Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Should Publishers Publish Works Posthumously Against the (Deceased) Author's Wishes?

A few weeks back reader Neil Vogler pointed me to an article in the Guardian that addresses an interesting question about authorship, intent, and propriety.

Recently, several different posthumous book projects have been announced, some even that are against the deceased author's wishes.

How do we feel about this? Should an author be able to dictate what works are and aren't published, even after death? Should we abide by their decisions? Or does the public deserve to have a full airing of an author's work?


Bane of Anubis said...

If the author's wishes are concretely known, his will should always be abided - otherwise, leave it to the judgment of the estate - never leave it to a publisher, agent, etc., no matter how closely tied to the author they may be.

Lisa Dez said...

If you adhere to the idea that the material is the creative property of the author, then the moral thing to do—obviously—is to abide by their wishes. In reality, the decision is up to whoever legally owns that property after the death of the author.

If anything of mine is published posthumously that I expressly asked not be, I will be haunting those responsible. I promise.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, no publisher or agent could make the decision because unless the author willed their rights to the publisher or agent (not likely!), so unless it's in the public domain the decision rests with the estate.

RW said...

It's hard to accept this basic fact of life, but all of us eventually must -- we should have no reasonable expectation of controlling what anybody else does on this earth after we leave it. Use your time here accordingly.

Which in this case means you should burn what you don't want read.

Gina Black said...

Interesting question and one which I have thought about, being the daughter of an artist.

Death is the ultimate loss of control. If the author didn't destroy a piece of work then what will happen to it will happen. It's up to the heirs to abide by wishes or do what they think is best all around, which usually involves some sort of preservation effort. Publication is probably the ultimate preservation effort.

But I don't think it has anything to do with what the public deserves.

SJDuvall said...

I definitely think that if it is against the author's wishes, then it should not be published. It doesn't matter how badly the public wants to see it. And I would hope that the author's estate would respect their wishes, but, sadly, you can't trust everyone.

Mira said...

Well, this may be an upopular opinion, but I think once someone is dead, they're dead.

I don't believe the dead should be entitled to own property.

If they didn't destroy it, it's fair game.

Publish away.

After all, publishing their work can't hurt, embarrass or upset them. Know why? Because they are dead.

The idea that anyone can own anything is just a social construct anyway.

Besides, how do we know what they really, truly wanted? Maybe they secretly wanted to be published, but couldn't say so.

Publish away.

Mira said...

I have the opposite problem.

I have repeatedly requested that people not read what I write while I'm alive.

But they keep doing it.

Like you. You're reading this right now. Stop it. Stop it. Stop, stop, stop reading this.

You didn't stop. You're still reading. I can tell.

I'm suing.

Justus M. Bowman said...

If a writer kept a journal and wrote "don't publish this journal after my death" at the beginning of it, obviously no one should publish the journal after his death. But there's no way for the deceased to enforce his command; whether we like it or not, his work's fate is decided by the integrity of humanity.

PurpleClover said...

(N - Hope you're having a good Wednesday)

Hmm...this is a toughie for me. One of my favorite poets is Emily Dickinson (hence, my blogger name is the title of one of her poems). However, only a few of her works were published while she was alive. She was a very private person and I don't think she intended for her works to be pub'd after her death. BUT her younger sister decided to publish them once she discovered them.

I'd hate to think what kind of art we would have missed out on if she had refused to have her works published posthumously. However, she never did say (at least it isn't mentioned). One can only assume she probably would have been opposed.

On the other hand, a writer should have the right to privacy if they specifically have said they want their journals concealed. If that is the case I think it would only be proper to respect their wishes. At least for a time? Maybe there could be a 50 year limit on how long they are protected?? haha.

I say a "limit" because if many poets and writers had said "no", I think society could have suffered for it.

Good question! I still don't know where I stand!

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

OK, this begs a huge question: why would an author write a book or a play in the first place if they NEVER want it read or published??? Just wondering out loud.

J. F. Constantine said...

As a person who is trained in the legal business, it is (as some have said here) the heir's right to decide.

Morally, I agree with the people who have said if the author didn't want something published, then it shouldn't be.

Selfishly, as a reader, I have read the letters of the late, great John Steinbeck, published in a volume by his late widow after his death. I don't know if Mr. Steinbeck wanted that or not, but I suspect he never wrote all those letters thinking they would someday be published for public comsumption. I know from reading about him that he was always non-plussed by people's reactions to him as "famous" person. But, reading his letters has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me, so, selfishly, I love reading them. I have also loved reading his published journals (he kept while writing his great books - Grapes of Wrath, etc.).

Someone in this string said something about destroying stuff if you don't want it read posthumously, and I think that's the answer. You don't want your heirs to have it published? Shred the sucker and delete it off your hard drive. :)


Ben Dutton said...

It's a tough one. I think it depends on the work. I don't think Roland Barthe's diary should have been published (far too personal) but then the novels by Roberto Bolano should be, because he was a writer to whom the publishing deal came late and who had been working for all those years that nobody published him. When my first novel was published this year I was in the interesting position of having two other complete novels, both of which I'd tried to sell and been unsuccessful with. They might see the light of day now.

Later this year sees Nabokov's novel, The Original of Laura, that he never wanted published. I love Nabokov, and I'm hesitant about this. I don't know whether to read it for completions sake or not. I know his son has agonised over this decision for such a long time. If I compare this situation to the Bolano, then I don't feel the Nabokov should be published but the Bolano should. Just as I think the Foster Wallace should be. These are men who died young and who had not finished their writing careers. These books would have seen the light of day at some point, maybe not in the form they will now be printed, but would still come out.

NP said...

I think a deceased author's works should be treated as anything else in his or her estate.

I don't think the public necessarily needs to see everything from an author. I keep a private journal that I would never want published, and I've made that known to my husband.

Joel Q said...

In today's society this is more of a "legal" question, despite what the author might have wanted and expressed. If there is money to be made, some people will fight for it.

But one good reason to publish is the possible quality writing left by the dead... A Confederacy of Dunces for instances.

sophie said...

Its a dreadful thought. I'd prefer not to be remembered rather than remembered for the wrong thing.

Mim said...

I can see both sides of this. As a fan I would love to read the works both finished and unfinished of authors that I love, but I have read some works that were published posthumously and they really weren't up to the author's usual standard. Obviously they weren't ready to be published, or possibly never intended for publication.

As a writer, I wouldn't want anything published, that wasn't ready to go out. I wouldn't want my journals, or my emails or letters published later on. I'm a very private person, and just don't think it's anyone's business.

So I guess my answer would ultimately be no--especially if it is written specifically in the will or such. But there's not much a dead person can do about it either.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Trust - Should anyone encourage another to break such a promise?
Motivation - there would probably be motives inside any motives offered to explain why
If the author specified what they wanted to happen, I would hope their wishes would be respected.

