NorLightsPress has published several books as collaborations between two authors and/or artists. In most cases this is a win-win-win situation, but not always. A few of our authors have ended up hating each other. A book partnership can quickly turn dysfunctional when the partners fail to work out certain things in advance. Then they find themselves squabbling over a book that binds them together, for better or worse. Consider these possible scenarios:
You write the entire book and then your partner decides it shouldn’t be published, for whatever reason.
Your partner decides she wants cash up front from you (a buyout) instead of half the royalties.
Your partner doesn’t meet deadlines and you end up doing most of the work, yet she still wants her name on the book and half the royalties.
You and your partner can’t agree whether to self- publish or seek a traditional publisher.
Your partner is obsessive about details and you’re the opposite. You drive each other nuts.
Your partner turns out to be crazy. (This happens more often than you’d believe).
At NorLightsPress, we suffer along with the authors when personal feuds erupt. If a publisher senses there will be legal issues over royalties, negative comments in social media, and overall bad feelings about a book—they will cancel your book contract in a heartbeat.
How can authors avoid collaboration hell? The post below from Helen Sedwick is the best advice I’ve seen for working with other writers, artists, and editors.
By Helen Sedwick for TheBookDesigner.com (Joel Friedlander’s excellent web page)
When a writing collaboration works, partners inspire and complement one other. The creative process is less lonely. But when collaborations fail, the drama may be as ugly as a Hollywood divorce.
For every successful writing partnership, there are dozens of failed ones despite the best of intentions. Not everyone is a team player, and not every team is a winner.
To improve the odds of a successful writing partnership take the time to put the collaboration agreement in writing. Most people resist this idea. Like a prenuptial agreement, it kills the romance. They don’t realize the process of preparing an agreement may be more valuable than the result. If writers do a good job discussing issues at the start, they are less likely to have misunderstandings later.
So before you jump into a co-writing project, discuss and write out the following:
- Describe the Project
Fiction, nonfiction, memoir? Try to craft your elevator speech. Even better, create an outline.
- Draw a Creations Box
I mean this literally. Draw a box and write down what creations are inside the box (and project) and what creations are outside the box and may be used by the partners separately. Sequels, prequels, and competitive works? What about rejected ideas, characters, and scenes?
- Discuss Personal Goals
The most successful partners share common goals. If one partner’s objective is to make money with a genre piece and the other dreams of creating literature, expect friction. I suppose the partners might agree that their diverging goals will be complementary, but head-butting may be unavoidable.
- Describe the Writing Process
Will one partner write out the story in narrative form, and the other flesh out scenes and dialogue? Will you draft chapters and trade them for comments? Some writers work well brainstorming together; others prefer a silent room. How often and how will you meet?
- Set Ground Rules for Critiques
How will you give and receive criticism and comments? Some partners handle bluntness and sarcasm without missing a beat, but most require a gentler touch. The longer you work together, the easier it gets. Remember your partner’s criticism may be a gift; she cares enough to help make the work better.
- Set Realistic Deadlines
Expect the project to take at least twice as long as planned.
- Specify Ownership
Unless you agree otherwise, all partners own equal shares in jointly-created work. Plus each partner has the power to sell or license the work without the other partner’s consent (although income must be shared). Yes, a partner who contributes 5% gets an equal share UNLESS you agree otherwise. Put your ownership percentages in writing. Agree that no partner may sell, license, or transfer any interest in the project without the consent of the other partner. Register the copyright under all names, or the pen name, or all of the above.
- Allocate Income
I recommend the partner who had the original idea own the majority interest, even if it is a token amount (51%/49% split). That little bit saves resentment later. If one partner handles readings and conferences that partner should keep a larger portion of sales made at the events.
- Decide on Credits
Will both names appear on the work and in what order? Will credits be listed as A and B, A with B, or A as told to B? Will you use a pen name?
- Deal With Expenses
If one partner pays for research, editing, design, and marketing, does that partner recoup expenses before income is shared? If income never covers expenses, does the other partner kick in his share?
