The Clock Is Ticking on Plotting Your Author Literary Estate

For those of you who still read the Parade newspaper supplement, last Sunday’s edition holds a lesson for authors in the guise of a feature story about Jack Black and the upcoming “Jumanji” sequel (which, by the way, I’m looking forward to. Loved the original movie, love the actors in the remake, and the trailer made me laugh).

It was buried in the middle, a brief mention that Black was currently filming “The House With a Clock in Its Walls.” (Link to Amazon)

Only readers of a Certain Age will look at that and say, “Hey! I read that book as a kid!”

Author Literary Estate

The book about a boy, Lewis Barnavelt, who is sent to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents are killed in a car crash. They learn that his relatives can use magic, and he finds himself embroiled in a conflict with one of the home’s previous inhabitants. Given the creepy doings about the place and the presence of magic, one reviewer called it “perfect for Harry Potter fans!”

“Clock” is also notable for being illustrated by Gothic artist Edward Gorey.

Edward Gorey art

For authors, it’s a reminder to tend to your IP garden. “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” was published in 1973. The author, John Bellairs, died in 1991. In 2011, the Bellairs estate signed a deal to produce “Clock” as a feature film. Although I didn’t see it in any of the stories, I’m confident in predicting that if this movie makes money, the producers will turn to the rest of the 12-book series.

No matter what happens to the movie, it can only be a windfall to the estate. More of Bellairs’ books may be brought back into print, a new movie tie-in version of “Clock” will appear, and sales should go up.

Note that this is the first movie to be based on Bellairs’ IP. Two of his stories, including “Clock,” were made into one-off TV shows in 1979 and 1980.

john bellairs

John Bellairs (1938-1991): “Better late than never, I guess.”

This is why writers must take care of the future of their literary properties. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. If you don’t put your IP in the hands of someone you trust, then anything might happen. The family might suppress your books they find uncomfortable. They may publish your juvenilia you should have burnt. They might even publish your correspondence. Or they might do nothing at all when Hollywood comes calling, or, worse, make a terrible deal.

Even if you don’t think a movie will never be made from your works, you should also know that the unexpected can always happen. The time to be prepared for your legacy is before you can no longer do anything about it.