorney who specialises in estate planning and intellectual property for authors, or hire your local estate attorney, then consult with an intellectual property attorney in your state, and then have them work together so that the estate planning attorney handles the will part and the guardianship of your children and everything else that a will contains, and then your intellectual property supplements that with what happens to your books.
I should back up and say that a will... For people who don't necessarily know what a will is, a will determines who gets what, so when you pass away how is your property handled? Because when you pass away, and this is true regardless of what country you live in, the state is going to get involved and the state is going to basically validate your will, meaning everything that you put in the will, they allow that to happen, or they're going to get involved and divide up your property per what the state thinks should happen. And I think you and I both, James, can agree that having the state get their grubby little hands on all your property and affairs is a terrible idea, so that's why you want an attorney.
James Blatch: Yeah. Obviously the law is different in the UK and other people listening in in Australia, it's going to be different for different countries.
But I recognise some of those things there, they are obviously underlying. I think they are probably quite similar, and I know that you don't want to die without a will in any country. Particularly in the UK, I think it's called intestate. Is that the the word?
Michael La Ronn: Yes, dying intestate.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's a mess then, and the only major beneficiaries always seem to be the government, who somehow find a way of saying you owe a lot more tax now, so you definitely want to do some work there. I hadn't realised it wasn't simply a case of saying that I would like my wife to inherit my copyright. You can't just add that as a kind of later sentence to a will. You do need some legalese to be going in there.
Michael La Ronn: You do, and that's why the books that I write and the advice that I give, it's not legal advice, but it just helps you think about how to have the conversation with your attorney, because that's half the battle, because your attorney... And this is true whether you're in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa. I've talked to a lot of authors. Your attorney is not going to be able to help you if you can't articulate what you need.
They're not mind readers and they're not perfect at their craft necessarily, so you just have to be able to advocate for yourself and get yourself educated on how to have the conversation.
James Blatch: What about somebody who... In my case I've got two children, so let's go 30 years in the future at the ripe old age of 85 and hopefully still writing books with a load of books behind me.
It's realistically not a lot of point in me sending everything to my wife, because she's also going to be in her mid-80s. I probably want them to go to my children. But there are two children. How does that work?
Even if then I actually want to run my business, which is the bit we just talked about, and I want perhaps to go to Fuse Books, I've still got two things here. I've got to somehow have... Somebody has to have the copyright, somebody, and then somebody has to be the beneficiary for the copyright. It gets really complex here, and I'm not really sure how to unpick it.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and it's going to depend differently on where you live as well, but you bring up very good points. You've got the copyright and then you've got the actual beneficiary. The holder of the copyright and the beneficiaries don't have to be the same person. That's why some people set up trusts. So a trust is a legal instrument that basically holds property for the benefit of another person.
Here in the United States, and I believe this is true in many country... I tried to research as many countries as I could when I was writing these two books. Here in the United States I can set up a trust, a revocable living trust, and I can put all of my copyrights into that trust, and then when I die it's as if I never owned them and the property can pass down to my heirs.
But I can designate someone that's called a trustee that can manage that property for me, and that trustee does not have to be my wife. It can be somebody that I trust to manage the property according and then send the money to the heirs. So that's another thing that you could consider.
Trusts are not for the faint of heart. No matter what country you live in, I recommend that you hire an attorney, because there are pros and cons, and tax advantages and disadvantages, and all sorts of reasons to start one, all sorts of reasons maybe why you don't. It depends a lot on your individual situation. But that is another tool that you can use in addition to a will that can help you plan.
James Blatch: Yeah. A trust is the solution I think then. It's something that my family have used in the past. We lost my mother in the mid-2000s, and at that point it seemed pertinent to create a trust to hold some of her stuff separate. I'm familiar with that process.
Okay. So to circle back a little bit, you need to have these thoughts and conversations really clearly now before it's too late, right, because you need to have... People need to be crystal... You're not going to be there after to sort this stuff out. It will need to be crystal clear. It seems to be the number one takeaway already from this interview is to have some thoughts about this.