Jennifer Wright said...

I started thinking about this after I read Lisey's Story by Stephen King, and sadly, I can understand both sides. There is the writer in me who thinks about certain creative endeavors of mine and is mortified by the thought of those getting out into the wider world; there is also the fan in me who wants to read everything my favorite authors have ever written.

In the end, I would say if it is expressly against the author's wishes, it shouldn't be published. That being said, it is the author's responsibility to make those wishes known through a will. I don't want little cousin what's-her-name saying that one day, out of the blue, her famous author aunt said she didn't want some work published, and that work not be published from that one hearsay statement alone. Opinions change.

Cyndi said...

Hmmm, tough question.

I read Donald Jack's last Bartholomew Bandy book that was released posthumously. I believe it was his wife and editor who decided to publish it. I don't know if the author had expressed his wishes about it or not. The book was in a state of revision when he died, and there were a lot of loose ends. Characters introduced in the first half whose roles were never fulfilled, etc... It was definitely not up to par with the previous books in the series. That would be my worst fear if my unfinished work was pubbed after I died.

On the other hand, Robert Jordan knew he wouldn't live long enough to finish the last installment of the Wheel of Time series and made very specific arrangements with his editor and family about how the book should be finished. He also chose another author to finish the writing from his notes.

I think if the author expressed certain wishes, they should be respected.

Loren Eaton said...

The author has every right to control his work. After all, he made it.

Natalie N. said...

As writers we try so very hard to get published in the first place. Why would you then say, "no, don't publish me!"???

I would hope that my works get published before I'm dead, but if they don't, then at least my heirs will get something from my labors.

I say, publish away! I'm sure I'll have better things to do after I'm dead than worry about if someone is publishing something I wrote while I was alive.

RW said...

DIMA, I know how it could happen. It happened to me once!

I had a couple too many to drink one time and I decided to text my old girlfriend and remind her that if I should ever pass away unexpectedly (that very night for example, like she even cares) then her job was to get to my apartment (I let her keep the key, because we're still friends) and throw away all my gentleman's special interest magazines and also my journals before my mom finds them and gets a nasty shock. But in the process of drunk texting her, I ended up accidentally writing a rough draft one of those cellphone novels they can't get enough of in Japan. It's OK if you like that kind of thing, but it's not really ready for anyone to see yet.

So I deleted it off my phone, but how do I get my ex girlfriend to delete the messages on her phone? She might try to publish it! Though, that would at least prove she still really loves me, right?

allegory19 said...

I don't know. At first I was thinking - no, don't publish it if it's against the author's wishes - but then I started to think - why did they write it if they didn't want anyone to read it? Why didn't they destroy it?

I think the literary and/or artistic world would suffer if we didn't have the works of folks such as Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen and Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)to name a few around, but does that make it right to publish material against their wishes? - I dunno.

I guess for me it comes down to the reasoning for why the author didn't want their work published. I would hope that whoever was the executor of the estate would take that into consideration when deciding.

Diana said...

If the deceased author's will expressly says something about previously unpublished works remaining unpublished, then it should be honored. Especially if the author cantankerously penalizes anyone who tries to go against those wishes.

If there wasn't a clear statement about such preferences, then the works are part of the estate and the property of the beneficiary who can do whatever he or she wants with it.

Sometimes, though, there is a reason something wasn't published...

Patrice said...

While we're on this topic, I've wondered: how is it that John Godey is your client? Maybe I missed an earlier blog entry, but I am truly curious.

allegory19 said...

Oh, and TIME recently had an article on the history of posthumous literature if anyone is interested:,8599,1883896,00.html

Patrice said...

While we're on the topic, I've wondered: How is it that John Godey is your client?

BA Boucher said...

If John Kennedy Toole's mom had left his manuscript alone, we'd never would've gotten A Confederacy of DuncesSometimes it just works out

Patrice said...


Nathan Bransford said...


One of the parts of my jobs is representing some of Curtis Brown's literary estates, such as Winston Churchill, Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, etc. John Godey is one of those, and I sold the mass market movie tie-in rights to THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE to Berkley and the audio to Random House.

JES said...

One of the reasons this question is so messy is because it's bound up with the (apparently) contradictory notions of celebrity and art. (As others have said, one way or the other, it's also an issue of privacy vs. "need to know.")

I can think of numerous examples in which the interests of culture were advanced by posthumous publication, and pretty much as many examples in which those interests were harmed. In the latter case, stuff was published because of some ghoulish interest in scandal.

Would those of us who say "Don't publish against the wishes of the deceased" say, as glibly, "Destroy the paintings of an artist who didn't want them preserved"? or "Don't record a song whose songwriter didn't want it recorded"? or are we sensitive to it because it's *our* art?

I don't know the answer, myself. Which is why I said "we" in that paragraph.

Jeanie W said...

I think the decision whether to publish or not belongs with the living. If you want to retain control of your work, you have to stay alive forever. (Good luck with that.)

That said, I don't believe it's appropriate to publish private journals that contain information that may be hurtful to living persons. You should wait until all parties are dead before making such writing public.

Patrice said...

The lawyer in me should have thought that through. Of course, I figured that about Churchill, but seeing Pelham appear in print after all these years threw me off. Thanks.

reader said...

I'm actually looking forward to David Foster Wallace's posthumously published book as he is one of my favorite writers.

I wonder why a person would "Will" their work to not be published? I'm guessing it's because they don't have the right to defend/explain it? But writers always face a loss of control in this manner, of people giving bad reviews, or the book not finding an audience.

I say, when I'm dead, do what you want. Unless it was something that would hurt someone else (a tell-all memoir) why would I care?

Anonymous said...

Ugh...I think that noone has the right to take something that has been refused. Even if you have a feeling I wouldn't like you to take it...and I never said for shouldn't take it. This is something we all learned at our mother's knees, right?

Bleh. I can understand the fans perspective, but its seriously disrespectful to the artist to publish this stuff.

If someone published the rough drafts of stories I have on my computer without asking I'd be MORTIFIED. The reason I sweat blood polishing is because I want my work to be the best work I've yet produced!

If I had expressed this to someone, I'd be mortified and feel terribly violated. If I were DEAD and this happened -- so I was powerless to prevent it...well. There would be a vengeful ghost on someone's case, that's for sure.

PatriciaW said...

No. The author had his/her reasons.

But if the work is already published, and it's simply a matter of selling new rights, then the executor of the estate should handle it.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Absolutely not. Just because I write doesn't mean I want all of my writings to be read. If I have made it clear that I don't want something published, I wouldn't want someone to go against my wishes. Mira raises a good point by saying the work can't embarass the dead author, but it still seems rude to go against what they wanted. Why should we respect any of the dead's wishes, if that we're going to disregard this one? Why should we care about what happens to their estate, or their family, or anything else, if they're not around to object or feel offended?

