Annie On Writing

June 5, 2011

The Cold Face of Collaboration

Filed under: Writing Tools — Annie Evett @ 11:17 pm

Writers love words and we love to share them. Like minds are naturally attracted to one another and its inevitable that writers come together to build and grow on ideas or characters. Collaborations begin with the best intentions. They are often full of enthusiastic energy where the excitement of the journey blinds its travellers to any of the precautions they might normally undertake when entering a business relationship.

While many collaborative works proceed with few issues, at any point of the process of completing it, something may go wrong. Intentions, focus and direction must be spelt out clearly before the passion of the project carries the participants away. Its only prudent then, to enter into a written agreement before the virtual pen hits the page.

A sample of an Author Collaboration Agreement can be found here .   Its recommended you speak to a legal representative who specialises within the industry and so that you can tailor make a legal agreement specific to your needs and project.

What could possibly go wrong when a few writers get together and do what they love…. to write?

Circumstances, interest and passion levels are bound to change over the course of the project, and an agreement will assist in turning these alterations into confrontations, disagreements and in entering the blame game; which can only damage friendships, business relationships and reputations.

Although it may appear formal, the benefit of having an agreement in place ensures that all parties are answerable to the contract, rather than to each other. So long as the contract is defined, participants contributions and responsibilities should be clear, steering away from the pettiness of nagging or arguments. Most publishers require an agreement to be completed as early in the process as possible, so if you are serious about your project, its prudent to get one in place.  It will serve to protect not only your professional profile, but keep your friendships intact.

The failure of the project is only secondary to the destruction of friendships, networks and public reputations of those involved.  Before  setting sail on your collaborative journey, consider formulating a plan, discuss the answers to the following questions and get some sort of signed contract in place which take your discussions into consideration.

Who Contributes What?

In the absence of a written agreement, it is presumed that there is equal control and ownership. This may or may not be the case in your situation, so the duties and responsibilities of each participants needs to be clearly defined.  Agree on the contribution, the frequency, deadlines and control each writing partner has both in the development of the work, as well as after it has been handed over to the publishers. Be mindful of the tasks which aren’t directly to do with the writing when looking at the workload. Administration, website building, social networking and publicity all take a large chunk of time and expertise and may not be as ‘glamorous’ as putting the words down.

How much is each contributor worth?

Although most collaborations begin with an equal share, its inevitable that some parties take on a larger proportion of the administration and or writing.  Discuss methods which are appropriate to your project of valuing the workload, such as time-based percentages.


Define how the participants will communicate and how it is recorded.  Google docs are a great online sharing tool to store documents and keep notes for research. Decide how the collaboration will be undertaken eg group email, phone calls or via skype. Determine the frequency of communication and back up plans, should one party not be responding or is suddenly unavailable.

Communication break downs are more common with the online community as its often difficult to read a persons intentions through email. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations can result in the upheaval of the project. Prolonged absences occur for variety of reasons; illness, internet access issues, sudden family or work challenges. However this sudden disappearance can cause its own issues with deadlines, miscommunication, double guessing and stress between those not knowing the cause for the silence. Ensure you have back up plans for these eventualities.

Work Habits

The most common cause for collaborative projects to stumble comes about when one party fails to produce the amount of work that they had agreed to initially. Whilst it is understood that most writers hold down other work family and community responsibilities, these things must be factored in during the initial discussions. Work into your deadlines, family commitments, holidays and breaks and discuss one anothers work habits and obligations.

The final say

Who will have the final say over edits of the project? With the different styles and voice adopted by writers, which party has the casting vote?


The business end

No doubt one of the participants will have either more experience or confidence in handling the business decisions and arrangements. Ensure these are spelt out and factored into the workshare agreement; as the paperwork and admin can be a timely and thankless activity.


Although a shared split is the most common, it may be appropriate for your project for one party to bear the cost of production, advertisement, marketing and for them to be re-embursed at publication. This requires consideration with regards to your countries taxation laws and its recommended that you speak to a professional with regards to information surrounding this decision.

The Credit

Although this may not be a burning issue at the beginning of the project, it has the potential for becoming contentious at publication. Decide upfront to the order of names for the front cover and for media releases.

The Abrupt End.

Should a participant decided to opt out, or as a collective, it be decided that their work has not met the agreed performance levels and they are effectively sacked, or more tragically, if they die or are incapacitated, there needs to be plans in place to cover these eventualities.  Discussions might cover credit, control of work, publication rights and monetary compensation.

The dissolution of a partnership is an extremely emotional time, akin to a death, or divorce. Its best not to wait till emotions are highly strung to discuss the future of characters, storylines and the project.

 Getting a contract is not an insult to a friendship or a relationship. Its a business venture highlighting to those involved that you are serious about your craft and your contribution.

Make no bones about it. Collaborative writing is a wonderful experience. It holds the capacity to produce work which goes places you may never have ventured.  It also holds the potential to ruin the strongest friendships and taint professional profiles. To ensure the experience goes smoothly consider making a simple agreement and discussing the questions posed.


The above article does not replace advice from a professional within the legal fraternity, and should not be regarded as anything other than a starting point for discussion.


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