Thursday, August 17, 2006

Co-authoring Conundrums

I am working on a book with a famous beauty expert. We are only at the proposal stage (still doing some revisions)... We just got an agent (both have the same one), and I have not signed any sort of collaborative agreement yet. Was just wondering if you might know the answers to the following:
a) If I need to get a lawyer
b) How much an advance for a non-fiction book might be (any sort of ballpark number??)
c) As a "writer-for-hire" how much % should I consider asking for without looking like a idiot?

a) Do you need a lawyer? Hmmm, it's not a bad idea, but I guess it depends on what you want to use him for. If you want the lawyer to look over the collaboration agreement between you and your collaborator, then yes. I'd do it. But your agent will be the one who can look over the contract from the publisher, so you wouldn't need a lawyer for that. I guess it depends on how well you know your collaborator and how much you trust him. Even never hurts to have a lawyer look over the fine print and make sure that you're not getting screwed. You can never protect yourself enough. (I speak from personal experience here.)

b) The advance question is SO tough - and I'm really just guessing here. So take all of this with a grain of salt. Depending on the size and scope of your collaborator's platform, the advance could be anywhere from 10k to six-figures. It also depends on how many offers you get: this seems obvious, but if you're able to generate an auction, the $$ is obviously going to be bigger than if you can't.

I just did a quick search the deal section on Publishers Marketplace for books that would be similar to yours, and it looks like most of the deals are for less than 50k. But that doesn't mean that yours couldn't go for more, especially because of your job (note to readers: this email came in from a writer with a good platform, so that's what I'm to referring to here). I'm not sure what the average non-fiction advance is, but the average fiction advance is very small - around four figures small, and certainly no bigger than 10k. But because you guys have a platform, you'll probably get more...I certainly did for my novel and this was in no small part thanks to my platform and the auction.

But you just can't count on it, you know? When I was younger (and stupid), I agreed to collaborate on a book (more about this below), because the agent promised me that it would sell for at least 75k. Ha! Looking back on it today and now that I'm better versed in what is and isn't industry standard, she had no idea what she was talking about. (More on that below!) Not only did the book NOT get 75k, it never even sold!! So...I'm just wary about shooting off numbers, and any decent agent would be too.

c) Ok, the terms of the contract are where I REALLY went askew in my collaboration agreement. The above agent strong-armed me into a 60-40 advance agreement (with me getting 40%), and NO royalties. I argued with her, but she wouldn't budge, and I didn't know any better. I rationalized that doing the book was more important than the money. Now, in your case, it sounds like your collaborator is bringing a lot to the table, in terms of name recognition, but in my case, this was simply an unknown (more or less) M.D., and in retrospect, I was the one bringing all of my contacts and my platform to the table. After doing some research in the past few years, I probably should have gotten 75-100% of the advance and then some portion - up to 50% - of the royalties. Yep, I know that sounds like a lot, but most of the other writers I know who have co-authored books with (unknown) experts have gotten something around that...not least because the bulk of the work of writing the book falls on the writer. Now, in your case, you both have a lot to offer, so I wouldn't settle for less than 50% of the advance and 50% of the royalties. I'd think that you wouldn't feel short-changed with this agreement.

Two other quick thoughts: You can also specify that you won't write the book for less than a certain amount: if, say, you expect the advance to be 75k, and the offers dribble in at about 20k, you're not tied to a lot of work for not a lot of money. OR, and many writers do this as well, you can insist that you're paid for writing the proposal, regardless of if it sells. I can't tell you how much I regret not doing this in the aforementioned situation. I simply didn't know any better, but it's actually pretty standard. After all, why should you work for free?

Has anyone out there co-authored a book? Want to weigh in on your contract terms or have any other advice for this writer?


Mike Vecchio said...

Ahh yes, the joys of co-authoring! I will say that at a minimum Allison's advice seems very sound. Even if the co-author's platform is bigger than yours 50-50 all around seems pretty fair, especially with the writer doing lots of or most of the work. Personally, I really like Allison's suggestion of a min. amount that the book must go for. Why use time on a project that won't net you what you need in the end. You could be doing something more income producing with that time. Also, you might consider using the fact that you are developing the proposal to your advantage. And of course it really is a question of platforms - yours vs. the experts. You really need to weigh that carefully.

My story of co-authoring concerns a screenplay. Long story short, it never sold after about 1 1/2 years. Also, my co-author, who I thought would be a brilliant addition had less of a sense of story in relation to character arc than I did. ALL my gut feels were right-on and his were off. When I went to a screenplay consultant to see if we could adjust it, all his comments centered around where my gut feel wanted to go initially. So, that was a lesson and boosted my self-confidence a lot. The guy I wrote it with was a published author whose book was almost optioned. Another lesson - platform is NOT everything. Therefore, as Allison says be savvy in realistically postioning yourself in the deal. My co-author was great at what he did, but was definitely not an asset for this project even though he had a great platform.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. You are teaching more than most of my journalism professors did:)

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks for sharing your story! Great to have more feedback.