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All Posts in Category: Collaboration and coauthoring

Collaboration 101

Not everyone who writes a nonfiction book is an expert who happens to be an excellent writer. Sometimes you’re an expert who needs a little help getting the words down. Or you’re a fantastic writer with an interest in a certain subject — but you’re not an expert.

That’s where collaboration comes in. Plenty of successful books are the result of collaboration between two coauthors, usually an expert in the subject and a writer.

Before getting involved in a coauthorship, though, you need to know what you’ll be getting into, what you can expect out of it and what you can do to protect yourself in case something goes wrong – or everything goes right and your book shoots straight to #1.

  • Hammer out a letter of agreement with your coauthor before you start writing.
  • Outline each person’s obligations and responsibilities.
  • Seek representation to protect you – a lawyer or agent.
  • If you’re the writer, keep a share of the royalties unless the upfront payment is significant ($20,000 not $2000).
  • If you’re the expert, protect your knowledge through nondisclosure agreements.

Writers’ organizations, like the National Writers Union, offer model collaboration agreements as a benefit of membership. Some will even help you hammer out your own agreement. Check to see if any of the organizations you belong to offer a benefit like this.

Collaborating Basics

Many books are the result of two (sometimes more) people working together to create a great manuscript.  Sometimes two authors are experts in the subject matter (Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, the authors of The Renegade Writer, are both accomplished magazine writers).  Sometimes one partner is a writer and the other is the expert.  In either case, it’s important to set your expectations up front and be clear about what each partner is doing and what compensation each will get in return.

If an expert approaches you and wants to collaborate on a book, you need to be compensated fairly for your time.  Especially if the expert does not have a publishing contract, you should be paid a certain amount upfront for writing the book proposal and then the book.  This will come out of the expert’s pocket, and he or she can be reimbursed from the advance and royalties when the book is published.  Don’t assume that you’ll be rewarded once the book is published (it often isn’t) and it zooms to the top of the best seller lists (it usually doesn’t).

If you have a book idea that you care about but not the right credentials to write it, you may be able to convince an editor to publish the book if you collaborate with someone who does have the right credentials.  Since the idea is yours, you wouldn’t expect to be paid upfront for the work you do, and you’d want to keep control of the vision through a carefully written collaboration agreement.

If you’re the expert looking for a writer to collaborate with, you do need to understand that there are costs involved. It’s unrealistic to expect someone else to work on your idea for free or for a promise of some future payment that you’re not guaranteeing.

Any collaboration should start with a letter of agreement between the partners, which clearly outlines their roles and their compensation.  Be sure to include deadlines. Decide what will happen if one partner can no longer continue the project because of illness or death.  Think all of this through ahead of time to avoid nasty surprises six months into the project.

Both the National Writers Union and the ASJA have model collaboration agreements for you to use, although you have to be a member to access them.