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. Do it now while you're in good health, while you can organise, because the last thing you want to do is be doing this when you're dealing with either a terminal illness or a trauma in the family. You don't have to do all this at the same time. You can do a little bit of it at a time. I certainly try to structure some of the advice that I give so that it's as actionable as possible, but some people are going to hear all this stuff and just be overwhelmed. It's natural to be overwhelmed, but you don't have to do it all overnight. Just take a few steps at a time and you'll eventually get there.
James Blatch: Yeah. Are there any author services springing up in this area? I know we have to be a bit wary about some author services that spring up and can play on people at a difficult time, but it does seem there might almost be a quasi-legal entity that can run trusts for you, make sure that your books are still being published by a reputable organisation, and the beneficiaries are receiving money, and fair is fair, taking out a cut somewhere along the way. Is there anything like that?
Michael La Ronn: Not that I know of. I know that there are certain individuals that have stepped in to help with estates over the years. I agree. I think that there is a gap. I think not enough prominent self-published authors in particular have died for this to really be a thing, but I do think that there could be a cottage industry of freelancers and providers that essentially help heirs with the problems of running an author business every day, just from little things like one off tasks to hey, I want to rebrand this cover so we can relaunch this book, or I just need some help with formatting, those sorts of things.
Or I just need some advice on how to distribute this book, or there's some new technology like AI audio coming out, and maybe you've got an estate that had an author that passed away in the early 2000s and they need some help producing those titles. There's all sorts of things that I think haven't happened yet, which is why I think we're still in the wild west.
But, James, I've done a few interviews on this and I think a decade from now, maybe 20 years from now, you and I will be having a completely different conversation about how authors manage their estates. I'm encouraged by that, but right now things are a little tough.
James Blatch: Yeah. So right now you have to be hands on, you have to be really clear in what it is you want to happen. And then we get... I suppose we get inevitably to the third stage, and it is an inevitability of life, is that moment when you've passed away. As you say, that's the third stage of I guess putting into practise everything you've planned.
Michael La Ronn: Oh, we got to talk about the second stage.
James Blatch: Oh, we haven't done-
Michael La Ronn: That was the first stage.
James Blatch: Oh, we're still on the first stage?
Michael La Ronn: We're still on the first stage, my friend. Yeah. So now we'll say you've got your will. If a trust is necessary you've got that. You got all your paperwork, your legal stuff. You've had your conversations. Now you're moving into the dangerous lands. They're kind of unchartered territory, and that's the organisation stage, so this is helping your heirs your executor or whoever you designate understand what you do every day.
Let me give you an example. When I log into my computer in the mornings I have a passcode on my computer. If my heir doesn't have that passcode, uh-oh, right? I have passwords to of my KDP account, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, all the places where I make money, my WordPress author site. The average person has like 300 passwords. The average author has probably double that. How is your heir going to get all of those?
You give them your books, but then they can't log into your KDP dashboard, it kind of defeats the purpose, right? So to get organised on the password front I recommend what's called a password manager. Examples of this include Lastpass, I use 1Password. There are others out there that basically do the same thing. It stores all of your passwords in a digital vault so that you can pass that down to someone, and it's convenient for you to use every day, because then you don't have to remember passwords.
So that is a critical, critical thing, and honestly one of the most important things you can do to just make sure that your heirs can access everything that you do.
James Blatch: Yeah. I have to say I use a Password Protect with Excel spreadsheet with all my passwords in it. Is that... I mean I've tried to use Lastpass and I've signed up for it, but I'm struggling I think to properly take advantage of it and I constantly go back to the spreadsheet.
Is that a security issue, Password Protect with a spreadsheet?
Michael La Ronn: Password Protect with a spreadsheet is okay. There's just a few things you have to keep in mind. The first is when you update a password you have to be diligent about going into the spreadsheet and updating it. Then also you've got to make sure that that spreadsheet is backed up.
