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Ghostwriting -- Coauthor or Editor?

Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.


I co-wrote two novels with a minor public figure -- someone who was really quite talented and had terrific story ideas but not a lot of technical skill. In other words, he gave me the story outlines and I wrote them up. Both sold to a major publisher -- one's in print and one will be coming out next year. The public figure got the "written by" credit and I happily got the "edited by" credit and all the profits were split 50/50. I was content with that as it was his notoriety that got the first book in the door of the publishing house -- yes, and it was my technical skill that kept it from being booted out, but that's not the problem as I am happy with the initial arrangement. We have been working on a third book but recently he told me that he met and signed with an agent. Hmmmm. Since we are a co-credited pair WITH a publisher, I didn't see the point. First, it seems like I should have been asked to meet with the agent too. Second, I'm not sure if he should be handing over chapters of the "new one" without my permission. I admit I may be overreacting and being silly. This may be the way it's done. But then again, maybe not. Let me say that since the publication of the first two, I've received a number of offers for my "editing" at the same or better rate/deal but have turned them down because I felt I was building a career with the first author. Yeah, I could be naive to how things are done. Anybody?


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

I don't think you're beling silly. Signing with an agent is certainly a decision that should be discussed with a co-writer.

Do you have a contract with your co-writer, laying out the terms of your cooperation, who gets paid what, etc? If not, now is the time to draw one up (it may actually be rather past the time). Without a contract, you--and your co-writer--have no protection, and either of you can do pretty much as s/he pleases without regard to the other.

Even if you have a publisher, an agent is a good idea--there's no guarantee your current publisher will continue to buy your books, plus an agent can sell subrights for you.

- Victoria


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

If you are being treated as an "editor" who provides service for hire, then he would not need your permission; he would be the "author" and owner of the copyright. But if you are a "co-author" then he would need your permission. I agree that you definitely need to draw up a contract specifying your relationship, if you do not already have one. When the last copyright for your last book was published, were you registered as an owner of that copyright?


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

Your original deal was shaky to begin with. First you were not a ghostwriter -- if that were the case you wouldn't be splitting profit and getting the "edited by" credit. However, you were really a co-writer and not just an "editor." Now, it'd be harder to prove that you actually wrote the book (with his story/plot). I think your original agreement with this public figure put you in a disadvantage, and that your co-writer had something unfair in mind to begin with and didn't treat you as an equal.


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

Negotiate this now and get it cleared up before you waste anymore time and effort. If he doesn't want to treat you equally, it might be time to tell him to start the next book by himself.


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

I'd be very interested to see what he'll do with his agent if you quit... perhaps he will find a ghost writer? Or write it himself? Either way, the style would be so different that his agent would notice.


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

1. There are other ghostwriters.

2. Not all of them are good.

3. Not all of the good ones can work with every collaborator.

4. I hope your guy understands that.

Meanwhile, make it clear that his agent doesn't get a percentage of your cut.


Re: Is This A Problem Or Am I Imagaining One?

Any author going into a co-writing arrangement should have a written agreement in advance that specifies the nature of the relationship and how the proceeds will be divided, including how commissions to agents will be handled.

In the contract(s) for the first two books, were you named on the contract and did you sign it? Was the copyright to those works registered in both names? If so, then you were actually a co-author and not an “editor.” You do, in fact, own half of the book.

If you were not named in the contract and the copyright is not in your name, then legally the works are his and you are being treated as an editor-for-hire.

Regardless, the minor celebrity has the right to get an agent, but that agent has no right to sell a book that will be written by both of you unless you agree to it. And if you agree to it, then that agent should present you with a representation agreement and you become his client also.

Alternatively, you could get your own agent to negotiate your deal with the publisher, but that could complicate matters significantly.

What often happens in such cases is that one of the agents takes point on the deal (usually the agent with the more salable of the clients). The agents then split the commission.

Another scenario is that a celebrity sells a book to a publisher, but needs a writer. The publisher may suggest a writer and the celebrity’s agent contacts that writer’s agent. The celebrity’s agent gets his commission off the top. The writer’s agent gets her commission out of what her client is paid. There are two deals here, not one. Deal one is between publisher and celebrity. Deal two is between celebrity and writer.

A third scenario is that the publisher contracts with the celebrity and says it will find the writer. It signs a contract with the writer, but deducts the cost of that from the advance paid to the celebrity. In that case, the celebrity’s agent will most likely commission the entire deal, and the writer’s agent will commission only her client’s deal with the publisher. Again, two deals, but both with the publisher. The celebrity, in the end, is paying a higher commission because the commission is based on the gross the celebrity received and not the net, after the writer was paid, but it is standard for the commission to be based on the gross.

The fourth scenario is the same as the third, but the writer’s fee is not deducted. It’s just an additional fee paid by the publisher to get the overall book done.

My suggestion is to get your own agent, since your co-author went and got his own without consulting you. Keep in mind, though, that writers-for-hire are easy to find, so I would be careful about damaging this relationship, if possible.

Best wishes,
Andrew Zack
The Zack Company, Inc.

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