I love collaborating and I’ve done it a lot. When writing partnerships are working well you get:
- More fun
- Geometric Creativity
- Built-in 2nd opinion
When they’re not working well you can get:
- Wasted time
- Your creativity squashed
Either way, it’s a complex relationship that, like any relationship, ebbs and flows. Not to get too legalistic and squash your creativity, but here are some things you should think about and discuss with your prospective partner before you draft a project, even, maybe especially, if you’re working with close friends or family.
7 Things to Consider (and Discuss) if You’re Collaborating
- Who has Creative Control of the project?
- Who has the right to legally represent the project?
- What are the specific credits of the project – assuming you both (all) see it all the way through to a viable draft that could get published, produced, bought or get you hired.
- Who pays whom how much (if any) and when?
- If you split the profits, who receives and administers the money and what is the percentage split? Gross or net?
- Are reps (agents, managers) and prospective partners (producers, financiers) to be mutually agreed?
- What happens if there are ‘creative differences’ or one partner withdraws from the project for any reason – and at what phase of the process?
- Maybe you should jointly draft (or have an attorney draft) a simple letter of agreement detailing both partners’ understanding?
You don’t think you need it. You don’t want to need it, but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. It might be a little awkward to discuss early in the collaboration but it will be bitter and potentially expensive if you have to negotiate after the fact. A formal agreement also helps you be clear about your working relationship, and potentially more serious about the Project.
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Sample Letter of Agreement for Writing Collaboration
This is only a general sample of the kind of agreement you should consider in dialog with your collaborator(s). Rewrite and/or edit it to suit your particulars and/or show it to an attorney. I’m not a lawyer, although I’ve written about them and with them and consider myself an adequate amateur with creative contracts. Also, over the years I’ve hired many lawyers and copped their best prose and concepts.
ALSO SEE “SAMPLE WRITER’S COLLABORATION AGREEMENT (New & Improved)”
Letter of Agreement
YOU (hereinafter referred to as the “Writer, “Co-Writer”, “Artist”, ”Creator”) and YOUR COLLABORATOR (hereinafter referred to as the “Co-Writer”, “Producer”, ”Illustrator”, etc.), hereinafter collectively the “Parties”, agree to write in collaboration a [tv pilot, screenplay, novel, etc.] currently entitled “Working Title” (hereinafter referred to as the “Project”, and are desirous of establishing all their rights and obligations in and to said Project.
NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the execution of this Agreement, and the undertakings of the parties as hereinafter set forth, it is agreed as follows:
1. The parties shall collaborate in the writing of the Work and upon completion thereof shall be the joint owners of the Work and shall own the Work in the following percentages: X% to the Writer and Y% to Collaborator.
2. [Maybe?] Writer will pay Collaborator $X at Y-Z Specified Point(s) in the process [Upon completion of a scene outline, rough draft, rewrite, etc. – or specified dates]. [Maybe?] These payments will be accounted as an advance against future compensation derived from the license or sale of the completed Project and wil be deducted from Collaborator’s share of initial revenues.
3. Upon completion of the Project it shall be registered with the Writers Guild of America, west, Inc. as the joint Work of the parties [or with credits herein specified].
4. It is contemplated that the Project will be completed by not later than [date] provided, however, that failure to complete the Work by such date shall not be construed as a breach of this Agreement on the part of either party. [or, if it’s a paid collaboration maybe there is a monetary penalty for missed deadline deducted from final payment?]
5. If, prior to the completion of the Project, either Party shall voluntarily withdraw from the collaboration by mutual consent, then the other Party shall have the right to complete the Project alone or in conjunction with another collaborator or collaborators, and in such event the percentage of ownership, as hereinbefore provided in paragraph 1, shall be revised by mutual agreement in writing.