There's a service I recommend in the book, in The Author Estate Handbook, it's called automated cloud backup service. An example of this would be Backwaves or Carbonite. What this does is it backs up everything that's on your computer and in the cloud, so if something were to happen to your computer, like it burns up or burns down, or you have a flood in your home, or maybe you accidentally delete the spreadsheet from your cloud, your cloud service provider, this particular service you can always access your files even if you accidentally delete them.
So investing in a service like that would be critical so that you always have copies of your backups even if life strikes. Whatever way works best for you, as long as it's organised, as long as it's updated, is critical.
I like Password Managers, and one of the reasons I like Password Managers is because they have feature that's called emergency access, so if something were to happen to you you can designate a particular person and that person can go to a particular link, and when they go they can get instant access to all of your passwords, and they're always up-to-date.
But however you do it... Even if you're a pen and paper person, there's no wrong way to do it. You just have to be extremely organised.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. I do update my files. I mean I have that password file open most days, because you can imagine in my life lots of complicated passwords, there's changes in there every day.
Okay. I guess at some point do you recommend in your book that you put together a sort of Bible for people at this stage for them to reference?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. It's basically an Excel spreadsheet. It's basically an organiser. Essentially it walks through every phase of estate planning, everything that I could think of as I started to prepare my own estate of what to do. So contact information for author friends, all of your personal information that your heir may need to know, like your date of birth, your address, your author address, if you've got a PO Box, that sort of thing.
If you want to keep your passwords in there there's a space for that as well. Everything I could think of, your social media handles, your social media sites. It's a lot of tabs, but it just allows it so you can just walk through it just a few steps at a time, so that you can prepare everything, herd all those cats, and then give it to your heir in a nice pretty little bow. I think they'll appreciate having everything in one place, because that's the hard part, is getting everything in one place.
James Blatch: And your next of kin knows about the existence of this document.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, and exactly where to find it. That's critical.
James Blatch: Okay. You mentioned earlier the two factor authentication, and it's a pain I have to say. I understand the security benefits of it, but almost every time you log in now...
I mean at the end of the day my mobile phone has about 16 unread messages on it because I just had to look at the preview and there's all these codes coming in every time you log on somewhere. What is the way around that?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. For people who don't know what two factor authentication is, it's when you provide your username and password to a website and then you also have to get a passcode and put that in there as well. For example, if I log into a website I put my user name and password in, and then it will send a text message to my phone in most cases, and I have to get that code from the text message and then go and put it in the screen in order to get access to my account. That's two factor authentication. It basically adds an extra layer of security to your websites.
Now here's the problem with two factor authentication. I agree, James, it is kind of a PITA, particularly if you're just trying to get into do something quickly. The reason you use two factor authentication is so that you have a separate layer of security, so that if someone gets your username and password they must also get that passcode, so it works to protect you.
Now it will work against you in estate management because a lot of two factor authentication right now is on your phone. When you pass away your phone is eventually going to be disconnected. So if your heirs disconnect your phone without changing the phone number that the two factor authentication codes go to, they will no longer be able to access your accounts.
I just want to let that sink in for a minute. Two factor authentication is designed to be foolproof, and if they can't get those codes it doesn't matter, they can't get in. So you have to think about that and think about ways around that.
And you asked your question, James, how to get around this. One way, if you're willing to try it, is an authenticator app. An authenticator app basically does the same thing, but it doesn't work by text message. What happens is you instal a programme on your phone or on your desktop and then whenever you need a code you connect it to your account so that you can go to the app to get your codes as opposed to being tied to your phone.
That is a game changer, and it will allow your heirs to continue getting those codes. I use an app called Authy and it's free. There are other ones called like Google Authenticator, I think Microsoft has an authenticator, and most major places work with all of them. So transitioning over to an authenticator app I think is probably the best thing you can do.
But then, again, you have to be organised enough to let... One, you have to teach your heirs how to use that authenticator app if they've never used one before, because most people have not used them unless you're required to use it for work for example. It's a bit of a techy kind of a thing, but it's the best solution I can think of other than turning two factor authentication off, which is generally not advised.