As for RW's comment that anything you should burn anything you don't want read/published--that works fine if you're expecting your death, but if you're killed suddenly, it does you no good. And if the thing being published is something like a diary, that's personal and private. I shouldn't have to burn it to force others to respect my privacy. Perhaps, like Mira said, waiting 50 years would be acceptable. Long enough that nobody/very few who knew the author personally would see the work. (This applies more to personal writings than plays or novels, though, IMHO.)

To Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist!--Some people, even professionals, write things solely for their own enjoyment, never intending for others' eyes to see them.

reader said...

Also, I was certain today's blog would feature the new Kindle dx, with a larger screen for newspapers and such... :)

Anonymous said...

This subject is quite paradoxical by nature. An author may not wish for publishing of his work after his death and it's justified because of his own private reason, but he should not forget that whatever he writes is for his readers and fans, a family he keeps on building throughout his writing career. Therefore, authors should write only what they feel is appropriate to reveal to the public. However, resolving the current issue, publishers should respect the wishes of dead authors and not publish their works without approval.
(Come on, everyone gets the last dying cigar!).

Kristan said...

On the one hand, I think it's always best and most respectful to follow a dead person's wishes (at least about things that belong to them, including their bodies) BUT on the other hand, let's face it, they're dead, so it's not like it can negatively affect them.

(Example: I might want my diaries destroyed unread after my death, but honestly, if someone reads them, what difference could it possibly make to me?)

jimnduncan said...

This makes me wonder why people would want to publish posthumous works that were specifically against the author's wishes. Does the reading public feel they are owed the privelege of reading it? Simply because people want to read it, it should be published? Different story of course if the author didn't specify. But I would never buy a novel published against the author's wishes. Smacks of disrespect to me. The only reason I can think an estate would do this is for money. Why else would you basically be giving the author the finger and publishing their work anyway? They can veil it in all the "public deserves to see this great work," they want, but the fact remains that it would be very disrespectful to do so. We don't deserve to read it. We aren't owed anything. There is no obligation. If the author said no, then it should be no.

Claudette said...

Are people right to publish something they know a deceased author wouldn't want made public? NO. But, that probably won't stop a lot of folks. Which is exactly why I don't journal. I couldn't journal about just the mundane events in my life, but would be compelled to include intensly personal thoughts, and accounts of personal events, as well. Now, imagine I die and some family member decides to publish because they feel I can't be hurt by the contents. But, what about other individuals mentioned in the journal? The bottom line is you can't control events if you're dead, so if there's something you wouldn't want made public, don't write it in the first place.

Ashley said...

People keep asking why someone wrote something if they didn't want it to be published.

For journals there is an obvious answer, it's private thoughts, it isn't meant to be published.

For anything else. Maybe they write only for themselves as a hobby, or just family and friends. Or maybe, they do want to be published, but not until the book is ready. I have a completed draft of my novel, and I'd be horrified if anyone read it.

Just because it's written doesn't mean it's done. It still needs to go through editing to be finished. Who but the author can say when a work is complete and ready to be passed to their agent and their editor?

Joe Finder (thriller writer) wrote, "’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written...”

I laughed after reading that, because I understood exactly what he meant.

If a writer leaves explicit directions not to publish any of his unpublished works, it should never be done. We may have had less of a few greats, but that work is clearly not what they wanted us to remember them by.

And yes, I know they are dead, and legally their wishes mean nothing.

RW said...

The concept of "burning" the work, by the way, is becoming less of an issue. How many of us have "private letters" that in fact exist in electronic form? It lasts forever and has been backed up on god knows what server, always recoverable, always searchable. How many of us have half-starts, weak drafts and embarrassing abandoned projects in electronic form? And how many of us engaging in this kind of dialogue with the assumption of anonymity when in all likelihood the tools to link the anon comments back to our real identities will become more and more commonplace over time?

Lisa Hendrix said...

If I didn't send a piece to my agent, it wasn’t ready to be sent and is never to see the light of day.

And I just made that very, very clear to my family. I'm not famous enough to worry about my "literary legacy" at this point, but you never know.

The one exception might be if I had a nearly complete ms, the last in a series, and died unexpectedly. Then it would be find to have someone step in and finish the book for the sake of the readers and the complete story cycle. But some mucky old stand-alone that I put away, or something that I was noodling around with but wasn't even approaching ready? No way.

Jen P said...

If the author explicitly asked for work not to be published after their death, then it should not be.

If they explicitly requested NOT to be an organ donor, the next-of-kin can't ignore that and approve the release of body parts.

And more often than not, a kidney might be of greater single benefit IMO.

ryan field said...

When you're dead, they usually do whatever they want.

Rob Crompton said...

I believe the author's wishes should be respected. I think of the great Irish novelist, Flann O'Brien, who published "At Swim-Two-Birds", "The Dalkey Archive", "The Third Policeman" and "The Poor Mouth" during his lifetime. He also wrote a regular column for one of the Dublin newspapers but never published any of this vast output in book form.

Soon after his death,however, collections of his newspaper columns began to appear in the bookshops and it was all a huge let-down. Rather spoiled a great writer's image for me. It should all have been left as O'Brien left it - to wrap up the fish and chips.

The trouble is, who is best placed to say whether this was worthwhile?

adrcremer said...

I'm of two minds on this topic. In the immediacy of death and loss, I'd be inclined to follow whatever the author's wishes were.

However, in my "day job" I teach history and with that hat on, I mourn anything lost to the archival record. Numerous pieces of essential evidence about historical figures' character and life stories would have been lost if all their personal papers had been destroyed, as according to his/her wishes.

In the long view, I'd prefer at least some form of preservation if not full-on publication

Ink said...

When I die I want every copy of everything I've ever written to be buried with me inside my giant pyramid.

(Trust me, the city of Windsor will look better with a giant pyramid in the middle of it.)

My best,

Jen P said...


Yes, you're right about the publication being another aspect of preservation. The Cologne archives recently lost in the building's collapse, means that a huge part of Heinrich Böll's life work is lost.

The archives included the minutes of all town council meetings held since 1376. Not a single session had been missed, making the collection a remarkable resource for legal historians.

The earliest document stored in the building dated back to 922, and there were hundreds of thousands of documents spread over six floors, some of them written on thin parchment. A total of 780 complete private collections and half a million photographs were being stored.

Many of the documents had been recovered from library buildings smashed by Allied bombing during the Second World War.

So, for historical reasons, maybe electronic storage would be better, but that would involve external publication no doubt.

Anonymous said...

"When you're dead, they usually do whatever they want."

But would you, say, donate someone's organs when they had specifically requested that not be done? Yeah, I know, I know, not the same thing--but why not? Journal entries and private musings are just as much body parts as general innards are, maybe moreso.

