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The Nuts and Bolts of Collaboration
by Jackie King
Writing with friends can be wonderful! It can also be hazardous
to your sanity. Collaboration most resembles marriage. If passion
and joy and excitement blind you from clear vision, you’re
apt to run into problems when you enter into a union without careful
thought. Unnecessary grief can be avoided by planning with your
head instead of with your heart. Before jumping into (a writing)
bed with anyone, especially your best friend, make sure you have
that all important document: a carefully thought out Contract
Collaboration starts with an idea. Maybe you’re at a meeting,
or at the grocery store, or putting on your makeup and suddenly
you know what would make a great anthology. The subject could be
quilts, or a specific genre, or a season of the year. Topics, of
course, are endless. Or perhaps you want to join another writer
and create a nonfiction book, a novel or another writing project.
After all, two heads (or three or four) are better than one. But
there are many pitfalls, even for the most amiable people.
Make careful plans before starting your collaborative effort. Remember
that the word itself means that others will be involved in decisions
regarding “your baby.” Sometimes it’s hard to
take direction when it comes to the fruit of your imagination. But
solutions to problems can be dealt with before they arise if you
have a written contract that is agreed upon and signed in advance
by all involved. Consider the following four things before choosing
(or agreeing to join) collaborative partners:
- The personality and ability of each writer involved in this
- Their experience.
- Each person’s special skills and possible contributions.
- Geographic areas involved. Sometimes face to face meetings
are necessary and even if you’re doing the collaboration
mostly by email, every participant must be willing to drive to
a central meeting spot when required.
Collaboration Is a Business Venture
Jointly agree upon or appoint a lead writer. Often this person
is the writer who came up with the original idea. If the project
is your idea and you want this responsibility, tell the other writers
that you will be in charge. The lead writer will:
- Draft the writers’ Contract or Agreement before any work
- Decide on deadlines, ie: When a synopsis, draft chapters and
final draft of the project are due.
- Make the final decision in any dispute. (You must be comfortable
with the fact that this person can veto your special idea.
Writing the Contract
It's always good to nclude these specific points when writing the
- Give the Lead Writer’s name, responsibilities and the
extent of this person’s authority.
- Appoint or agree upon one member to track all queries, acceptances
of queries, partials and/or full manuscripts that are sent. That
person will email updated copies to fellow writers as needed.
Using a spreadsheet is recommended, but a notebook will also work.
- State how many queries each member is required to send.
- Address what each writer is expected to do in regard to promotion
after the project is published. For example: Each writer is responsible
for setting up three book signings and/or speaking engagements
where books may be sold, during the first six months.
- Give required progress for each writer. Specify how many pages
are due and when they are due.
- The date the finished manuscripts are due.
- An agreement that everyone will edit each other’s copy,
with the Lead Writer having final editorial control (or not).
- Mention: If the project isn’t accepted by a New York
publisher, does the project go to a small publisher, then to a
print-on-demand company or finally self-publish?
- Agree on who will get quotes for the cover of book. In our
group we each acquired one quote.
Discuss the Contract Before Signing
Be candid when discussing the contract before signing. Bring up
any questions or possible problems as early as possible and discuss
them thoroughly. After agreeing upon the wording for a contract
the final version should be mailed to each person to consider for
at least one day. Writers should read the proposed contract carefully
before signing, to make sure each member really intends to follow
each point promised.
If you don’t like something in the contract, say so. Ask
that a certain phrase or wording be changed and explain why. Others
may agree with you. (Don’t sign with fingers crossed and then
wait until later and try to do as you please.)
Final Points to Consider
- Be a peace-maker. You’re not going to get your way about
- Guard against factions. It’s in everyone’s best
interest to keep things congenial, above board and honest.
- Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve. If no one agrees
with your opinion on a particular idea, let it go. You can write
a project on your own later and do as you please.
- Turn in your copy on time.
- Meet on the agreed upon dates for all logistical discussions
at a specified place.
- Stay within the agreed upon word-length. If you can’t,
ask the Lead Writer to read your story and cut it to fit.
- MAKE THE PROJECT FUN!
Don’t let the above tips make you draw away or hesitate to
collaborate. Working with other writers can be one of the most rewarding
experiences in your life. Plan your project wisely and carefully—then
write together and have a party creating your joint project.
© Copyright 2008, Jackie King
Visit Jackie King's website: www.jacqking.com
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