Collaborates Well with Others

GhostwriterI learned things this week! Yay! A friend and I are collaborating on a novel idea (which will have its glory day in the hot sun next month during Camp NaNoWriMo!). We got waaaay ahead of ourselves and started talking about how rights would be spelled out in any contracts we encountered, running on the assumption that this puppy ever gets published.

So in the spirit of knowledge and adventure, we looked into the different ways this collaboration thing could shake out in a publishing contract. The main terms that we dredged up were collaboration agreements, dual authorship, and ghostwriting. Here’s the quickie version of what they are and how they work.

Collaboration Agreement This is simply a catch-all phrase for, you guessed it, an agreement between two or more people to collaborate on a single project. In order to be legally binding, it should be written down. (Publishers usually require that it be so in order to work with the authors on publication, but it’s still a good idea even if you plan on self-publishing.) The agreement should include things like the ownership each contributor has regarding copyright, writing credits, and his or her portion of any royalties accrued. (Unless stated otherwise, it’s typically an equal division between collaborators.)

Dual Authors (Dueling authors? Pistols at dawn!) Also known as coauthors or as joint authors when there are more than two involved, these are the people who will receive writing credit for the project. You see this most often in nonfiction research articles, where the list of the authors and their credentials is nearly as long as the abstract, but with the internet easing the way for collaboration, it’s cropping up more and more in the rest of the writing world. (Note: not all of the listed authors will necessary do fingers-to-pencil-or-keyboard writing. More expert or ‘senior’ collaborators can often get a pass, especially where large amounts of research are involved.)

Ghostwriter (I cannot be the only person who recalls this cheesy TV show…) The gun-for-hire of the writing world, ghostwriters write projects that are actually credited to another person. This usually comes up when a famous but non-writerly person wants to put out an autobiography, or a famous author wants to put out more books a year than is humanly possible. The ghostwriter does the actual writing, ‘in the style’ of the credited author, and usually takes a fee meted out in chunks as pieces of the project are finished. (A ghostwriter can also negotiate to take a smaller fee in exchange for a portion of royalties.) But the ghostwriter will get no credit when it’s all said and done.

So there you have it! The barest-of-bones breakdown of collaboration. You’ll of course need more information if you’re considering entering into such an agreement. You can scroll around the internet for further details on collaboration and copyright, but I found the following articles particularly helpful:

Check out this much-more-detailed article from publishing and entertainment lawyer Lloyd Jassin

Or this one from KB Law: Copyright

Or you could, you know, bite the bullet and actually talk to a literary agent or a publishing lawyer. Whatever you decide to do, if you’re entering into a collaborative relationship, be sure to take steps to protect yourself and your rights. Negotiate out the details, write them down, and get all involved parties to sign. Then get to the real fun: the project itself! Whee!

PS- Don’t forget! Two weeks until the second session of Camp NaNoWriMo! I hope you’re readying yourself in whatever way you like for the literary craziness! (My way involves outlines, blog posts, and an insane amount of Oreos. Insane.)


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