Book collaboration and ghostwriting
Organizations of or for ghostwriters
Secrets of ghostwriters and collaborators
Ghostwriting, and ghostwriters of, fiction
Sarah Wernick's FAQ on collaboration
"[T]he author of a book is the person who supplies the ideas, plan, theory, stories, etc. The person who helps the author arrange everything on paper in a marketable form is the writer. (Usually the author is also the writer.) The person who makes sure the manuscript conforms to commercial standards is the editor. Individuals who bring material, research and/or story ideas to the project are co-authors or collaborators."~ from an excellent article on the art, craft, and business, The Good Life of Ghostwriting (by Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01). You can listen to J.S. Najarian's interview with her (for On Purpose Magazine, 1-24-12), but more helpful may be to buy her frank and thorough textbook Secrets of a Ghostwriter: The Only Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Ghostwriting Theory, Skills, and Politics. Launched in 2014: Suzanne'sGhostwriting Professional Designation Program (online, from California State University at Long Beach, $1,995 each for parts 1 (Introduction to Ghostwriting, Non-Fiction, and The Industry) and 2 (Fiction, Submission, Freelancing, and the Course Project). Take the course for the information, not to get the certificate; that piece of paper is not going to convey to a publisher or potential client that you have experience and can do a good job.
When I am hired to help people write their memoirs, I typically call the memoirist (or chief contributor of stories and memories) the “author” and myself the “writer,” “writer-editor,” “editor,” or “co-author,” depending on the nature of the project, how great a contribution I make, and how important it is for the author to appear to have done the project solo.
How the credit reads on a standard collaboration. When the writer is credited as co-author, the credit line takes various forms: “Author A and Writer W” (the most generous credit), “Author A with Writer W” (more common), or “Author A, as told to Writer W.” Sometimes the credit gets switched, because the writer’s name is more widely recognized and thus will attract more readers and book buyers. Generally, it’s the author’s name that is most valuable for marketing, but sometimes authors' career are extended beyond the grave or at least beyond when they wrote the books themselves (see especially Ghostwriting, and ghostwriters of, fiction).
• I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter (Julia Moskin, NY Times Dining, 3-13-12). The working muse behind celebrity cookbooks. Among food ghostwriters, the "rank beginners might be thanked in the acknowledgments of a book; the next step is being credited on the title page; at the very top of the profession, their names appear on the book's cover. But getting up that pole can be a slippery business." After Gwenyth Paltrow denied working with a ghostwriter, food ghostwriter Sari Botton wrote this follow-up story, explaining how denial works: Ghosts Are Real, At Least In Publishing (Sari Botton, The Rumpus, 3-26-12, on why some celebrities may deny they use a ghostwriter--maybe, as she says, she's more of a "memoir midwife."
• Sharing the Credit by Meg Schneider and Barbara Doyen (NetPlaces.com). Will it be by Jane Jones and John Smith; John Smith with Jane Jones; John Smith as told to Jane Jones; or John Smith?
• Fascinating Story, but Who Wrote It? (Joanne Kaufman, Wall Street Journal, 12-1-09,about celebrity memoirists and their ghostwriters). When and why ghostwriters get credit, or not, who gets what credit on a co-authored book, in what order, what size type, and with what connecting words. And who cares? "Cover billing is a function of the publisher's wishes, the 'name' author's wishes, the collaborator's wishes, prior experience, fee, prominence (big names in the field include 'Iacocca' co-writer William Novak, and David Ritz, the go-to guy for musicians with a tale to tell) and level of involvement in the project. Is this helper writing every word, simply doing research and fact-checking, or perhaps organizing a pre-existing manuscript into tidy form?"
• Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage"? (Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope, 11-7-03). Ted Sorenson is said to have had a big hand in writing it but arguments about who should get credit have persisted. See especially An Old Letter Backs a Claim of Helping Kennedy Write 'Profiles' (Patricia Cohen, NY times, 10-18-1997)
• Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it? (Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 6-9-14). Hillary, JFK, Timothy F. Geithner, Laura Bush, Malcolm X -- they vary in when and how much they give credit.