James Blatch: Yeah. I think it's going to become mandatory shortly in the European Union at least, so that won't be an option for us over here.
The authenticator app... So having used that a little bit in the past, can you have more than more than one phone? So could I, for instance, have my wife have it installed, the authenticator app, on her phone and link both of those to my accounts?
Michael La Ronn: Yes. There are ways you can do that, and then there are also ways that you can sync your codes between devices. So for example, I can access my authenticator app on my desktop or on my phone. So there might be times when you want to connect it on your phone or desktop, so as long as your heirs have access to your account, then they can essentially instal the codes on their phone and start getting them as well.
James Blatch: Okay. That could be really useful actually just in the day-to-day running of Fuse Books, where I have VAs based in the States and would love for them to have access to KDP in particular. You can't just add a user to KDP unfortunately. You can add to the platform in Facebook, but you can't to KDP dashboard, so that actually could be useful.
Okay, so are we still at the planning stage? I won't jump ahead again, Michael.
Michael La Ronn: We're still in planning. We're still in planning. I mean there's a few other things that think are important to it. One of those is just making sure that... You had alluded to this, making sure that your heirs have access to the book retailer dashboards. There's a chapter in The Author Estate Handbook where I go through each retailer's dashboards and everything that you need to think about.
Amazon at this time is... You're right, you can't add someone as a user to your Amazon dashboard, but you can on Apple and you can on Google, right? There are some things you have to think about with Apple and Google in particular, because your account is tied to your Apple ID and your Google ID. Then you got to ask the question what happens to your Apple account when you die? What happens to your Google account when you die? These are things you also want to be thinking about, because there are ramifications and things that you may not consider.
So those are the major highlights. There are other things like where are your manuscripts located on your computer, do you use Vellum? Do you use Atticus? Where can someone get your book files if they wanted to do a new addition of your book for example? These are things you want to think about too, but that's the planning or the organisation phase in a nutshell.
James Blatch: And this spreadsheet that you've done to fill in your own information, do you have like a template version of that as well? Does that come with the book?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. It comes with the book. It's at the back of the book. Basically once you kind of understand what all the different elements and pieces are, then I basically have a place where you can go and download it. It's in The Author Estate Handbook. The second book in the series, The Author Heir Handbook, is really a plain English... Basically everything I've talked about in The Author Estate Handbook, and I distil it down to plain English for heirs to understand, so that they understand okay, this is how the author probably was writing their books, this is how the author was probably storing their books. Here are the different places you may want to think about looking to see if your author has passwords or accounts there, and here's why those places would be important.
Because this is a multifaceted life, and just being able to help authors on one end get organised and pass things down, and then help heirs understand what they're being passed down I just think is really important.
James Blatch: Yeah. I can already sense some authors listening to this thinking about the way that they have or haven't particularly well-organised their own files, thinking maybe now is the time to be more organised myself so that it's easy to disentangle should I no longer be there. We've all seen versions of a manuscript called final, final two, this is the final one, this is definitely the final one, and so on.
Michael La Ronn: Yes.
James Blatch: I guess you could look at the modified date to determine. I've had to be organised because of Fuse Books on that front, and how we do that, and it's not a bad thing to be. Even if you think you're just working alone at this stage, at some point somebody will be trying to access those files.
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. And it's even something like something that could be easily overlooked. For example, I use Scrivener to write my books, but I use Vellum to format them. Well, my heirs need to know that my book manuscripts for Scrivener are probably in a different file than the Vellum files. I mean that's just the nature of how we set things up. So if they don't know that, then it just makes it 10 times harder for them to have to try to read my mind after I've gone and try to understand how I set something up, but maybe it wasn't really that logical.
So from now on, when you start thinking about organising don't think about organising for yourself. Think about organising for yourself and the person who is eventually going to take over, and that will help guide your decision.