More practically, I think it has to do with the nature of the work. Was it intended to be private-- maybe an exorcism of mortal fears, petty jealousies, conversations with God? Or just an unfinished novel that needed a good working over? Publishing that man's private journal, stripping his grief naked--no member of the public is owed that simply because he can't protest anymore.

Past painters painted over their old works all the time, as revealed by modern technology, but the artist obviously thought it was crap, or worth more for the canvas. Now, do we strip away the paint on the one that *we* feel is the lesser example, or do we respect the artist's estimation of his own work?

Okay, you may now commence chiding me on the absurdity of the organ donation parallel.

cttiger said...

If you spent the time and sweat to write something, you should be the final arbiter on what happens to it. If that meant the Mystery of Edwin Drood never got published, so be it. May the ghosts of all authors haunt you forever if you went against their wishes.

Mira said...

Ink -

ooooo. Me, too.

Only I want my pyramid to be pink.

With neon arrows, pointing at the pyramid saying "Hands off. It's all mine, mine, mine. Bwah ha ha."

Court said...

Ethically speaking, the living should respect the wishes of the dead. If an author didn't want something to be published, then the author had good reasons...and those reasons don't necessarily expire when the author does.

That said, I don't care of someone publishes my unpublished stuff after I'm dead. I'll be dead--it won't matter to me one whit. ;o) The fallout is for the living to contend with.

Ink said...


Well, since I live in Windsor, if my pyramid was pink and covered in neon arrows it would look like just one more strip club or massage parlour. A terrible plight. One's death monument must stand out, right?


Christina said...

This is definitely wrong....especially for a diary. If someone states that they don't want something published, then there shouldn't be any debate over it - whether he is dead or not. This is just a case of someone trying to cash in which is severely wrong.

Ann Victor said...

No. The author's last will and testament should be honoured.

Mira said...


That's a really good point. I've never been to Windsor, so I wasn't aware of the problem.

Hmmm. So, the goal here is how to make a death monument stand out amid the neon and the garishness?

Well, obviously it just has to be bigger. As in MUCH bigger.

I'm seeing a 1600 foot high pyramid in the shape of a bunny rabbit. And so it's not confused with the massage parlors, we'll cover it in polka dots and daisies.

Massage that, suckers!

And then, once an hour, the bunny rabbit's whiskers will wave up and down. People will come for miles.

Best death monument in the world.

What do you think?

Diana Evans said...

We should always honored the authors wishes...

I agree that the dcision rests with the estate....

RW said...

I'd completely forgotten that my blog is inspired by and modeled after an example of what we're discussing -- Journal of A Novel, the published book form of a private diary that John Steinbeck kept while writing East of Eden as a way of limbering up and working out some problems. Shame on me, I've read it about six times. It's been invaluable.

Anonymous said...

"Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread."
--Franz Kafka

Who criticizes Max Brod for ignoring that?

Ink said...


I just hired an architect...

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I'll worry about all the "artsy" stuff I leave behind... well, when I'm dead!

(Okay, show me any --- ANY evidence that death precludes worry).

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

Mira, your death monument sounds a lot like Las Vegas.

I like the 50 year rule of thumb. It's possible an author modeled a work or character closely on a real life person who might be embarrassed or harmed should the work be published. If the work has societal value, it will still be valuable in 50 years. If it's Dan Browns unfinished MS and the estate just wants the money now while he's still hot, that's unethical. But also probably unstoppable.

Ah, the benefits of not being rich and famous. I sleep peacefully knowing that if I were run over by a truck tomorrow any truly dreadful story I wrote will never be seen by anyone. No cause for concern and writing remains unpressured.

Yamile said...

What can I say that hasn't already been said? I agree with several points presented:
1. You wait sometimes for years to have your work published, and then you ask that it doesn't get published?
2. So many words of genius might have been lost forever if the author's words weren't published posthumously. One of my favorite books is "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell, and it was published after she died, UNFINISHED, but I still love it!
On the other hand, I'd be mortified to have someone go through my files after I'm dead and publish my personal diaries. Not because I might be embarrassed (I'll be dead!), but because they might embarrass or hurt other people. Not that I have dark secrets in my past, but there are things that were written only as a therapy and not facts.

Yat-Yee said...

If the author has expressed their wishes explicitly, then we should honor the wishes. If we are the authors who don't want our stuff published, we should realize we have no control over anything after we die.

ieva said...

If they never wanted them published, why didn't they burn them on the spot or at least leave a will with "burn the entire contents of my desk drawer" in it?

Fawn Neun said...

If the author has expressed the wish to NOT have something published (as in Nabokov's case), I say it shouldn't be published.

pjd said...

My opinions have been all over the place on this as I read through the comments.

Then I thought, oh, hell, I'll be dead, what will I care?


And if people are so enamored of me long after my death that they want to learn every little detail of my life from my (gawdawfully boring) journals and whatnot, more power to them.

That said, it's just my opinion of my own work here. Others who feel differently should take precautions. I don't know... set up a Trust for the estate, with explicit instructions or something.

I'm sure some enterprising businessperson could set up a company that would exploit this fear. A lot like cryonics--a deep freeze for your creative works, an immortality of your privacy.

Sounds like a very easy business to set up, establish, then sell to Google.

simon said...

interesting post, as the last two books I've read have been published posthumously.
I know one of them was presented counter to some of the author's wishes. But as his instructions were with the intent of maximising financial return for his estate (and the book's shifting big units as is) then I think the publisher's decision was forgivable. Plus the finished book is great.

Regarding the other book, I've no idea whether it compromises the author's intent in any way, but without wanting to sound mean, I'd rather it stayed unpublished. It was a bit rubbish.

Anonymous said...

"If they never wanted them published, why didn't they burn them on the spot or at least leave a will with "burn the entire contents of my desk drawer" in it?"

As noted, Kafka did. That's the whole point of the question: "Should publishers publish works posthumously *against* the author's wishes. Their wishes have been stated in such a way that it presents a moral dilemma. Whether it's for the enrichment of society (I think historical preservation might be different, because then you'd have to seek it out, not just buy it at Borders)or the enrichment of the inheritors of the estate, it's still basically denying someone a last--and perhaps dearest--wish.

And, burn them on what spot? When their high cholesterol they didn't know they had catches up with them? Or they get t-boned at an intersection? You don't aways get the time to compose the perfect death poem on the way out.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the missing close-quotes @1:30.

Mara Wolfe said...

An author's creative property (i.e. written work, characters, worlds) is theirs before and after death. No matter who owns it, they cannot claim true ownership over the work, therefore the author's wishes should be respected.

Alex said...

That's why Neil Gaiman is adamant about author's wills detailing what will happen to the works. He suggests, even prior to the publishing process, that every writer drafts one, to protect their IP.

Erin Cabatingan said...

