Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Literary Estate Representation

Some people look over at the smattering of books on the right side of the blog and see a few that were originally published before I was even in diapers. Then they wonder: how is this possible? Is Nathan trying to pull a fast one?

Nope -- these are all authors I have represented. I just didn't have the pleasure of meeting them when they were alive.

Many people think that representation stops when the author passes away. Not so! We here at Curtis Brown often work with the heirs of literary estates to try to make sure that the authors' works continue to find new life via new editions and make sure every new opportunity is explored. So in addition to my living clients I also work on behalf of incredible authors of yesteryear like Gerald Durrell, Lawrence Durrell, Richard Powell and Winston Churchill. Also I just noticed that all of their names end with two Ls.

Managing these rights is just as challenging and rewarding as working with living authors, and I have to say, one of the great pleasures of being a literary agent is helping to ensure that great literature finds new readers. We also handle the mountain of permission requests that pour in for classic works.

I should also mention that I'm happy to receive queries from heirs and proprietors of literary estates -- it's often extremely daunting to manage these rights without an experienced advocate, and I might be able to help out.






32 comments:

Adaora A. said...

You were conducting meetings with editors at publishing houses in between nap and bottle time? You work well Nathan! Or wait; instead of having meetings over drinks, they were held at local play parks or in those huge decorative bins that parents put their tots in so they can socialize. I see you.

Winston Churchill was the one that made me squeal a bit when I first visited your blog.

Kalynne Pudner said...

Here I was starting to wonder whether we'd see The Picture of Dorian Gray over there one of these days.

JES said...

Nathan, you've just given me the incentive to do something I've put off for far too long.

My new nom de plume will be John E. Simpsoll.

Alas, I'm not an incredible author of yesteryear. Hope that doesn't disqualify me!

nancorbett said...

That's interesting, Nathan. I knew that the royalties of some works went to the deceased's heirs, but I never thought about the estate having a literary agent to represent the works.

This raises all kinds of questions. Is it the work of an agent that determines whether or not something stays in print? Is the focus on what the publisher has agreed to, as far as keeping something in print? What do you do with things that are no longer marketable?

Wasn't it S&S who started a huge buzz around a year ago when they said that they were going to retain rights even after a book went out of print? Did that include retaining ownership even after the author dies?

How many generations can the ownership of rights to literary works be handed down? What's the oldest work still collecting royalties?

How can you find out whether something is in the public domain?

So many gray areas, but that makes it interesting.

Anonymous said...

So, in your five or six year career as a literary agent, you took on only a 3 or 4 new clients? Mr Bransford, you indeed are extremely selective? Its amazing to know that the most queried agent doesn't like anything sent his way.

- Gary

Nathan Bransford said...

Gary-

Such a snide last comment! Just to be clear, I've been with Curtis Brown for five years but haven't been agenting that entire time. You have to work your way up to taking on clients. I've also sold books that aren't on the right side of the page -- some are upcoming, some I just didn't list because I wanted a representative sample. So your comment really isn't accurate or particularly fair.

Nathan Bransford said...

nancorbett-

Those questions are very good indeed, but they would require quite a long post itself. Just to do a sweeping summary: books published recently are in copyright for 70 years after the author's death and the author's heirs or assigns retain those rights, although it can get complicated for works that are older and were subject to different laws during the lifetime of the book. Agents will monitor whether a book is in print/out of print, and it depends on the original contract what happens if that's the case, but yes, we may try and get the rights back, and yes, some publishers have been difficult lately.

Margaret Yang said...

I admit that I was also curious as to why you listed very few books from your clients. I'm used to seeing agent blogs with a list of many clients' books, up to 30 or more. I thought it was unusual, that's all.

Adaora A. said...

But even if you had not that many books which you selected Nathan, aren't you putting yourself on the line when you represent something and present it to editors? Everyone has something at stake in the publishing industry don't they?

Although I'm pleased that you're one of those agents who accept what they call "unsolicited queries." Takes away that feeling of being stuck between a rock and a hard place which unpublished folks like myself contend with.

TB said...

It's nice to know my motal life has no bounds on weather or not you represent me one day. That being said, it's put a new perspectve on my five year plan.

Tom Burchfield said...

Speaking of literary estates, as some of you might know, Dmitri Nabokov has decided to publish the excerpt from his father Vladimir's last novel.

Ah, one more gem from the master! Nathan, are you going for it?

