by Raelene Gorlinsky
Things your collaboration agreement should cover:
~ Copyright is joint and equal, unless the two of you agree beforehand otherwise. You must have this documented and signed!
~ Under the Copyright Act, either party can license the nonexclusive rights to the work, provided they fairly share the profits with the other; this can be altered by your written agreement. Do you want to state that neither party can sell, contract or dispose of the story without joint agreement? What happens if you disagree on where to sell it, or on the terms offered by a publisher?
~ What part of the "writing" will you each do? Is one of you plotting and outlining, and the other writing the actual story text? Are you doing alternating chapters, or are you doing characters X and Y and your partner is doing character Z? Who is doing the research?
~ Will the work be submitted to or through an agent? What if one of you has an agent and the other doesn’t, or you have two different agents?
~ How will your "byline" be shown on the book? Are you using a joint pen name? If you are listing two names, figure out now whose name will be listed first, if that matters to either of you.
~ Who pays what expenses? Research costs, mailing, photocopying, phone bills, possibly travel costs, etc, etc. Are these equally shared? Will you each incur your own expenses and then be "reimbursed" from royalties received?
~ Income: Who gets what percentage of the advance and royalties? An equitable division does not necessarily mean 50/50, if you've agreed up front that one person is taking on a significantly greater portion of the work or risk.
~ What if something prevents your partner from completing their part of the work, due to circumstances beyond your or their control? Are you allowed to finish it up on your own? In that case, who gets what credit and what portion of the income?
~ What if that unforeseen circumstance is the death or incapacitation of one of the writing partners? What control will that person's heirs have in the book, before or after completion or publishing?
~ What about future prequels or sequels to this book? Can either author write one individually, or are they also covered by this collaboration agreement and the work and profits must be shared?
~ What happens if something goes legally wrong? If you get charged with copyright infringement or defamation or any host of things for a section of the book that your partner wrote or researched, do you share equally in the legal liabilities, or is each of you responsible for your own pieces? If so, how do you identify and track who is in charge of each part?
~ Dispute resolution: It wouldn't hurt to have your agreement state what will happen if the two of you cannot come to agreement on some issue.
When you submit or sell a joint book:
Well, to start with, make sure your agent, editor and publisher know up front, before contract, that this is a co-authored book. Yes, we have actually had the circumstance of an author returning the contract and there are TWO signatures on it. Huh? Who's this other person and what do they have to do with this book? Or less terrible but still very bad and unprofessional, the author who waits until after the book is accepted to say, "Oh, by the way, I actually co-wrote this with Wanda Writer."
As mentioned previously, our standard contract contains a clause about co-authors and stating that everything is shared equally between them. If that is not how your arrangement with your co-author is set up, the contract must be revised.
All parties in a co-writing situation should sign the same version of the contract. You can't have varying terms. That would cause enormous confusion, plus the publisher would be stuck with the most restrictive version of each clause. For example, you and your co-author can't have different lengths for grant of publishing rights, can't exclude different subrights. If the payments are not equal—for example, one of you gets 75% of the royalties and the other 25%—that must be explicitly stated in the contract, and you both must sign the same version listing the split. Nor can either of you make unilateral changes to the contract—ALL parties must agree on and sign a future contract revision, were such to occur.
Questions? Horror stories about things that went wrong in a co-writing situation, or raves about how great it worked?