Sunday, May 8, 2016

In Death, Do We Part With A Writer’s Work?

As soon as Prince died and the speculation of how he died and questions about his lack of a will were raised, another subject came up:  What will happen to his unpublished works?

Prince, a prolific writer and talented performer, was 57 when he died, possibly from an accidental overdose. He reportedly has hundreds, possibly thousands of songs written or recorded that, for any number of reasons, did not see the light of day while he was alive.  Should his work be released posthumously, and if so, based on what criteria?  How will “incomplete” material become public?

He literally had a vault of materials.  Other artists have had works released way after their lives passed.  I would expect my unfinished writings to find a home in the public domain – but only if I made provisions for such a thing.  Not everything I penned belongs out there – some of it – incomplete or just not right for the times we live in. But I’m also not Prince.  He has a high standard and had an elite career.  Should the market be flooded with what he left on the cutting room floor?

Prince alluded to his unreleased works in past interviews, so he may have imagined a future when some or all of them would go public.  Why save them unless you planned for them to be viewed at some point?

The world is a tricky place when it comes to art, and the intentions or preferences of its creator. What if his will – if he had one – made it clear that his unpublished works should be destroyed? Must we honor such a wish and be deprived of his great work?

On the other hand, if an artist/writer didn’t oversee the final edits and shaping of that book or music, who are we to say that the work is publishable?  What if a great artist started a painting and stroked out before completing it?  Should it be finished and then sold off?  Should it remain incomplete and displayed somewhere?

We may have to make provisions in our wills, as writers, to state exactly how our works should be treated when we are gone forever. Which writings do you want to never see the light of day, including journals, letters, and drafts? For the materials that you want published, do you have any parameters or demands attached as to how they should be edited or treated?

When posthumous art/music/books are released, they should come with an asterisk.  It is under a cloud in terms of how finished the work was.   The shaping of a piece at the final stages of its development is just as important as the opening lyric, first chapter, or initial brush strokes.  We need to preserve and sanctify the works a creative person gave birth to and finished for public consumption – and to hold those higher than the works released after they died.

I’m sure someone is working on his collection of unpublished materials and trying to figure out how to produce and release Prince’s music over the next 20-30 years.  They’ll be competing with the vaults of other great talents as well.  But most of all, they’ll compete with the legend of Prince to determine what gets released – and when.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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