A few other types of credit hierarchies:
• The Ultimate Guide to Film Credits Order Hierarchy (Aaron Shorr, Studio Binder, 2016)
• WGA screenwriting credit system (Wikipedia)
• Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publications (Teja Tscharntke, Michael E Hochberg, Tatyana A Rand, Vincent H Resh, and Jochen Krauss, PLoS Biol. Jan 2007)
• Who Designed That Book Cover? (Mallory Rock, on Kate Tilton's website, 9-18-14)
• Credit Where Credit Is Due...Or Not (Smitri Siegel, Design Observer, AIGA, 5-19-08) "The AIGA's stance speaks to what has traditionally been the major issue in graphic design attribution — in such collaborative work why does a single designer end up getting the credit?...Other professions have much more highly developed languages of attribution. In films, for example, credit is acknowledged once and for all and in detail at the end of a film. There is a great deal of horse-trading, arguing, and appeasement regarding the credits for any film project, but by opening night everything’s printed on film, the modern equivalent of being set in stone. In contrast, a piece of design can reach the widest audience and still remain anonymous. There is generally a lag between the completion of a design project and the need to write the attribution for a contest or reproduction....The lack of a consistent professional standard for attribution is rooted in the fact that Graphic Design has traditionally been an anonymous pursuit. In fact, the vast majority of graphic design is still done by unknown designers for unknown clients."
• Just What Production Designers Do (Annette Insdorft, NY Times Magazine, 1984) What, then, is the difference between a production designer and an art director? And who gets credit for what, and in what ways do various jobs overlap?
• Hip-Hop's Ghostwriters (Adam Conner-Simons, Gelf Magazine, 8-14-07). Is it fair for big-shot rappers to pay up-and-comers for their lyrics, but then give them no songwriting credit?
• Film &TV Music Knowledgebase glossary . "Film Music definition of a film music ghostwriter: "A person who composes music for another composer but is not credited on the cue sheet or in the final product in any way. In a ghostwriting situation, the person hiring the ghostwriter takes credit for writing the music and the ghostwriter is usually not allowed to reveal to anyone that he/she wrote the music or worked on the project in any way. Ghostwriting is one of the dirty little secrets of the film and television music business and is considered by most professional composers to be unethical."
Organizations of or for ghostwriters
You might want to check the following organizations if you are looking for, or looking for gigs as, a ghostwriter or collaborator. (A ghostwriter is a collaborator who doesn't get a credit.) Some of these are new and I have no idea how helpful they are, or in what ways -- although for sure you will get work through them only if you are listed with them. Clients typically hire quickly so when a gig is listed, respond quickly.
• American Society of Journalists & Authors . ASJA is a society of freelance professional nonfiction writers, some of whom take on collaborative or ghostwriting projects.
• Association of Ghostwriters, a newish organization for experienced and aspiring ghostwriters of books, articles, speeches, blogs and social media content, launched by Marcia Layton Turner. There's a blog about ghostwriting. Join for $99.
• Association of Personal Historians (APH). An organization(now defunct) of people who help others (not just celebrities) write their life or family story. (But many of the members are still practicing.) Personal historians tend to be collaborators (as told to) more than ghost writers. Many personal histories are printed life stories (usually with many photos), some are oral histories (audio or video, with transcripts), some are video--as tributes, video biographies, documentaries, etc.), with an emphasis on storytelling and images. Most members do print, a few do audio interviews only, and a sizable percentage do video or multimedia. These may be helpful:
---21 frequently asked questions about personal histories and personal historians
---A short history of the Association of Personal Historians
---Is it still a great time to become a personal historian?
• Ghostwriters Unite , the first conference of its type, held in Long Beach, CA, May 3-5, 2013 , organized by Claudia Suzanne (author of the new, expensive, and probably-worth-it (because packed with practical insights and information) tome Secrets of a Ghostwriter: The Only Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Ghostwriting Theory, Skills, and Politics). Originally envisioned as a chance for alumni of Susanne's ghostwriting classes, but "so many people got excited about the idea of getting together and talking about 'professionalizing' our field" (talking about setting fee standards and ethical boundaries and bylines and problem clients and working with agencies and publishing options) that it grew into a full-blown conference, held in May 2013, and unlike other writers conferences asked attendees to sign confidentiality agreements.
• International Association of Professional Ghost Writers (newly founded by Mary Anne Hahn, when she could find no professional organization for ghostwriters)
Secrets of (and resources for) ghostwriters and collaborators
• Answers to FAQ's (Wambtac Communications). Answers to all the key questions: What is ghostwriting? What's the difference between writing and ghostwriting? How does ghostwriting work? How long does it take to ghostwrite a book, and how much does it cost? If a ghostwriter writes my book for me, doesn't that mean it's not my book anymore? How do I know you’re not going to steal my material?
• Answers to FAQs about Medical Ghostwriting (Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, 8-10-11). See also Medical ghostwriting, below.
