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TNK
11-15-2013, 01:40 PM
I have a friend online who needs some advice. She's sent me some information on the problem, but I can't help her. I thought maybe you guys could.

She agreed to work with a co-author to write a text book. A proposal was sent to a publisher about the book. While they have not heard back from the publisher, they have already started the book.

My friend has done five out of nine sections, all without a publishing agreement. The co-author has now told her she is making too many mistakes, and is burdening everyone. The co-author has been correcting her writing, and rewriting stuff based on my friend's examples.

I don't know what to tell her. She says the co-author could be considered a highly respected person, and could use this to turn on her.

My friend just wants to know if there is any possible way she could take what she has written and publish it on her own.

Edit: She also has all the emails saved that she sent to the co-author.

Fruitbat
11-15-2013, 02:51 PM
Short answer, and just my *personal* opinion, anything she has written belongs to her, and she is free to change her mind if she wants to. There's no contract and no money involved at this point so I don't know what the co-author could come after her for even if she wanted to bother with a lawsuit.

However, if the co-author is respected as she thinks, your friend may be hurting her reputation. Also, if she is inexperienced and the co-author experienced, it could be your friend would be better off to listen to the criticism and consider it.

Torgo
11-15-2013, 02:54 PM
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A LAWYER

...but.

As far as I can tell, your friend retains copyright in everything she's written herself. She didn't do it as work-for-hire (there's no contract) and the text that she's put together herself is hers. (If sections were re-written by the co-author that would seem to be more complicated, but she could always just revert to her original draft.)

As far as I can see, this isn't so much a complex legal issue as it is a relationship issue. If your friend and her co-author came up with this book idea and decided to write it together, but then found that they couldn't actually work well together, then it does indeed seem like one or the other taking that idea and self-publishing their own version is a recipe for rancour. Your friend probably doesn't need her co-author's blessing legally, but she might want it just so the split is amicable.

robjvargas
11-15-2013, 05:32 PM
IANAL. All I can say is that without a documented agreement, nothing is set in stone.

But remember, this isn't personal. It's business. If your friend is feeling that the working relationship isn't succeeding, she should air her concerns. Politely. Respectfully. And be prepared to give *and* to take.

Prima donnas exist. But the co-author's stature doesn't mean that you or your friend should assume it. At least give the co-author the opportunity to be reasonable.

And document everything.

kaitie
11-15-2013, 11:37 PM
Just to look at this another way because I'm not quite sure I understand the situation here: is it possible that the problem is your friend isn't taking criticism well? From what I read, it sounds like the cowriter told her that she was making errors and it was a problem, so now she's decided to do it on her own?

If she's making a lot of errors...why not talk to the cowriter about it and see what can be done? If she has problems with certain areas of grammar, for instance, she could learn how the rules and work on editing herself before sending it to her friend. If the problem is that her work is full of grammatical problems, I'm not sure that it's a good idea for her to just take it and publish it on her own anyway, at least not without having someone help her with it.

If they're errors in content (I take it this is non-fiction?), then she certainly shouldn't publish it.

I guess my first thought upon reading this is that the problem is that your friend isn't doing a very good job with the writing, and that's frustrating the cowriter. It sounds to me like she and the cowriter need to have a discussion, but that your friend needs to be open-minded and if she really is making mistakes, should be focused on figuring out how to improve rather than run off to do it by herself.

dangerousbill
11-16-2013, 12:32 AM
My friend just wants to know if there is any possible way she could take what she has written and publish it on her own.


Without an agreement, her own words are still hers. She can do as she pleases.

The take-home is that no one should start a collaborative project without a written agreement. It's not so much for legal reasons, but because everyone remembers things differently six months later.

An agreement should cover:
- the general intent of the book
- keeping track of who writes what and who researches what
- the author order for the version that goes to the agent
- a mechanism for changing the terms of the agreement
- division of costs and profits
- a means for making critical decisions, eg, by bringing in a neutral third party
- what happens if one author drops out or fails to adhere to the agreement.

This last is the most important clause, because virtually every collaboration I've known about has hit the rocks. Usually it's one partner who starts making excuses for being late, or goes all diva on the other partner, insisting on his/er own way.

Finally:
Don't start a writing collaboration with someone you want to stay friends with afterward.

TNK
11-16-2013, 06:35 AM
Thank you guys for your help. I really wasn't sure how to advise her.

Katie:

It is nonfiction. And I agree if, she's getting the facts wrong, it shouldn't be published. (And I'll tell her that.) She did say the coauthor was using some of her examples, just rewriting them, so maybe it's a combination of the two. (Errors in writing and facts.)

Either way, I will talk to her about it. Hopefully things can be worked out.

Again, you guys are awesome. I really appreciate it. :e2grouphu

Kallithrix
11-16-2013, 07:21 AM
Well, I have been in the co-author's position rather than your friend's, i.e. having to work on a collaborative project with people who don't hold up their end, turn in substandard work and fudge their research, meaning I have to rewrite everything they submit, so... not sure I'm the best person to ask.

I really do think maybe she needs to use this as a golden learning opportunity and suck up all the critique she can, especially if the co-author is someone with more reputation and credentials than her. Even if they end up rewriting a lot of her sections, just having her name attached to a publication with her co-author's name on it might do her a lot of good, and the experience make her a better writer for it.

veinglory
11-17-2013, 03:19 AM
I would suggest caution. The book concept seems to be joint between the authors. The coauthor has had direct input into the text via edits. The coauthor might be right to be annoyed if there is an effort to split the baby and thus kill the book as currently proposed and under submission. That annoyance in an author with standing in the field could poison the well regardless of the strict legalities.

IMHO there is much to be gained from ensuring any parting of ways is amicable--and if that is not possible to decide how much it would be wise to risk in trying to claw back work product

Torgo
11-17-2013, 03:26 AM
That annoyance in an author with standing in the field could poison the well regardless of the strict legalities.

IMHO there is much to be gained from ensuring any parting of ways is amicable--and if that is not possible to decide how much it would be wise to risk in trying to claw back work product

Exactly. You don't ever want to be relying on the strict legal position with this sort of thing.

Namatu
11-17-2013, 03:40 AM
And if the publisher hasn't responded yet to the proposal, it sounds like this could be a good time for your friend to take a break, take a step back, and give herself some space from her co-author. Writing a textbook can be very challenging, and a co-author can be a great asset - if they can stay on the same page.