I have a theory that once we're dead, some of the things that we worried so much about in this life--like appearances and what people think of us--won't really matter so much. So, even if I don't want something of mine published while I'm alive, I probably won't care once I'm dead.

If the work is a journal or memoir, their might be the consideration of what publishing it would do to the deceased's living relatives. When I'm dead, I might not care what others think of me, but my kids might be affected by that. Or maybe I wrote something that could be hurtful to another living person. I think those things should be taken into consideration.

Neil said...

Hi. Speaking as the aforementioned Neil Vogler (hello Wisconsin!) I have had some time to chew on this one. My instinct is to say no, don't you dare publish post-humously, but as other, less inebriated posters have pointed out, it depends very strongly on the individual circumstances. If an author dies leaving unfinished works, then in my opinion those should be absolutely off-limits, regardless of how "important to society" they are perceived to be. If they're unfinished then they're unfit for human consumption -- it's like having a great meal without the sense of satisfaction and fullness that comes afterwards, or if you like your analogies a tad cruder, sex with a fantastic partner but no wondrous climax. And though some readers might fancy that purely as an exercise, we writers are generally all about the finish, baby. On the other hand, if an author has finished works that never saw the light of day for one reason or another I reckon that's okay. The problem comes when we don't know whether the work is finished or not. Perhaps in those cases Judge Judy should decide... Anyway, as for burning the work you don't want the masses to see before you die, the only problem I can see with that is a lot of us don't really plan on dying -- it just happens, and often at a really inconvenient moment. (What were his last words? they asked. "I'll just get my matches...")

Ellen said...

It is a tough question. I've read a few biographies of Anne Frank, and the full Critical Edition of her diary, and there has been debate about whether her father's decision to publish the diary was right.

One the one hand, Anne was a teenage girl who stressed repeatedly that her diary was private, both to her family and in the diary itself. On the other, she was editing it for possible publication, and being a published writer was her dream, which she didn't live long enough to fulfill. Her father chose to publish numerous passages that Anne herself omitted from the revised version.

I've never been certain where I stood on that - I think in the case of Anne Frank, her father was right. That said, my opinion is based on the impact her diary had and hindsight is always 20/20.

If I die unpublished, I will be leaving strict instructions for my heirs to keep trying! I'll also be very precise about what they can and can't publish and hope I scared them enough in life to respect my instructions!

Word verification: squernin. noun. What this topic makes me do. Vascillate, hesitate.

Mira said...

Anon - really? My 1600 foot bunny death monument painted in pink polka dots and daisies sounds like Las Vegas?


Whenever I have a good idea, someone steals it.

Wow, they built that bunny death monument quickly.

I'm suing.

Mira said...

Am I being disrepectful with my jokes about death monuments?

Sorry, if I am. Highly difficult day at work - letting off steam.

Also, there's a way I may take this issue fairly lightly. I don't really see it as an issue of respect. I think public benefit outweighs individual privacy concerns once someone has passed on.

Annalee said...

Since I'll be dead anyway, I don't care if people see my ugly first drafts.

The only thing I would find really terrible is if my work got locked up in some kind of awful legal nonsense (like what happened with Roger Zelazny). The best way I can think to prevent that is to order my works released into the public domain (or creative commons) upon my death. That wouldn't prevent people from being crazy/greedy/slimy about my stuff, but at least it would protect people who were trying to do something awesome. As long as awesome people could do what they wanted, I wouldn't care about "crass exploitation," because I'd be dead :).

Per yesterday's identity discussion, I may identify as a writer, but I certainly don't identify as my work. In the end, after all, they're just words.

MaLanie said...

I was leaning toward the "respect the authors wishes" camp, but after reading Purple Clover's post on Emily Dickenson I don't know where to stand on the issue.

You made a great point, Clover.

Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy said...

Wills, trusts and estates are forwarding thinking documents which require an event to occur before they become enforceable. The problem with this is that when people create them it is often hard to see what they might be leaving behind when that event occurs. As for leaving it up to the executor or trustee, you’d be amazed how many people name someone to that position and then go on the have a feud or fallout with them── yet they neglect to update their will, trust or estate. If one really wants to safeguard something from being published, sold or shown they might be wise to have the executor/trustee of those things be a non-family attorney or bank who has a binding legal interest to their client both while living and deceased.

Gwen said...

My mom burned everything she wrote as a teenager on the off-chance some wiseass kid (me or my siblings) might try to publish it. I don't think writers should have to do this to prevent people from invading their privacy!

Annie Reynolds said...

Lets face it Nathan, our work evolves and changes as we do, hopefully for the better. I like to keep works I have done in the past as a guide post to what I was capable of then and where i have (hopefully) progressed to now.
If you look back on any project, you will see an evolution of style, a refining of voice and a fine tuning of talent.
I look at homework assignments completed more than 30 years ago and although I would shudder for anyone else to see them I like to keep them as a personal reminder of where I began.
The same applies to my first attempts to find what has developed into my voice, they are personal reminders, that is all.
The work I do now is the work I am prepared to show the world, well some of it at least. I would be mortified if my earlier attempts were ever made public, I have a pride in my work and myself that should be respected in both life and death.
There is no question that if you were to take a friends or a family members diary and read it, you would be committing a gross invasion of their privacy, so why does this change once we die.
Think of an artist you respect and admire, do you really want to see his adolescent scratches and doodles, the ones he did before he knew how to hold a pencil correctly, and if so why, so we can feel better about the fact that in the beginning he was crap too.
We all know how hard it is to make a living as a writer, work we believe in is nigh to impossible to have read by agents or publishers. If we have work that is worthy then we put it out there, everywhere we can, in an attempt to have it read. Doesn't this beggar the question then, if it is work the author did NOT want read, then why would you want to sully your memory of a great author with work he or she had deemed unworthy of public consumption?

Bethanne said...

Ooo, toughie. i thought about this recently after hearing that Suzanne Simmons/Elizabeth Guest had passed away. I think she was working on book number three. And I felt sad for her family, her friends...and her fans.

I don't know. I think the author's wishes should be upheld... But, in reality, which author is going to be refusing to publish their work...even unto death? And if the author had died, he/she probably isn't going to be too worried about the final product anymore. You think? I don't know. I don't think I would be too worried. But that's just me.

With a solid fan base, any fan who finds the writing lacking or first draftish would probably allow for that, thinking...she must not have gotten to finish it. :)

Jil said...

I definately think a person's wishes for after they die should be respected, unless that wish is to hurt another creature. If a writer does not want his work published he must say so.

As for me, I hope to have a very dramatic death, hit all the headlines, then they'll be fighting to publish my seven novels and I will be jumping up and down in the clouds with glee!

Anonymous said...

Author's wishes should be the LAW. Who did the work but the author? If the author chose not to publish juvenalia, or second-rate work, why should a reputation be damaged because of greed on the part of the estate, or a publisher or agent... Ridiculous.
Of course, if the writer intended that something be published, that's a different question.

therese said...

