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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 Between Writers


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:

  1. The personality and ability of each writer involved in this project.
  2. Their experience.
  3. Each person’s special skills and possible contributions.
  4. 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:

  1. Draft the writers’ Contract or Agreement before any work has started.
  2. Decide on deadlines, ie: When a synopsis, draft chapters and final draft of the project are due.
  3. 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 contract.

  1. Give the Lead Writer’s name, responsibilities and the extent of this person’s authority.
  2. 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.
  3. State how many queries each member is required to send.
  4. 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.
  5. Give required progress for each writer. Specify how many pages are due and when they are due.
  6. The date the finished manuscripts are due.
  7. An agreement that everyone will edit each other’s copy, with the Lead Writer having final editorial control (or not).
  8. 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?
  9. 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 everything.
  • 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.

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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