Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Awkward Situation by Terry Burns

It's a lot like getting a divorce.

Over the past few years I have seen some friendships break up over writers working on a book together. I can't say it is something I have enjoyed being involved in. There are a lot of reasons it can happen, but it does happen.

I don't mean to suggest that it ALWAYS happens, there are some terrific books written by teams of writers who work well together and who end up maybe even better friends for the experience. But then there are these other ones...

I saw a two book deal go down the tubes because the writers could no longer work together. I saw not just one but several cases of ladies who had been friends for many years no longer on speaking terms. In one case, the authors weren't communicating and everything was being passed through me. Not fun. I'm dealing right now with a lawyer presiding over another break-up. That's what brought this blog to mind.

In the cases I have been connected with it has always been ladies but I surely don't mean to infer that is always the case. I'm aware of a number of situations where it has happened with male writers as well.

What's the answer? I believe it lies in having a clear understanding up front and getting it down in writing in a letter of understanding or a collaboration agreement. I think this is a really good idea even if the people that are planning the project together are wonderful friends and think it could never happen to them.

In the document there should be agreement on who is taking the lead and what happens if they disagree on changes to be made to the manuscript. There should be agreement on how the copyright will be listed, on who is going to do what in the writing. It should address things like who will arbitrate disagreements, how each will get paid. It should address if they are actually forming a partnership or have a disclaimer that states that is not their intention. There should be a statement that the term of the agreement would coincide with the life of the work.

Who has the say on expenses? Can they be incurred without mutual agreement? In the event that one or more is unwilling or unable to continue or complete the work the others may complete the task and the authors agree to discuss and modify the understanding in regards to the new pro-ration of work. If an understanding cannot be reached there needs to be an agreement to submit to arbitration.

Finally, the legalese:

The terms and conditions of this agreement shall be binding and inure to the benefit of the executors, administrators and successors of each of us. Our respective signatures herein below shall constitute this to be a complete and binding agreement between us. This agreement may not be assigned by any party without prior written consent of the others, except that any party may assign his share of the gross proceeds hereunder to a third person, subject to the terms and conditions of this agreement.

These things can be handled so much better before things happen than after there is stress and hard feelings involved, and having it spelled out in advance can avoid some of the situations. That's my take on it anyway.


Timothy Fish said...

Sad, very sad. Contracts certainly have their place and make it easier when things go wrong, but a contract doesn't keep things from going wrong, just as marriage vows don't keep couples from divorcing. Ultimately, if people would love their neighbor as theirself, things like this wouldn't happen.

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

This is a sad situation, Terry. Sorry you've had to deal with something like this. But, I know God can bring it to a finish that will somehow bring glory to Him.

Linda Glaz said...

Always the parts of the job that aren't quite as rewarding.

Jennie Dugan said...

My husband and I wrote a book together, and I can definitely vouch for what Terry said! While it brought it closer as a couple, we had our moments. And it came down to it being clear who had what role. Once we settled that, it flowed.

Rick Barry said...

"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). Terry, your post underscores this truth once again.

You didn't go into detail on the breakups, but I suspect that pride and personal desires lay at the base of the disagreements. Individuals don't suddenly become less skilled or less intelligent, but if they suddenly decide that personal desires trump the good of the union, then the partnership is headed for the rocks. Happens in marriages, too. :(

Timothy Fish said...

Which I'm sure is why God when to so much trouble to define what the roles should be in a marriage. To bad he didn't define what the roles should be when two women are writing a book together.