• The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting (bestselling ghostwriter/collaborator Joni Rodgers, Daily Finance, 11-29-2010)."Obviously, baseline writing talent and solid knowledge of the craft are required for this job, but a good ghostwriter is also a good listener, meticulous researcher and all-purpose book nanny, with the ability to keep the client's secrets, build a bridge between the client and publisher, and completely set ego aside. Ghostwriting is a personality type as much as it is a skill set. Natural nurturers are in like Flynn; control freaks need not apply." Positive, enlightening story from a woman who's made a success of ghostwriting celebrity memoirs and other books.
• Authors Guild Model Book Contract and Commentary. See also Books about rights, contracts, copyright, clearance, and other issues of importance to writers and contract terms.
• Behind the scenes, beneath the pages (Murad Hemmadi, The Varsity, 1-27-13) True ghostwriting, as David Hayes explains, is working “from scratch, with somebody who can’t write at all.” "Discretion is a significant part of the job description... Ghosting an autobiography means writing it the way the subject would have written it, if they had been able to write it themselves...in the voice of the subject....the nature of many ghostwriting projects means that a fee up front is often better than a cut of royalties....they’re not selling them, they’re giving them to clients and prospective clients, and to employees as a Christmas present." One firm that does custom publishing often gets paid $150,000 to $250,000, but that hires a staff of custom publishing specialists.
• Book in a Box. Someone who used to write for this "start-up" specialist got paid $3,000 to ghostwrite a book, drawing on 12 hours of interviews done by someone else (a pitiful sum to pay a writer). Entrepreneurs seem to be their chief clients: The 4 Steps a Startup Used to 'Book' $200K in 2 Months (Andrew Medal, Entrepreneur, 7-28-15) "What if I told you that you can spend about 12 hours talking to me, and I can turn that into a completely finished, professional book for sale on Amazon and everywhere else," he told her. Who are their customers? People who need to brand themselves but don't have time to write a book. My Interview with The Founder of Book in a Box (Jake Newfield, HuffPost, 6-9-17). 'Tucker Max, founder of Book in a Box, knows how to get publicity. "As Tucker explains, authoring a book can brand you as a subject expert. It 'Shows you know what you’re talking about, [and] shows the world what you know.' This is vitally important for people whose careers depend largely on their ability to market themselves and gain the trust of their customers. Authoring a book can give you a leg-up on the competition when customers are selecting the brand they trust the most and has the most presence."' The trick is to write to a strict formula. Book-in-a-Box Revealed: Behind the Scenes Using Tucker Max’s Book-in-a-Box to Write a Book (Lucas Carlson, Craftsman Founder, 2016?) Note the outline. Book in the box explains how their process works. and what it costs.
• Ghosting (Andrew O'Hagan, London Review of Books, 3-6-14) On ghosting the aborted memoir of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In case you can't get access to that article, read what Esther Addley writes about it in The Guardian (2-2-14).
• Confessions of a Ghost (Inc.com). Anonymously, a bestselling ghostwriter explains the making of business books, and what you don't want to know about it.
• Five Ways to Successfully Capture Your Author’s Voice (Jake Johnson, GhostwritePro 5-17-10)
• A Ghost's Memoir: The Making of Alfred P. Sloan's My Years with General Motors by John McDonald (foreword by Dan Seligman). Library Journal: "Between 1954 and 1959, McDonald, an editor and writer at Fortune magazine, helped Alfred P. Sloan write his groundbreaking classic on business management, My Years with General Motors. After the book was completed and a deal was made for Doubleday to publish, the lawyers at General Motors took over and forced Sloan to suppress the book. On the surface, this is the riveting story of the process by which the book was written, the ruthlessness of the lawyers who blocked its publication, the lawsuit by McDonald, and the compromise that paved the way for its publication in 1964. At a deeper level, it gives the reader a basic understanding of what it takes to write a book, the need for independence in such projects, and the chilling effect that fear of governmental intervention can have on such endeavors..."
• The Ghost of Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” (part 1 of Joey's take on the shooting script for the movie, “The Ghost Writer," GhostWritePro, 5-28-10). Here's part 1. Partly it's about the movie script and partly it's about why people want books so much they hire a ghostwriter. Part II is full of thoughtful advice and realities for writers helping people write their memoirs, played off scenes from the film "The Ghost Writer." (Joey)
• A Ghostwriter Who Struggled to Accept Life in the Shadows. Stephen Miller (WSJ, 7-29-09) on Sanford Dody, ghostwriter of many celebrity memoirs. Dody's own memoir was Giving Up the Ghost (1980), out of print and available at Abe Books but not Amazon!
