View Full Version : Two friends at work....

09-28-2005, 01:14 AM
I am writing a non-fiction for a friend who wants to tell his story. I must admit it is an interesting story, although, I am new to writing fiction and I find writing non-fiction in someone else’s voice daunting.

My question for you out there is, how do my friend and me approach a publisher? Do we approach publishers or agents with the manuscript that states, Story by my friend and Written by, me? Do we both find lawyers to help us sort out a contract that will accommodate us both, so that he is paid for his story and I get paid for writing it? We want clarification because as we are both new to this we don't want to make the preverbal "don't work with your friend" type mistake.
Thanks, :Shrug:

Cathy C
09-28-2005, 01:36 AM
Hi, Pookiestop!

Well, first you have to decide whether you're collaborating on the story (generally BOTH people are writing it,) or if you're ghostwriting the book FOR your friend. If you're ghostwriting, it's up to the two of you to decide how to play the game. You can either both appear on the cover as you indicated, or your friend is the sole name on the cover and you just get to credit it on your resume.

In either event, YES -- you want to have an agreement between the two of you before you go to a publisher. The publisher is going to want to know who to draw the checks to, so you have to decide whether you want to share the royalties or take a single check from your friend as a fee. It's done both ways.

For a set fee (from $5,000-10,000 for a 80,000-100,000 word book, depending on whether you're doing research or just writing the book using your friend's research,) you can give up all rights to the book and let them take the glory for themselves. It's done all the time. This is a good idea if you think the book, while a good story, will have only limited national appeal.

However, if you think the book is going to be a big hit, then take a small up-front fee ($500-$2,500) and take a cut of the royalties upon sale. It's important that you get SOME money up front, because that gives your friend the understanding that your work is important, and they will work that much harder to get it published.

If you decide to collaborate, you want to enter into a "Book Collaboration Agreement" that should be drawn up by an entertainment attorney, not just a garden variety contracts attorney. The book world is a whole different animal. Here are some of the things that you'll want to include, based on the collaboration agreement that I entered into with my co-author. You can certainly work with your friend without bad things happening. I co-author all of my books with a friend, and we've been in partnership for over five years, with six books out. But we were very careful to write up an agreement when we started out, and it's been occasionally useful as minor things pop up.

1) Term of the agreement. You can make it for a set time, or if it'll be only for this particular book, you might set it for the term of any publishing agreement you later sign.

2) Cooperation. The goal here is to make sure that you both have access to ALL of the research, manuscripts and edits of the book all the time. If one of you croaks, getting "intellectual property" from an estate without a signed, written agreement will put you into the seventh level of hell.

3) Copyrights. If you're collaborating, you should jointly own the copyright that will end up in the Library of Congress.

4) Royalties. Do you plan for checks to come to you jointly (and to which address) and then split them equally? How will you handle expenses that might come up, such as any advertising, postage or goodies (bookmarks and the like) that you might want to do? Cie (my co-author) and I set up a checking account in the name of the partnership. We get separate royalty checks from our agent, but have agreed to deposit a set amount from each check to pay expenses. It's working pretty well, and our accountant appreciates it.

5) Management. We have to agree to make any big decisions, from spending money (unless one of us wants to pony up the cash on our own). We each contribute to interviews, contests, etc.

6) Expenses and Banking. This deals with who can write checks, and what costs are expensible against royalties. Check with your CPA, who can provide a nice neat list.

7) Non-Disclosure. This is a big one, because it prevents each of you from suddenly deciding to sell articles with the same text as might be in the book, or cancel the contract to go elsewhere. This would not only tick off the publisher against ONE, but against THE OTHER too.

8) Voluntary Withdrawal. If it turns out that you simply cannot work together, there should be a method of withdrawal without big nasty legal battles. Because the agreement between Cie and I is for multiple books, we put in place a method to split the worlds so we could each continue to write in some, but not in others. It just seemed fair, considering how much stuff we have going.

9) Warranties. We pared this section down a bunch from the original just to say that each party was contributing original information, not plagiarizing, etc., and that we each agreed to hold the other party harmless if a court found that part of the information was stolen. It's just a good idea in a collaboration.

10) Death. Yeah, it should be dealt with. If the book is in final edits and someone dies, are both parties shown on the cover? Who gets the royalties? See, the publishing contract will probably defer to the surviving author, so the collaboration agreement should make certain that heirs are recognized.

11) Disputes. We stuffed a binding arbitration clause into our agreement, because we both work in law and knew that if we ever broke up, it would probably get nasty. You don't have to, but it sure saves on ugliness later.

There are a lot of other minor clauses that we inserted that deal with partnerships, because we do multiple books.

If you want to ghostwrite the book, then that should also be on paper. It's a different sort of agreement though. I don't know that I have a copy of one, but I'll bet that Jenna or Jaws could lead you to a good format or book to start from.

Good luck with your project! :)