Collaborative Contracts for Authors

collaboration contract for authorsIn this age of cooperation among writers (much better than competition!), it seems like we see a lot more collaborative efforts. From multiple writers on a single book to multiple writers banding together to create boxed sets, more and more authors are finding supportive boosts from working together: the antithesis of the lonely writer squirreled away at a corner desk, writing in dim isolation. The only drawback (if that’s what you want to call it) is the added consideration of how rights are assigned and profits are distributed.

My brother and I have found that we feed off each other’s creativity. We’re both writers, but we differ in that he’s got the knack for writing screenplays, a fairly bare-bones way of setting down a story, while I write novels where I can expand and expound. Either of us, I think, would be hard-pressed to write in the other’s style. So we’ve worked out a way to combine our efforts so all the bases are covered.

We’ve collaborated on two projects now. The first was his screenplay for Tales of the Shalabourne (my novel The Blue Crystal), and his screenplay and my novel of the same name, Queen’s Gold. Because our contributions are separated along precisely delineated lines, it was a fairly simple matter to define what rights and profits went to whom.

My brother had some familiarity with contracts of this nature, so he wrote it up. Now, I confess, the contract we agreed upon has very little legalese, and I made no effort to vet it with a lawyer to find out if it were ironclad or not. I don’t expect that to ever be an issue. My brother and I think very much alike and we’ve been through some family crises together where each of us acted with respect and integrity, so I have no concerns about him ever trying to scam me (and I assume that is mutual). Obviously, different situations would warrant different legal protection.

Our contract is broken into two simple and straight-forward sections. The first is the History of the Story. For each of these projects, the initial ideas were my brother’s, and he wrote the screenplays on his own. (For the Queen’s Gold contract, he notes that he got the idea by witnessing me doing a hypnotic past-life regression and the story is based on that, although my regressions never mirrored the story he devised.) After writing each screenplay, he then asked me to take them and flesh them out into full-length novels, which I did. The publishing of the novels was all my bailiwick, as the shopping around of the screenplays was his. This separation of duties made the second section of the contract, the Creative Division of Rights, intuitively simple.

In the contract, I have all publishing rights to the novels, which includes hardcover, paperback, audio book, and e-book formats. This encompasses all foreign language versions and any ancillary revenues that may derive from the manuscript or activities as the author. I am the final authority on the style of my writing in the manuscripts.

My brother, meanwhile, has all filmed media rights, both in English and in foreign language versions, including all revenue streams of that media (theatrical release, DVD, TV, cable, webcasting, downloading, etc.). He is the final authority on the creative scripting and visualization of the films.

If any significant merchandising potential should be realized, we will share equally in the licensing fees paid and the profits earned. If either of us should enter into a business partnership with any third person(s) in regard to these stories, we are obligated to disclose this original agreement with those parties, and any dispute that might arise will be settled by arbitration.

And that’s all there is to it.

Again, I stress that this is a very short, very simple, uncomplicated contract entered into by two friendly, willing, trusting souls. I would not expect something this casual to work for most agreements. With a little searching, I found some free collaboration agreements online, both for writers and non-writers. I would suggest that anyone interested in creating such an agreement take a look at these and others they may find and consider all the options. Any questions, of course, should be referred to a lawyer.

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Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

10 thoughts on “Collaborative Contracts for Authors”

    1. Well, it helps to have trusting and trustworthy creative relatives. And of course it goes against the old warning about never going into business with family. However, when you know you’ve got the perfect compliment to your own talent, it can work.

  1. Very helpful, Melissa. I have a project I’ve started co-writing, and although it is hibernating right now, this is getting my wheels turning. Thank you!

    1. Shawn, just the thought of co-writing gives me the heebie-jeebies. I guess I’m too much of a control freak. I’d love to hear more about your process when you’ve got enough of a story to tell.

  2. I’ve taken part in one collaborative exercise, but that was a charitable collaboration: five authors and one illustrator contributing to a National Trust project by collaboratively producing a children’s book. It kinda worked alright because of course there was no financial considerations to worry about. I am currently embarking on a collaborative project, a young adult sci-fi/fantacy story, with one of the writers from that National Trust project, whom I have been friends with since then. We’re still working out the hows and wherefores of the project, but your post is timely. thank you.

    Excellent post, Melissa.

    1. Thanks, TD. Glad this is helpful as you embark on the new adventure. Since your collaboration is different and not family-based, it would be interesting to hear how you sort through the agreement you make, especially if you are co-authoring the book. Both working on the same story could be pretty complicated. Good luck!

  3. Thanks for this information. I am part of a boxed set of mysteries in 2015 and am waiting for the details on that opportunity.

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