Interesting. My mother took writing classes, had a few pieces published in magazines, etc. She was not famous, had no true love of writing, or desire to be an author. I do.

Mom was funny about having her name on something she wrote, as she aged. She wanted her writing to be anonymous, even the articles she wrote for her church magazine, (which didn't happen).

In my memoir, I used some of my mom's own pieces, slightly edited by me; one was a personal letter to a friend, another a journalistic account of a trip, and another was combined from different versions of a writing assignment. There wasn't much saved to choose from... Pieces she had worked on to publish, weren't used.

Granted, my memoir is my work, but it's still Mom's writing, that I'm publishing, though she's dead.

Until now, I hadn't considered any of these writings, I am publishing, as part of the "estate".

If you have the time, give me some insight as to how this would be handled. Is the percentage of Mom's writing in comparison to the complete memoir, property of the estate?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Anais Nin dictated that her diary could only be published when the last person involved had died. I think that was a nice balance between publication and being respectful of others.

Hard to say in general. There are so many reasons why it could go either way.

LCS249 said...

No. Period.

Annie Reynolds said...

I think it is a question of intent. If it is the authors intent to publish, then I can see no reason not to publish. I have only recently finished reading the final book in the TROY series by David Gemmell. I, like so many others mourned his loss, and while I was aware his wife completed his final novel there did not seem to be any feeling of invasion; this is a work he clearly wanted read. I would feel disturbed however if I ever saw Druss or Legend out there in the cinemas as he was adamant he did not want hollywood to get their hands on the character of Druss and change it in any way as it was based on his step father who he admired and respected. He had been made offers which he turned down and jokingly said if it were ever to hit the cinemas it would be over his dead body. A very sad statement now in hind sight.

Roscoe James said...

The author. Always. Long as he hasn't signed them away.

Dara said...

As much as I'd like to say that it would be the moral thing to do, I know from my standpoint, I don't really care what happens to my stuff after I've passed. I'd rather it be published; it's more likely that it will last for posterity's sake that way.

I have to agree with what Mira (and probably others, haven't read all the comments) said in that once you're dead, you're dead.

For me, even if it's something I never want anyone else to see, I can't really do anything about it. What do I care anyway? I'm no longer here amongst the living--life (on earth) is over.

Earthly concerns won't matter to me then; I'm sure I'll be too busy enjoying heaven to care if people here see a controversial or questionable unpublished manuscript or diary entries.

Jill Lynn said...

There's a big difference between manuscripts a writer never intended to be published, and those a writer specifically told someone NOT to have published. For an author's estate to publish the latter is plain wrong. And for the estate to justify doing so by saying they're publishing it because the public deserves it? Give me a break. That's nothing but sugar-coating to hide how greedy they are.

Richard Lewis said...

"Should" they? Of course not.
"Will" they? Of course.

But to be selfishly honest, I am much more pragmatically concerned about being published with my blessings while I'm still alive.

Eva Ulian said...

I was once told that the moment your words are written on paper they are no longer yours.

Walter Agony said...

I'm a huge Patrick O'Brian fan and I thought it was sheer grave robbery when they published his last unfinished manuscript as 21.

Anonymous said...

I happen to think that I should have the same control over what happens to my written work as I have over the rest of my property. And that includes having it destroyed, if I choose--think of the jewelry that's buried with corpses. However, in a more practical sense, I would like to be able to leave the proceeds to whomever I choose, forever, without the book falling into the public domain. You would never say that my shares of stock have now fallen to the general public, or that my descendants should hand over my great-grandmother's teapot--or for that matter, that artwork held in private collections should be turned over to "the public" after a specified time, but for some reason, books are different. I don't "own" my work in the same way a business man or a farmer owns his.
I should be able to leave the rights to my work to my descendants (or to some charity or other interest) in perpetuity.

Scott said...

Death profiteering? Even debate on the issue is barely dignified.

If someone can do something like this against specific wishes and look themselves in the eye after, there are names for them and special places in hell. Even if not one penny is made, it's slimy to the extreme. And the hound of "but what if we didn't have so-and-so's work?" just doesn't hunt. I'm sure there are plenty of works we've not seen yet somehow managed to survive without, so any other position on the matter strikes me as incredibly selfish if not opportunistically ghoulish.

If it's not stipulated, then the estate should handle any publication in the best interests of the deceased to the degree they are known and surmised. But if the author, painter, sculptor, candlestick maker doesn't want you to see it, f*ck off. End of. said...

I cracked open a dusty old trunk when I was a kid and found a bundle of letters. My mom told me they were letters between grandma and hubby. Grandma had asked that they be destroyed when she was gone. They weren't. I'm glad.
The author's wishes matter, but if they really wanted to destroy their work they could. We don't "deserve" to see these types of work, but it sure is nice when we do.

hippokrene said...

Anon:""Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread."
--Franz Kafka

Who criticizes Max Brod for ignoring that?"

I do.

KK said...

Using C. S. Lewis as an example, The Chronicles of Narnia are now currently in print in it's 3rd or 4th changed order since the 70's. Of the 7 books, the executor of the estate has scrambled the order of the books several times, now with a forward in the front saying that Mr. Lewis didn't have the clout to tell the publisher he wanted it the way it is now! Of course, those of us who pay attention know better. I am not in favor of knowing the secrets of the magic that we found out in book 6 which is now book 1. Incredible. Of all the books of Mr. Lewis' that I have read, once you have noted his INCREDIBLE ability to succintly describe surroundings and emotions, you also know he knew how to draw out the story and give you the answer when it was required.

Also, if you have read The Dark Tower, a brilliant unfinished novelette, the frustration makes your head explode when you get to the end and are left hanging from the cliff with not even a thread of a thought as to where he was taking the story. So why was it published? To induce anger?

In short, if you want everything published, then write it down and put it with your personal docs. If not, burn it. If you have a series, be sure to note that the order is not to be trifled with.

Be specific.

Anonymous said...

Sure you're glad, but I also think it's different from running out and publishing them. That was your grandma. Because her wishes were not followed, you know her better--but her relationship with her husband is really not anyone else's business, and she didn't want anyone peeking in on them. She didn't destroy them. Why? Maybe she read them every day, and couldn't bear to do it, hence the stipulation to her children to destroy them.

A lot of people are commenting that they won't care when they're dead, or that a writer has to expect a loss of privacy due to having chosen to pursue a writing career. You wanted to be published, so that negates your right to choose which facets of yourself to reveal, and how your legacy is arranged for public view? That in death, you lose the right to clothe yourself as you wish, draw the shades on your personal desires and fears? Simply because you did the natural thing and wrote it all down? Or didn't think to burn it all when you were clearly still visiting it?
That sucks.

Adaora A. said...

