Q. I want to create a series with another writer. You’ve done this. Any advice?
I’ve done this–co-created projects–several times, yes, and I’ll share. Understand, please, I’m under a tight deadline, so I’m sharing off the top of my head. This won’t be an all-encompassing how-to article, but some of the major points I’m recollecting.
Do some research to make sure you’ve comfortably filled in any gaps.
As a writer, we face many challenges, but in my experience, none more so than when we involve ourselves in joint ventures, or co-creations, with other writers.
We enter into the project–whether they come to us or we go to them–believing that each individual brings certain expertise or brilliance to the project that will make it better, stronger, and that the sum of the creation will be greater than any writer could create alone.
That belief sometimes proves true, and sometimes does not, particularly when it comes to characters. Unless there is a specific synergy among the writers, each will create different nuances to the characters that too often conflict. This creates problems and, needless to say, reader hate mail to the offending author, and reader mail asking why the other authors allowed this character to be depicted in this matter. Yes, angry reader mail asking why.
Yet in the projects I’ve co-created, it hasn’t been artistic differences that have created the most serious challenges, but issues on the business interests directly related to the project. This, I’m sorry to report, holds true for working with other authors who have been involved in joint ventures previously, as well as with authors who have not.
So I thought it might be helpful to any of you who are contemplating a joint venture on an intellectual property (read that a series of related books)to be aware of some of the pitfalls and hard-knock lessons I’ve learned in this area.
1. The project is not your baby. Regardless of whether the idea was yours or your partners, the moment you decide to join forces, ownership is no longer one person’s. Remember, ideas are not copyrighted. The project is now a joint venture and that is a business transaction in which you each own an undivided one-half interest.
2. There should be a written agreement–and do this even if you know the other author well and you *think* s/he knows what s/he is doing on the business front–between the authors, stating that they are co-owners with each having one-half undivided interest. This agreement should also explicitly state the terms and agreement between you.
3. If the co-owners/co-creators elect to invite other authors to write books in the series, understand that they are not then co-creators. They are contributors. They will further develop and define the series by virtue of the stories they write, but that does not make them series creators. To wrap your mind around this, consider the Star Trek series. Many people wrote an episode or two or more in that series. But the series creator didn’t change. The contributors of episodes merely added to what already existed.
4. When it comes time to market the series, identify one co-creator to act as spokesperson. It makes it easier for editors to work with a group if they have one point of contact. Now, understand that this spokesperson has no right to make agreements or to act on behalf of the co-creators. Merely to info-gather and return it to the co-creators who have an equal vote in what happens with the series.
5. For marketing, submit a completed and approved-by-all-co-creators series bible and proposals on each of the books that are being recommended for purchase. Submit it all simultaneously, so that the editor has a complete package, not a partial. Why?
Because if you submit a partial package, you create a significant challenge for the series. Let’s say one co-creator contracts to write a book with a publisher. The other has not. Each co-creator has the right to do this–separately contract–but what happens if another co-creator doesn’t contract with that publisher?
Then you’ve got a mess. You’ve got a co-creator who can do whatever s/he wishes with the books in that series s/he creates, and without his/her authorization, any non-creator’s book cannot be published in that series because contributing novels require the approval and authorization of all co-creators or the publisher lacks “clear title”, if you will, to publish the contributing novels. So you’ve got books that are in limbo, because the non-contracted co-creator has no incentive to sign that authorization.
The worst situation is if a publisher contracts a co-creator and a contributor without first securing all of the the co-creators. This is NOT a position you want to put a publisher in, nor is one you want to be in.
So submit the complete package. Either it all sells or none of it does. In a joint venture, you negotiate and contract the books individually (through your own individual agents), but you do so simultaneously and each contract is secured with the provision that the other books in the series are secured. Understand that your books are no longer only your books. They are now part of the series, part of the joint venture, and ethics require the series be treated as one unit.
6. It’s incumbent on each author to make sure s/he understands the legal responsibilities involved in participating in a joint venture. It’s not one author’s responsibility to teach the others, nor should it be required. If you, the author, do not understand the business end of what you’re doing, don’t participate. Because the odds are great that you will get burned. If you do understand the business of joint ventures, don’t assume that your partners understand them. This is a mistake I’ve made in the past which has created tension in relations that just wasn’t necessary. Common sense says, of course, if you know this, you don’t do it. But to know it too often comes in the doing, when a snag occurs and a principle comes into play.
So it’s important to know what you know about the business methodology involved in joint ventures is, and to know what your prospective partner knows. Not what you think they know, but what they actually know. And the only way to do that is to hammer out an extensive agreement between you BEFORE you do the first thing to develop an idea into a joint-venture project.
I’ve had some very successful joint ventures, and I’ve had some that were problematic. When the challenges cannot be resolved equitably, my recommendation is to sell your interests in that project and disassociate.
Some will disagree. But in your career, you must think beyond any one project or one book and weigh the consequences of one book to your overall career. You can’t afford an alliance that puts your reputation on the line under conditions such as these–at least, I can’t. I get into enough trouble on my own and, while I’m first in line to take my own hits, I am not eager to take the hits for others. I don’t know anyone else who is, either.
Joint ventures can be fabulous. They can be mentally stimulating, exciting, adventurous and profitable. They can be great fun.
But before you leap into one, get smart on the business end of them, and get smart on your partner. Handle the business discussions between the two of you first, before you enter into development discussions. Be very specific. And remember, it’s your responsibility to know your rights and to protect your rights.
“Trust is earned, one book at a time.”
–Vicki Hinze https://vickihinze.com
Note: I edit books and professional correspondence. But I do NOT edit email or this blog. This is chat time for me, so if the grammar is goofed or a word’s spelled wrong, please just breeze on past it. I’d appreciate it–and salute you with my coffee cup. 🙂
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Copyright 2005. Vicki Hinze
Vicki Hinze is a multi-published author, who has a free library of her articles on writing–the craft, business and life–at https://www.vickihinze.com.