James Blatch: That is such a good point. I, for one... I use Scrivener as well, and just the same as you I format in Vellum. But I leave Scrivener behind quite early in the process. When I go to edit, that's the last time I use Scrivener and it's parked there. Then I'm working with Editors, and then I go to Vellum, and then finally I will keep my Vellum, hopefully just one, and two in the case of the hardback of one of my books, and so the Vellum file and the Word document, I do keep them both up-to-date, so if I make a change in the Vellum file I'll make it in the Word, so they should be up-to-date.
But if somebody is looking after I've gone and sees the Scrivener file, for all they're concerned that could be the book. It is so not the book. It was the book a long time ago. It was the book before copy, before proof, probably some significant changes. That would be a disaster if they sent that off to somebody saying, "Can you publish this book?"
So, yeah, such a good point, you're organising yourself, but other people as well as yourself.
Michael La Ronn: Yep. And they're never going to know unless you tell them.
James Blatch: Yes.
Michael La Ronn: And you're never going to be able to tell them everything. There's going to be things that you forget, things that maybe you overlook. But I just think your heirs will appreciate it so much if you just think about them this way.
The whole reason that I got into this, James, was because I lost a grandfather to old age last year, and you hear about people losing loved ones and you hear about all these estate battles, children fighting each other over a sewing machine, that sort of thing, and my grandfather didn't do any of that. My grandfather passed away super clean. He said before he passed away he did not want to be a burden to the family, and he was true to his word.
When he passed away he had everything organised and logically... We could look at everything he owned and you could say, "Okay, we talked about this. He said he wanted this to go to blah, blah, blah." I thought that's such a great lesson to learn from grandfather, is how can I do that with my writing business and how can I make it so that my books are not a burden on my family, and that in fact they're the opposite, that they actually make money and help support my family, and my daughter, and eventually grandkids to do whatever they want to do in life?
Estate planning to me is an act of love. It's an act of empathy and consideration for the people that you're going to leave behind so that the things you're doing today aren't a burden to them.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well put, Michael. Okay, so I didn't want to race ahead to this moment of inevitability, but we are now at the dying stage.
Hopefully you and I have many, many decades ahead of us, but it is an inevitability, and if we're being realistic about we're writing and planning we also have to consider the terrible possibility that it could happen sooner rather than later.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, and this is when all of your planning mistakes and successes will become painfully clear. If you were organised and you passed away everything you planned for goes into motion. So you had the will, you had the trust, you had the legal stuff set up, the accounting and the taxes... We didn't even talk about taxes, but that's another thing. You had all that planned for and taken care of. That should all be relatively well settled.
James Blatch: I guess there's two parts to this. One is what we've talked about, which is the planning and you looking at that thinking okay, if I'm my wife or my daughter in later years will it make sense. And the second one is probably having that conversation with them.
Michael La Ronn: Yes. Yeah, having the conversation so that when you're gone it becomes more of a formality. Just think about it. They're going to be grieving, they're going to be mourning your death.
James Blatch: Hopefully.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, hopefully, right? So you want that to be easy for them. It just makes things easier for them too, because they know what's expected of them, they know what they need to be doing, and it helps them get closure faster I think too.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah.
James Blatch: I guess the benefit of this is obvious in that your books, that's money on the table that's not realised. That's money that simply isn't being earned that could be going to your family, that could be looking after your widow or widower, that could be providing for your children and their children in the future, and if you don't do this and the books don't get published and people don't really think about it, then that money simply never comes into your estate or your family, which would be such a shame.
But I think the other side of it that has become clear during this chat, Michael, is that by not doing this sort of planning actually the opposite could happen. You could end up costing your family in time, stress, and money.
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. And if they view it as a burden, then they're going to be less likely to keep the books moving forward, and as you said, that could be to their detriment. I think it's our responsibility as authors to educate our heirs and help them understand the potential, because how many authors do we know that saw no success during their lifetime but then their books took on a completely new life after they were gone? Many of the modern authors that we read that's true.
So that's a potential for all of us as well, so you don't want to leave money on the table, you don't want to leave opportunities on the table, but you have to plan.