6. [This clause is a bit hard-assed. I call it the AWOL Clause and drafted it once in a fit of frustration over a non-responsive partner.] If either Collaborator ceases for more than 60 (sixty) days to actively participate in mutually-agreed upon work on the Project and has been contacted by the active partner more than 3 (three) times to request their participation, and has declined to further participate or has not responded to such requests, they will be considered a ‘Passive Partner’ and thereafter;
6.a. The Active Partner will henceforth have the right to make unilateral decisions about all aspects of the license sale and creative development of the Project.6.b. The Active Partner will receive 66.6% (sixty-six and two-thirds) of any proceeds from the sale or license of the Project. The Passive Partner will receive 33% (thirty- three and a third percent) of any proceeds from the sale or license of the Project.
6.c. If the Active Participant develops and/or rewrites the Project by adding or changing more than 30% of the content, credit on the Project will be “Story by both Collaborators”. ‘Script’ (or ‘Screenplay’) will be credited solely to the Active Participant – or – the Passive Participant may, at their sole expense, request private arbitration to determine equitable credit.
7. If, prior to the completion of the Project, there shall be a dispute of any kind with respect to the Project, then the parties may terminate this Collaboration Agreement by an instrument in writing [or primary creator retains control and can proceed with the project while credits and/or compensation are arbitrated?].
8. Any contract for the sale or other disposition of the Project, where the Project has been completed by the Parties in accordance herewith, shall require that the Project Credits shall be attributed to the authors in the following manner: [50% Writer, 50% Collaborator].
9. Neither party shall sell, or otherwise voluntarily dispose of the Work, or his share therein, without the written consent of the other, which consent, however shall not be unreasonably withheld.
10. Any and all documented expenses which shall be incurred by either or both of the Parties in direct connection with the writing, registration or sale or other disposition of the Work shall be shared jointly [or prorated in accordance with the percentages hereinbefore mentioned in paragraph 1.
11. All money or other things of value derived from the sale or other disposition of the Work, after deduction of mutually shared expenses (including commissions for representatives) shall be applied as follows:
11.a. In payment of any expenses or reimbursement of either Party for expenses paid in connection with the Project as described in paragraph 8.
11.b. To the Parties in the proportion of their ownership.
12. It is understood and agreed that for the purposes of this Agreement the Parties shall share hereunder, unless otherwise herein stated, the proceeds from the sale or any and all other disposition of the Work and the rights and licenses therein and with respect thereto, including but not limited to: Motion picture rights, Sequel rights, Remake rights, Television film rights, Television live rights, Stage rights, Radio rights, Publication rights, Digital and Interactive rights, Merchandising rights.
13. This Agreement shall be executed in sufficient number of copies so that one fully executed copy may be, and shall be, delivered to each Party and to the Writers Guild of America, Inc.
14. If any disputes shall arise concerning the interpretation or application of this Agreement, or the rights or liabilities of the Parties arising hereunder, such dispute shall be submitted to the arbitration according to the laws of the State of [your state].
15. This Agreement contains the entirety of the Agreement and supersedes any previous understanding or agreement.
Agreed and accepted by
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Have you ever seen a contract written between an author and the subject of their nonfiction work? I’m writing a non-fiction narrative about a Chilean prisoner of war under Pinochet who was accepted into the US as a political refugee in the 1970s and we intend to share the (eventual) proceeds 50/50. The only templates I can find are specific to co-authors. I can obviously adapt one to my circumstances but I’d love any expert guidance on such a thing.
Hi Krissy – Sorry for the delayed response. The important things would be to specifically define who owns what in case the project does not go all the way to publication. You’ll be doing a lot of work on the writing, probably doing plenty of independent research, and in case of creative differences you should own (or at least creatively control) some part of what you’ve created. The subject ‘owns’ the rights to their own telling of their story, but you could conceivably write the book without their co-operation (based on research, public sources and other interviews), so should be prevented from carrying on with the project in case of ‘creative differences’. I would be happy to look at a draft of the agreement you imagine and give you some notes, but you probably want to consult an intellectual property attorney for a professional opinion.