Anonymous said...

I am sorry. I agree I was a being a complete a- -. I was really curious about the books you represent.

You really are the nicest agent in the world for so many reasons.

Gary

Zombie Churchill said...

Aaaargh!

Zombie Churchill Nathan's client!

Urgh...

Zombie Churchill making cookbook for bbbrrraaaiiinnnsss

Grrrrggh...

Hoping sell to Harper Collins....

Argh...

Anonymous said...

I wish you were my agent. But you rejected me twice, for two different projects. :(

- K

Conduit said...

When people ask you who you represent, I bet it feels really cool to say Winston Churchill.

Dave F. said...

Neil Gaiman has a standing post about authors putting their literary "wealth" in their wills and assigning rights and all that. Sometimes an author makes more money after he or she dies. The appropriate clauses in a Will are essential for the estate.

cslarsen said...

Hmmm...
Live agent representing dead authors. I wonder if there are dead agents representing live authors?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'll make sure my pen name ends with ll so you can represent me when I'm dead!

Anonymous said...

*nods* My agent reps a few estates, too. I think it's fascinating.

Linnea said...

Had to smile when I saw both Gerald and Lawrence Durrell. There couldn't be two brother more unalike! Gerald was a wonderful naturalist with a terrific sense of humor and Lawrence was, well, a bit of a pill! I still remember Gerald's account of the family frantically running around Lawrence's bedroom trying to extinguish the fire Lawrence had set while Lawrence relaxed in bed with something alcoholic and simply watched. I think we have all of Gerald's books. Great fun.

Adaora A. said...

@ssas- You sure you haven't already kicked the bucket? I mean, at 251 years of age you must be living as a ghost!

Sex scenes at starbucksll

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

You've indicated that the books on the right of your blog are only a sampling. I was wondering where we can find a list of all the books that you've represented?

Thanks!
Sam

Nathan Bransford said...

Sam-

Truthfully I don't have a list of every book I've sold handy, I guess I'll work on that at some point. It's never come up. But honestly I think the works on the right give a representative sampling of some of the things I've handled. I'm not sure how a definitive list would be all that more illuminating.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan. I'm actually interested in what sci fi you've represented. From a quick review of the books on the right, I didn't see anything that was obviously sci fi.

Cheers,
Sam

Kristin Laughtin said...

This is good to know! I was curious about the representation of dead authors, especially going back to the 19th century and earlier. And truthfully, I was still trying to figure out how you could represent Winston Churchill when I saw that book in your sidebar.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm going to second Anonymous @ 4:25. I'd like to see what sort of sci-fi you've represented as well, or a greater mixture of genres. I think the sidebar does give a good overall representation, though.

Nathan Bransford said...

Sam-

Ah, I see! Thanks for clarifying. I actually haven't yet found the right sci-fi project to rep yet so I don't have a sci-fi sale, although I'm always looking. It's been kind of interesting establishing myself as an agent -- I know what genres I want to represent, but then when the actual projects come in I have to go by which ones are the best ones that come in. I'm obviously open to repping the genres I list, but then, I find that my sales are skewing more towards literary fiction, commercial fiction, and unconventional nonfiction.

But really -- I would love to represent someone like Robert Charles Wilson, Neal Stephenson, Philip K. Dick... I like the heady science fiction. Hopefully it will happen soon.

Anonymous said...

Nathan - thanks for the reply. I'm glad to hear that you're open to receiving sci fi queries.

I've never considered the challenges in establishing oneself as an agent. I imagine it must be difficult waiting for the right book to come your way.

Have a good night!
Sam

Diana said...

I hope I have a literary estate some day. And not just a pile of paper scraps that say things like, "Toilet paper, Diet Coke, Tums, Lettuce..."

Sharon said...

Nathan, I liked the way you answered Sam's question about sci fi. If you don't have a book to put out there, it's great to note some authors you like. At least it shows the kind of work you like. Hopefully I can find an agent who has tastes similar to mine since you don't represent children's books, which is unfortunate for both of us.

Bernita said...

I have lots of Gerald Durrell and shelves of Churchill.
Nice to know I can thank you for some of them.

real estate supplies said...

i think its really great you posted this because most people dont understand it, so it is ever so generous of you to share you knowledge with other people. I think Literary Estate Representation is great, my father is a literary agent in Israel.

Again, great post,
Cheers,
Rianna

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