Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Working Together

By Julie Wright

Collaboration: to work together

Obviously you can collaborate with people on anything you do, but today I want to look at collaboration in writing.

It happens more often than you can imagine. I’ll be sitting in a booksigning and someone will come up to me and say, “I have a great idea for a book. Maybe I should tell it to you, and you can write it, and we’ll split the profits.”

They always look so genuine when they say these words, as if the idea is the hard part and writing is a snap. I smile and say, “Why don’t you write it yourself?”

I’m not being coy, sarcastic, or cranky when I say this. If I write it, chances are good they won’t be happy with what I did to their idea. Because instinctively, I will twist it and turn it inside out and make the idea my own (meaning it will very little resemble the original “great idea”) before I’m through. If I write it, I will want to be in control. But they will want to be in control because it’s their idea.

If I write it, I will have done the majority of the work and feel as though I am in complete ownership of the project. If it was their idea, they won’t be happy with that at all.

Collaboration of this sort very seldom works well.

That said . . . I have been involved with collaboration that does work. Kevin Wasden, an artist, came to me with an idea and said, “You write; I’ll illustrate.” I’m thrilled to be working with him. It’s been a joy to have someone to unravel my literary tangles, and to have someone to work ideas through with.

Collaboration is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a nightmare. A lot depends on who you’re working with, and whether or not both parties are 150% committed to the project. With Kevin, we both know our roles and we strive to honor eachother's opinions.

Some things to remember:
  • There is no 50/50. I put in my all, you put in your all, and we see what comes from it.
  • Have a contract in advance so no one gets surprised later on.
  • Know, understand, and have written down exactly what each member of the collaboration is in charge of.
  • Remember that friends don’t always make the best partners.
  • If friendship comes after the collaboration begins, count your blessings.
  • Reliability and flexibility are absolutes.
  • Your word should always be your honor.
  • Ask yourself if you’re the type of partner you’d want to have. If you aren’t, you may want to rethink dumping your issues onto someone else.

A long time ago, I was married in a room of mirrors meant to resemble eternity. The man marrying us said that the only way to see eternity is to take your eyes off yourself, and focus on the other person. It was kind of like a recipe for a happy marraige . . . and the man was right.

Collaboration of any kind, writing included, works like a marraige. Take your eyes off yourself focus on the project, and things should work out okay.


Rachelle said...

Great comments. I'm curious what your advice would be when you have a non-writer but a professional in a field help you with a book. For example, checking facts for a nonfiction book. I don't think too many people would expect to be a full partner in a book for editing but do you still set up some type of contract?

Heather B. Moore said...

I love this post, Julie. I've considered collaborating on some things, so it's good to read this advice.

Julie Wright said...

Rachelle, working with a professional usually sets the game up a little differently. If they are offering over lots of information, they may charge a flat fee or a request for a percentage of your royalty. How much will depend entirely on how much they bring to the table in expertise. I've had lots of professionals offer over information for various novels I've written and I haven't paid them. I give them mention in the acknowledgments, but they've never given over such extensive information that would require payment. Most professionals are happy to share their expertise.

However, if you're writing a book on how to have a happy marriage, and you use a marriage counselor for all your background and professional information, you will need to pay them something for their time effort and education.

In that instance, you'll want to have contracts and negotiations in place in the beginning.
Editing is also something that would be a flat fee if the editor is being paid. If a friend is just looking over the book and offering suggestions to fix the book, thank them in the acknowledgments page and send them a free copy. :)

good luck with your book!!!

Tamra Norton said...

I found this post especially interesting since I've been involved in a similar working relationship with an artist for the past few years. Unless you've been paired up with a publisher or production company (depending on your project and goal) it can turn into a long-term relationship as you strive to meet your goals. Trust and committment are definitely key elements.

Jennifer said...

I hope your project works out. I'd love to hear more about it and see/read the finished product!