As the rights director, part of my job is trying to synthesize information on an author’s entire career to pitch front and backlist titles—and to know what is available to be sold or resold now. Foreign rights don’t have as short a shelf life as many others, and we still make foreign deals on books years down the line, sometimes after they’re out of print in the U.S. Recently, I asked one of our clients to send me a copy of an old contract from before we represented him, and he quickly pulled it from his files and got it in my hands. He remarked that he had heard from other authors that they didn’t really keep accurate files, and he couldn’t understand how they functioned. The truth is, sometimes, they don’t do it very well.
So if I can offer you one piece of advice today, it’s this: get organized. Even if organization doesn’t come naturally to you. Even if you find it inherently loathsome. Do not assume that other people will keep records of things you’re getting copies of and don’t assume that you’ll still be in touch with them when you need those things later. Don’t assume that people who you’ve stopped doing business with will prioritize giving you information you want at the speed with which you need it. Keep every single contract, license, and royalty statement you receive. Any time you sign a legal document or are given a financial statement, be sure you can get your hands on it in the future and within a few hours of it being asked of you. Think about saving things digitally to make them easier to find and save space (though you should still keep hard copies with original signatures of any legal agreement as well).
And start early. Plenty of well meaning authors tell me–as they sigh with dismay that they think they maybe did a deal with some country that begins with T for their 3rd or 4th book–that they’re going to organize their paperwork this time. But 20 years in, that’s a much more difficult task than if you start organizing yourself from Day 1. And who wouldn’t want a career with that kind of longevity and potential?