James Blatch: Yeah. I don't know how many books Jane Austin sold during her lifetime, but I know it's a fraction compared to how many she sold afterwards. I was reading only yesterday actually about J. M. W. Turner, one of my favourite artists of all times, British impressionist painter, who sold 14 paintings during his lifetime, and since then his paintings are priceless, in museums and private collections.
So there's money to be had. I'm not saying necessarily that my novels are going to be priceless in the future, but there's money to be had after we're gone, and we shouldn't dismiss this as being a trivial aspect of our business.
Michael La Ronn: No, absolutely not. Remember, your life plus 70 years. 70 years is a long time. Your book could sell more copies after you're dead than when you're alive. So just thinking about the timeframe in that way in and of itself, I mean you don't want to leave that money on the table. Jane Austin didn't make very much money in her lifetime. F. Scott Fitzgerald I think was another one, and history is just filled with authors that-
James Blatch: Stieg Larsson of course.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, Stieg Larsson.
James Blatch: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I don't his books were published before he died.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. One of the best-selling authors of all time. He enjoyed that title posthumously. I actually talk about Stieg Larsson in The Author Estate Handbook, because he's an example of an author who died without a will. So you want to know what happens when you die without a will, read the book and read Stieg Larsson's story, and it's kind of scary, so that's why you want to have one.
James Blatch: Well finally, let's just talk about the books again. There's two books, one aimed at the author, one aimed at their next of kin, or heir as you describe it. It sounds like they work together.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, they do. The first is, again, The Author Estate Handbook. It's how to organise your affairs and leave a legacy. That book basically goes into everything I talked about in this interview in greater detail and very, very nitty-gritty detail I should add. That book will help you get organised, help you take those next steps, help you do what you need to do and identify the goal.
The next book is called The Author Heir Handbook, and that is how to manage an author's estate. So imagine an heir that knows nothing about publishing. That book will take them, help them understand publishing 101, copyright 101, self-publishing 101, things like distribution of books, the tools that authors are using, and how to manage ah author's estate, how to think about it. It will help them just take the first steps so that they know how to get help and then can avoid getting scammed and avoid making too many early mistakes.
Both of those books are available in eBook, paperback, hard cover, large print, and audio wherever you get your books. You can find them at authorlevelup.com/estate handbook.
James Blatch: Michael, that's brilliant. It's been really illuminating. You're obviously someone who's looked into this and mastered the subject, and a very important one, not one people necessarily would necessarily think about or particularly enjoy thinking about, but such an important one I think it's become crystal clear in this interview. So thank you again.
Michael La Ronn: Thank you, James. It's been my pleasure.
Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There you go, Michael La Ronn, who turned a really dull subject into something much more interesting I think. Well done, Michael. Thank you very much indeed for that. Of course you heard in the interview there is a book available should you be interested in following that further and taking the steps sort of more tactically than we were able to get down to, more granular detail than we were able to get down to in the interview.
Okay, that's it. I think Mark will be back with us next week, so I'm looking forward to him being here again as we run up to Christmas. One little thing I'm just going to preview is that we're going to have a Facebook Ads challenge for you. We're devising it at the moment. It's a challenge that we can all take part in. It'll be a learning experience.
If you're not doing Facebook Ads at the moment it'll be absolutely perfect for you to get going. If you do do Facebook Ads and you don't really understand them or you aren't confident about them, it'll be a good challenge for you to do that. That'll be in January we're going to do it, so you can relax over Christmas and then hopefully take part in this. It's going to be a five day challenge, during which you will get to a point of competency with Facebook Ads at the end of it. So we're going to be doing that in the new year, and we're working on that now. We'll be giving you the details here on the podcast and in our Facebook group. If you're not in that, join it at SPS Community Group on Facebook.
Okay, that is it. Thank you very much indeed, to John, and Catherine, and Tom, and Stuart, and the other John, and everybody else behind the scenes who helps make this podcast an actual thing every week. I look forward to speaking to you next week. Goodbye.
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