The author's wishes should be obeyed because it's their work. Yes, once an author releases a work into the public arena then it becomes something that is partly the public's to interpret and get meaning from too. But if an author explicitly states that they don't want something published and it's done anyway, you have a problem.

Furious D said...

If you don't want it published after your death, burn it.

Or you could haunt your heirs and your publisher until they stop.

I'm not saying that it is right to publish something the author doesn't want to see the light of day, but people are people, and that means that often the wishes of the deceased are not always honoured. Especially when it can bring in some cash.

karen wester newton said...

Science fiction author Robert A Heinlein TRIED to destroy all copies of his first novel FOR US THE LIVING. Unfortunately for him, a friend had kept a copy. Decades after RAH died, the fried gave the copy to his estate; as his widow had died, too, there was no one left to stop them from publishing a book that did nothing to help his reputation but did earn them some money.

I considered it an act of greed, pure and simple.

goldchevy said...

If we abided by their wishes, we'd have no Emily Dickinson.

Michael Pickett said...

I say, go with the author's wishes. There has to be a reason he wants the work unpublished. Even if we don't know what that reason is or don't agree with it, doesn't change the fact that he has a reason. And he wrote the dang thing. He should be able to determine what happens to it.

MzMannerz said...

"Should Publishers Publish Works Posthumously Against the (Deceased) Author's Wishes?"

I think not.

Writer from Hell said...

No, shouldn't publish against the author's wishes posthumously. Absolutely not. It will hurt his soul.

On the other hand, we are here - alive and wishing to be published, so...

Jil said...

Everyone seems to think they'll know the exact time of their death and so whisk out and burn everything the day before. Remember, while there's life there's hope and that's why the papers are not burned, the love letters destroyed and the last of the savings spent. That's why we have Wills with the expectation they will be honored.

Jen C said...

Errr... I'm just imaginging someone printing a volume of all of my Twitter updates after my death. Nah, actually that would be kind of cool!

Then all of my legions of fans would know exactly what I think of every Biggest Loser contestant ever, how many boys I have had crushes on (fictional and otherwise), and how I am always hungry.

Publish away, I say! If you're dead, I can't see why you'd care. If my family could make a bit of money out of said volume, then they should go for it.

akisdad said...

This point might already have been made in the pile of posts above, but there is an aspect of the intent of those publishing to take into account as well. It might be hard to tell the difference, but some things get published because they've been read and the reader wants them shared. Others because there is a quid to be turned.
Something that looks like a novel... I'd probably say yes (if I was interested in reading that novel). Something that looked like a personal diary... oh difficult. Then, I think, it comes down to the question of why was it being published. At least we all have the option of just not buyiing the work.

Chuck H. said...

I'm in favor of honoring the wishes of the dead whenever possible. However, I think it behooves those who will someday die to take some precautions. I have heard of something called a "literary executor". I assume that is someone trustworthy chosen by a writer to handle his/her body of work after said writer's death. So if you don't want it published and you don't want to burn it yourself, better choose someone you can trust to do it for you.

ros said...

The public deserve nothing. We have no rights and should have no say.

The author can make their wishes known and it is up to the beneficiaries and executors of their estate to ensure that those are carried out.

I would like all my work to be published posthumously, please.

Janny said...

How is this even a question?

No. Don't do it. Especially against the author's expressed wishes. What part of "I do not want these made public" do we not understand?

The notion that everything an author writes is "for" his or her public is, to my mind, nonsense. Every one of us writes things that are nothing more than explorations, larks, seeing if we can do a particular style, a particular word length, a particular genre. If someone got it in their heads that because I was an author with a following, that somehow every word I wrote should be in some way shared (read: exploited) for the sake of keeping my name (brand?) alive past my death, when I specifically said NOT to do that, then they've proven themselves to be no friend of mine. And that DOUBLY applies to family.

If an author makes no particular wishes known, one way or the other, of course, then the heirs can do what they want to with it. Again, however, respect for the departed should be uppermost in mind. Not the idea that these things "need to be shared" with eager readers out there; that's just an excuse, and not a very good one, for the greedy desire to cash in on someone else's work. Heirs who publish things specifically AGAINST an author's wishes deserve to be disowned, and if possible, to have to pay back anything the deceased was generous enough to will them otherwise.

For those who say, "Hey, the author's dead, what does it matter?" matters. Someone mentioned the word "trust" in the combox, which is the crux of the matter. If you cannot be trusted to treat even the wishes of the dead with respect, I wouldn't want you dealing with me while I'm still alive. Period.

Yes, we wouldn't have had several works of literature or poetry had the authors' wishes been respected...but so what? Those works are not OURS to begin with. They're the property of the one who created them, and he or she has the right to dictate what's done with them in perpetuity. Deliberately defying those wishes is beneath contempt, and to my mind, NO end justifies that means.


Maya / מיה said...

Speaking from a personal perspective, I would be incredibly honored if someone would dig out my, say, NaNoWriMo novel and publish it posthumously. (Or prehumously!) I would only have problems in two situations:

1. If the profits were going to the benefit of someone I had never wanted to enrich... not even a portion of them to my widespread descendants or vast charitable foundations

2. If the work was misrepresented as something I had personally polished for publication

(This two caveats remind me of sleazy situations, like when someone released Christina Aguilaira's demo tape from when she was 14 and called it her "new CD"... THANK YOU True Hollywood Story!)

I've browsed through Jane Austen's two unfinished novels, THE WATSONS and SANDITION, as well as the history of England she wrote as a teenager, and while they aren't quite PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, it was cool to see how her style had developed. I see the desire to read even sub-par work as the ultimate compliment!

Anonymous said...

My kneejerk asnwer is no. If the author was alive, he'd be his own gatekeeper. He's dead, sure, and doesn't know if it's out there now, and presumably it makes no difference to him--but still. It's his baby, and his choice.

That said, if a new Jane Austen work showed up, I don't care what Cassandra did (or what Jane told her to do, burning letters and all)--I wanna read it! Hypocrite that I am.

The First Carol said...

Your dead, stop trying to control people from the grave. Wait. This might make an interesting read. Let's fight it out in court, rival cousins and the quest for gramp's manuscript...but did he really write it? There was that hospice nurse who...

Let me work on this.

Claire0803 said...

If the author lets it be known that a portion of their work is not to be published, or is private, then the wishes of the writer should be honored. In my opinion, the work of the author is their heart and soul, in print. If that person was not willing to expose that much of themselves to the world in life, their wishes should be honored in death. Of course the family or estate has the final say so. Hopefully the writer's wishes would be respected.

KatTerr said...

Eh. I don't know about this. I've read through the comments and can see both sides. I'm leaning towards a no, though - if the author made it expressly clear that he or she didn't want something published, then the respectful thing for the heir to do is destroy it or keep it private. If the author didn't express anything particular regarding it, though, I say go for it.

