Monday, January 31, 2011

A Novel Collaboration

Two weeks ago I shared thoughts about co-authoring screenplays, and last week mentioned lessons learned while collaborating on non-fiction.

What about co-authoring a novel? I’m currently doing that and it’s fun! But warm up carefully! This is where I see the most potential for sprains!

Many questions came to mind when I was invited to collaborate on Serenade for the Sword, an action/romance. Questions such as: What about voice? How do we handle differences of opinion? Who decides whether Dick and Jane go up the hill or if Jane tumbles down? What if I think Spot (the Beagle) should be named Whiskey (the Australian Shepherd)? And so on.

Before you start, make certain you have the same goals. Discuss your process. For example, are you a plotter or pantser and how does that impact each of you. Then talk about how you’re going to approach agents, editors, marketing, revisions, who does the final draft (thereby establishing the final “voice,” which is critical), how to agree when you disagree, and so on. Talk about why it makes sense to collaborate. Does one author have an established track record and the other doesn’t? What then, is the benefit to both? Make sure you’re equally passionate about the story. This is very important.

Don’t forget to discuss deadlines and schedules. One partner pressuring the other isn’t conducive to an enduring relationship. Discuss your own strong points. If you’re both good at writing a synopsis, wonderful! If only one of you excels at that, who do you suppose should do the first draft? But decide how you’re going to share all of your tasks. Then write a contract and sign it.

Back to process. How should this novel get written?
  • First draft by one author, revisions/second draft by the other author? Then back again? That’s what we’re doing and it works well. I'm fortunate since my co-author said, “Change anything!” But then it's his turn to edit again, then mine. This has helped establish a consistent voice for the book, which is my most significant concern, and our discussions about plot points and character development have been fun.
  • Each of you draft every other chapter? This is done regularly and can be very effective in a book with POV shifts, as that viewpoint and character's development can be tied to one author for the entire manuscript.
  • Or should you try to write every sentence together? Sounds impossible to me, though I suspect it’s been done.

Later in the process, before revisions are requested by an agent or editor, discuss what you’re willing and unwilling to change in the manuscript. You can’t play bad cop/good cop with an editor.

Here’s a very simple collaborative contract sample, though you should consider consulting an attorney to assist you in drawing up your actual contract.


Collaboration Agreement between (Author Blue) and (Author Green) for
(Working Title)
Prepared (Date)

(Author Blue) and (Author Green) agree to:

1. Together, and equally, develop, write, and complete revisions to the manuscript (Working Title), and to share equally in subsequent efforts to receive a publication contract.

2. Subsequent to discussion and approval by both, share all expenses for pursuing publication 50%-50%.

3. Enter into third party agreements, such as with an agent or publisher, only if both authors agree to the terms of the agreement and sign the agreement.

4. Share all royalties and earnings for publication or sale of (Working Title), to any media, 50%-50%.

Author Blue Signature and Date

Author Green Signature and Date


Points that should be discussed and could be addressed in the contract include:

  • How royalties are divided (might not be 50%-50% as noted above).
  • How costs are approved, accounted for, and reimbursed.
  • How credit is to be given when published. Whether: Each author’s name or a “shared” pen name.
  • If this is a ghost writing project, a confidentiality agreement may be needed. In that event, you also need clarity and written agreement regarding who will sign the publication contract and how payment will be received or allocated, as well as specifically when and how the “author” collaborator (versus the “expert”) may each claim credit for the book.
  • What each author has authorization to negotiate, without consulting their co-author.
  • What if one author is unavailable (out-of-the-country or ill) – what authority does the other author have.
  • How to settle disagreements.
  • What if one author decides they want to pull out of the project, what then?
  • What if one author is agented and the other isn’t?
  • Should each author have veto power for one or two issues?
  • What if you have three collaborators? Or more?
  • How you keep efforts for marketing equitable, especially if one person is uncomfortable pitching or has other commitments, thereby placing a burden on their collaborator.

In summary, collaborating can be fun, though it’s not for everyone. Have similar goals. Communicate. Remember, it’s all negotiable, so negotiate your collaboration contract before you start. If you're both passionate about the story and can commit the necessary time and effort, you might just win the three-legged race and together, sign that big book contract.

See ya at the finish line!

Janet Fogg


Margaret Yang said...

This was very helpful. Thank you!

E.J. Wesley said...

Definitely a tricky proposition, but one that seems to have tons of potential. Thanks for such a thorough rundown!


Emma Lai said...

Thanks for the useful information. I recently had a friend ask about this very thing. I'm going to point her to your blog.

Anonymous said...

Loved the bad cop/good cop reference...why can't we do that?!!! From one of your collaborators... Are you going to do a posting about two-timing your collaborator?! Karen Lin

N. R. Williams said...

In-depth post, Janet. I'm sure it will be a help to all who are interested in collaborating with someone.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's much more complicated than one would imagine, isn't it? I suspect some perfectly good relationships could be ruined by collaborating on a book.

Janet Fogg said...

Thanks for stopping by! I'm so pleased I could offer some thoughts on how to move forward if you decide to collaborate, or additional points to consider as you continue to collaborate.

You're right, Pat, it is kind of like dating!

Right, Karen?!

As I mentioned several weeks ago, Karen and I have collaborated on screenplays. At one point we started working on the novelization of one of our screenplays, and we've collaborated on workshops. She's also collaborated with several other writers, just as I have.

Margaret has also collaborated for some time, so if either of you have additional points to share, I hope you'll jump in.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

The contract information was very helpful. Thanks for an insightful post.
Liz Arnold
Message to Love
The Wild Rose Press