Writing with a co-author can be a hugely rewarding experience. Especially if you manage to find someone who shares your vision, passion and drive for whatever it is you are both writing together. But even when you are working with someone who you like, appreciate, or respect, you still must make sure you have an agreement in place between you – for when something goes wrong or there is a misunderstanding about what is expected.
When you are writing alone, the only person you have to worry about is yourself – keeping your deadlines, marketing your book, approaching Agents1) and publishers2), it’s all on you! When you work with someone, then you need to agree from the outset who will take the lead in certain things. For example, Agents will want to have a specific contact, they won’t want to have to call first you then your writing partner to discuss something. You need to consider what will happen to your book should one of you back out, decide it’s not working, or even die.
Below I’ve compiled a list of all the things you need to discuss and agree with your writing partner – for yours and their peace of mind – even before you set that first word down.
- Who will contribute what? Will you “share” an even split of your novel? Will you write alternate chapters? Will one write the novel, while the other supplies the ideas and does the research? Make sure you both know and have agreed what your primary contribution to the novel will be.
- How will royalties3)be split? 50/50 splits are very easy to agree in principle. But what if, after writing, you have found that one person has done the lion’s share, while the other has only done a little? This is something that you will notice long before your novel is finished (hopefully) and, if it is the case and you have agreed on a 50/50 split, make sure you raise your concerns as soon as you have them. You may have to find another way of evaluating how you value each other’s share of the process (possibly by looking at how much time you spend working instead of how much you have written.)
- What are your delivery timescales? Have you worked out how you will both share the work you have written? Ideally, you both want to use the same format (Word, Open Office, etc) so you can ensure that you don’t have any problems opening files. Send them to each other via email. Keep a timescale of when your section/chapter/contribution is expected by and, if there are delays, make sure you have informed your writing partner as soon as you can.
- Who watches the style? If you are both writing, who is going to do the editing? Will you both work on each others? Will one of you do the bulk of it? If one is doing all the editing, is it right that the royalties are still split 50/50? Can you resolve differences in the way you both write, the “voice” you use or give to your characters? Who has final say if you can’t agree?
- Who is the face of your business? Who is going to be the businessman/woman in your little team? As I said earlier, most Agents don’t want to have to contact every writing partner before any agreements can be made, so a single contact is advisable. Does that single contact have the agreement of all writers to make decisions on behalf of them, without having to contact everyone first? Will there be financial reimbursements for taking on this role?
- Sharing Expenses. You’d think it would go without saying that expenses should be split 50/50, but what if one writers pays for something that the other doesn’t agree was necessary? Make sure you have it in writing that expenses will be shared, or that agreement must be made before any expenses are incurred.
- Credit Sharing. How will your names appear on the cover of your book? Who will get their name first? Or will you use a single-author pseudonym4) to get around this argument?
- What if your partner wants out? We all say it won’t happen to us, that our co-authors are lifelong friends, but things happen. It doesn’t have to be because you’ve had an argument, a disagreement or fallen out. It could just be that something has happened which means your writing partner just cannot commit the time any longer. What will happen to your novel at this point? Make sure you have provisions in place, maybe lower the percentage of royalties the partner receives (based upon their contribution so far). Will the remaining partner still have the right to continue with the project, or to take on a new partner?
- What happens if your partner dies? Death comes for everyone and it’s something most people prefer not to think about, if they can help it. But what happens if your partner dies before the novel is complete? Does the existing author get sole rights to continue? If you’ve already published, what happens to your deceased partner’s royalties? Make sure you have both agreed on what happens in this situation.
Once you have battled this out, get it in writing. I know, I know – it sounds so official and we’re writers, we want to just get on with the writing. But you’ll thank me later! To help you out, Adler Books have shared this nice little template for authors to base their agreement on – http://www.adlerbooks.com/collab.html
Hopefully, this will help anyone who is thinking about going into a joint venture. Have I missed anything off? Let me know in the comments !
Thanks for reading!