- Assign Non-Writing Tasks
Who will engage editors and designers, negotiate contracts, handle interviews, and manage social media? Assign tasks. Don’t take the shortcut of saying responsibilities will be shared equally. It never happens. People gravitate to the tasks they do better, and unpleasant work will be left undone.
- Plan for Conflict
You will have disagreements. View them as a sign that something is not working in the manuscript. Listen to each other. Let go of your ego, and look at the problem a new way, your partner’s way. If you cannot agree, decide up front who gets the final say. If the project was one partner’s idea, typically that partner decides. Or pick a third party trusted by both sides.
- No Door Slamming
Agree that neither of you will quit without giving the other party notice of what’s not working and a chance to fix it. Respect requests for cooling-off periods.
- Address Legal Responsibilities
Each partner should promise that all work contributed will be original, will not be defamatory or infringing, and will not invade privacy or other rights. If the partner breaches, that partner should cover costs and liabilities. Don’t be foolish about this. If your partner introduces material you suspect is problematic, rewrite it or reject it. No matter what your agreement says, both of you may be responsible to third parties.
- Call it a Collaboration
Although I have referred to writing partners, the agreement should state that the parties are collaborating for a specified project and are not creating a general partnership.
- Face Death or Disability
What if one of you gets hit by the proverbial bus? Does the other have the right to finish the project with an equitable adjustment in ownership and income? Does all decision-making authority transfer to the surviving partner, or will the heirs or representatives of the deceased or disabled partner have a say?
- Deal with Termination
If the partnership terminates, who owns the work? Who has the right to complete the project? There are no right answers here. The partners need to talk this out.
A writing partnership is like any other relationship; it thrives on respect and communication. As you work on the project, keep the following in mind:
- Nip Resentment in the Bud
If you are feeling unfairly burdened, take the chance of bringing it up. The sooner the better.
- Let the little stuff slide
Entering into a collaboration involves giving up some control. Your partner may have a different approach to a scene, character, or problem. Consider that a good thing. This is why you are working as a team. Laugh together, especially when everything is going wrong.
- Reward Yourselves
When you finish each chapter, share a bottle of champagne. When you complete the first draft, take yourselves out to dinner.
- Keep Communicating
Years ago, a friend told me the motto of a happy marriage: “I can’t read your f**king mind!” The same is true in writing collaborations.
Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014. She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.
New review of Dialogue for Writers
This is a wonderful little book. I’ve published five books — three medical books and two literary books — and I thought I had figured it all out,until I ran into this little treasure titled: Dialogue For Writers. Like Justesen, I too learned that clumsy substitutes for the verb “said” interrupt the flow, but that became even more clear when I read this comprehensive book — an absolutely must-have tool for every would-be author. This book can transform a writer into an author, so every writer must have this precious book on their desk. The book reminded me of another essential book every author must have: Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style– yes, that’s where this book fits in terms of utility.
I was surprised at the fluidity of this how-to book. That’s because Justesen sounds like an admonishing, warm teacher; as if she is talking to you, saying “Oh,c’mon! you can do better than that !” No I’ll always remember that my character’s words are the most important elements of their personalities–without lengthy taglines or repetitive adverbs.
Justesen makes convincing arguments and cites apropos examples to convince readers about following book-saving, story-salvaging points:
1.First person lends itself well to internal monologue, but don’t fall in love with the character’s lengthy internal thoughts.
2.Use Silence. Sometime it reveals more than what could be said by a plethora of words (What? this comes from an author of the book on dialogue? Correct! It shows Sammie’s honesty and forthrightness).
3.It’s okay to use disjointed, broken sentences because that’s how people normally talk.
4.Make sure character’s speech sounds natural and reflects his/her personality, background and circumstances.
5. And finally, use dialects and slang sparingly, because alittle goes a long way.
Reading this book was a delight. It does not have the plot of a thriller or mystery but it is so funny, so convincing and at the same time so educating. It was an enjoyable, rewarding experience. I recommend this book to writers as well as non-writers, or to anyone who wants to effectively communicate by using just the right word at the right time with just the right emphasis.
Kudos to Sanmie Justesen. –Sattar Memon, M.D.