Henri said...

I would think that over time, the unpublished written works of an author should be released to the public, despite the author's wishes. Writers aren't any smarter than anybody else, they just write better. I know this for a fact because I is one.

Vancouver Dame said...

Publishers should only publish works that have the approval of the estate of the deceased author.

My concern is that information could be made public from a journal or personal entries which might cause harm to descendants of the author. The date between the writing and the publishing (decades or centuries) would determine if the privacy of the author should be ignored.

I agree that if you don't want it read, destroying the material is the only sure way. I read some of Kafka's Journals, and love to read anything about the beats, especially Kerouac. I also enjoyed the books which were written by the 'Killer Bees'-Benford, Brin, and Bear - based on info regarding previous works of Asimov. They were written with the permission of the estate.

Another link regarding this:(specifically sci-fi)

As an author, we might be aghast at the idea of our private thoughts being made public, but as a reader, we are hungry to reaffirm that others are human too. (making mistakes, losing at love, etc)

Reading journals or author notes help us understand to a certain degree what drives the writer.

Whether we have a right or not to peek into their souls will be debated for a long time.

Eric said...

The dead have rights. Otherwise, why are the living bound by wills? If it is so willed, then so be it, as long as it is within the boundaries of law and morality.

The world will go on even if a masterpiece is lost here and there along the way.

It's not like we're talking about destroying the cure for cancer to satisfy a corpse.

SZ said...

A person who puts their wishes in writing should be respected for ever. Even by family and / or estate I feel.

Ajax said...

Why do we write? Hopefully it is to say something to another person about the human condition on this earth. How do we know what that human condition will be after we are gone? Did Dickenson or Nabokov know that they would influence the way humans write and read literature? Surely not. Should private journals be published? From the literary criticism perspective, absolutely. Understanding the author helps us to understand the work. An author is a public figure, like it or not. Once we have forayed in to the public eye dear friends, our private lives are gone. If you fear something you have written may cast a poor light on your reputation, your family or your body of work, destroy it while you are alive. BUT, who knows how your writing will be perceived after you are gone? If you have written “The Catcher in the Rye” of the 21st Century, and no one realizes it until after you are dead and gone for 40 years, there is no one left to inform the scholars about your writing life, other than your body of work. E-mails, blogs, chat sessions, journals, working scripts, note cards, college essays, whatever the form may be, HUMANITY deserves everything you have left behind. Would you leave everything behind and allow access to it if you knew that your journal that includes your sexual orientation or personal proclivities would help readers, critics, and scholars appreciate your work for the next 200 years? I bet you would…

Nick said...

I think it depends how good the work is, if it's really good I want to read it!

Kate H said...

An author's wishes should be respected after death.

PurpleClover said...


I'm thinking you need to add a poll. It almost seems like a dead center split. This is the grey-ist topic entertained in a while I think. Usually it seems there is a consensus but WOW.

Scott said...

Reading back, I think some are missing the point. It's not the idea of publishing something after someone's death that's the issue. It's publishing it against their wishes.

Not yours. Don't touch.

Jil said...

Scott - I agree.

writtenwyrdd said...

Wow, Nathan, you bring up a tough question. I can see both sides so clearly, and both agree and disagree with both! If an author states his or her works shall be burnt/destroyed/not published, that's what they want, because it's what they stated clearly. But the estate can override that statement legally. Is it morally right? I'd argue that a personal diary of someone's pain and grief is not the same thing as an unpublished novel. So, for me, it depends on context, on teh work involved, and on the writer's stated wishes.

Scott said...

The value lent to our society by the posthumous review of an author's unpublished works is immeasurable.

It will be reviewed and referenced and published eventually anyway. Would you rather a family member did so, or an historian at some far distant point? And does that span of time somehow make one "right" and the other "wrong"? I don't think it does.

Anyway, my full thoughts on the topic won't fit in a comment thread...
If you're curious.

Marva said...

As usual, too many comments to wend through.

HOWEVER, there have been instances when the author did not express a wish one way or the other, and his/her heirs decided to not publish their works. I believe this was a problem with Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons). Should the family get to suppress works that the author would have been okay with publishing?

Again, this is against the author's wishes (if not stated to not publish), yet these so-called heirs get to make an arbitrary decision.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For me: Publish anything I wrote posthumously. Why would I give a flying f** anyway if I'm dead?

Venus said...

Perhaps I see the world of ethics in too black & white terms for some but to me this is no debate. The author as creator retains the right to their creation and if they expressly wish not to be published then that needs to be respected. Death does not change anything in this regard, especially, if the desire is motivated by a desire for material gain, as it probably often is.

I would go far as to say that doing anything that goes against someone's express wish is wrong, in life or death, and frankly, I find even the idea of it offensive.

Soul Trekking said...

I would hope that many authors have a will that has this covered (by giving permission to a loved one or saying no). But, if something is in process, I don't see why it shouldn't be published, so long as royalties, etc. go to the family of the deceased.

Anonymous said...

Okay, okay, You can publish my journals after I'm dead. And my notes, sketches, letters, and grocery lists.

I thought you'd never ask.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you have super-double-secret knowledge of an unpublished Larry Durrell ms, don't you? Please-say-yes, please-say-yes, please-say-yes.

Rowenna said...

I refused to see the Chronicles of Narnia movies because CS Lewis once said that he preferred his books not be made into films. A person, while they are alive, has the authority to publish or prevent from publishing their own work, and as it is their creation, I think that an express wish not to publish a certain piece should be adhered to. However, if there are no wishes left, I think it is an ethical decision left to the heirs. Just because a work wasn't finished and/or published in an author's lifetime doesn't mean they didn't intend for it to eventually be made public.
Plus, if we keep publishing posthumously, there's less room for new (live) authors on the publishing rolls :)

mkcbunny said...

If the author has specifically stated that a work is not to be published, the publisher should not publish posthumously. I certainly wouldn't want an incomplete or partial work published if I'd stated against that.

However, if nothing's been said one way or the other, then I think publishing is proper. After all, presumably the author wanted the work to come out and was writing it to be read. I think the sticky point for me would be that if I got hit by a bus and my unfinished MS were printed, even with a clean-up and edit by someone else, it might not be what I wanted. But unless I'd specifically stated that I didn't want it printed, I'd rather it saw the light of day than it didn't.

Anonymous said...

If shit wasnt published posthumously we wouldnt have A Moveable Feast, now would we? I like that book, don't you? Ha. Thought so. I can always count you guys.

Central Content Publisher said...

I'm not inclined to be bound by wishes issued strategically beyond the reach of all reasonable appeal.

If I promised that I wouldn't publish someone's work, I would keep that promise whether they lived or not. The rest is archeology.

AravisGirl said...

It seems rather disrespectful to publish a dead person's work when they asked for it not to be.

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