• Ghostwriting, Part I: The Ballad of Michael Gruber (who has long been the ghostwriter for Robert Tanenbaum, the trial lawyer turned NY Times Bestselling writer). See also Part II: Motivations and Agendas, and Part III: Why do it in the first place?. Posted on Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (Crime fiction, and more--on hiatus, but old posts are still there and check out the great links, bottom left).
• Ghostwriting: Equal Parts Priest-Confessor, Therapist, Con-Artist, Artist (Victoria Costello, ASJA Monthly)
• Ghostwriting - Who is that "difficult" client, how to manage situation (Jane Genova, Speechwriter-Ghostwriter). See also her account of losing everything at 60, and starting over as a freelance writer-entrepreneur (download a free PDF eBook): Geezerguts: making a buck, no matter what (Oy vey - All those [middle-aged] unemployed writers--her story of loss and comeback)
• Ghost Stories (Lynn Andriani, Publishers Weekly, 5-26-06). Story about literary agent Madeleine Morel, who represents only ghostwriters, including several who write bestsellers, unacknowledged but paid.
• Ghostwrite Pro (quips, tips and laments for ghosts...by ghosts Jake Johnson, Joey Robert Parks, and Ed Sweet). Some entries:
• How to Impress a Potential Client Before First Contact (Part I) and (Part II) (Joey)
• The Perks and Perils of Being a Ghostwriter (Cathy Yardley, Writer Unboxed, 5-4-18) "The idea behind ghostwriting is being a ghost, vanishing into the work.... It’s a good thing for everyone to try, because you’ll never look at the process the same way again." The pros and the cons, from a novelist.
• Sometimes the Best Question Isn't a Sentence (Joey on using photos and pictures to draw out a memoir client)
• So You Need A Celebrity Book. Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostwriters (Gabrielle Emanuel, Weekend Edition, NPR, 4-12-14). Listen or read the transcript of this excellent story.
• 6 Lessons from a New York Ghost (Nancy Shulins)
• Why the Future is Now for Ghostwriters and Freelance Writers (Jake)
• Ghostwriting Fiction (Kerry Zukus)
• Famous Ghostwritten Books and Their Ghostwriters (Derek Lewis Ink)
• Plagiarism (in section on copyright). See in particular four items about the plagiarism rampant in genre writing and how massive an operaton it is. Ghostwriters, don't take these gigs! See also Plagiarism, self-plagiarism, recycling, patchwriting, and sloppy research (under Ethics).
• In Their Own Words? Maybe (Julie Bosman, NY Times, 6-1-11) Celebrity books and ghostwriters.
• Has John Grisham used ghost writers or co-writers for some of his novels? (Brian Palmer, Quora, 7-19-16) "Ghostwriting is something of an open secret in the publishing world. Lots and lots of authors employ ghostwriters once they get to a certain ‘critical mass’ and it begins to make good business sense to release more books more quickly—both for the author and for the publisher.... In the case of Grisham and Patterson, who are both still alive as far as I know, they are probably very involved in the process and Patterson even often shares credit with the writer on the cover, which is like handing someone a gold mine, so good on him....If it makes you feel better, chances are he doesn’t hire the ghostwriter himself and it wasn’t his idea—publishers get hungry for those bestsellers once they get a taste for it."
• An Interview with Erik Axl Sund (Susan Storer Clark, Washington Independent Review of Books, 7-12-16) A conversation with the two-man team behind one of Sweden’s most popular new works of crime fiction, The Crow Girl.
• Ghostwriting Fiction (Joey Parks, GhostwritePro)
• Donald Bain, Widely Read Author (but Not by That Name), Dies at 82 (Sam Roberts, NY Times obit, 10-26-17) "Donald Bain, the pseudonymous author of the “Murder, She Wrote” novels, Margaret Truman’s “Capital Crimes” mysteries and “Coffee, Tea or Me?,” the supposed memoir of two saucy airline stewardesses, died on Saturday in White Plains. Over five decades as a ghostwriter he published novels, biographies, westerns and historical romances, mostly under fictitious names or credited to more marketable bylines; vanity memoirs attributed to corporate executives; and even long articles disguised as excerpts from nonexistent books....Mr. Bain served in the Air Force while working as a disc jockey and announcer for radio and television stations in Texas. He then moved to New York, where he struggled to support his new family by selling children’s shoes at a department store and peddling typewriters. His fortunes changed when a cousin, a freelance writer who was overloaded with assignments, referred a writing project to him and connected him with a book editor."
• Whodunit? Your favorite author may be just a brand name (Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic 4-13-07). Some brand-name novelists (e.g., Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, James Patterson) franchise out their fiction; some novels are ghostwritten after the primary novelists' death (e.g., V.C. Andrew, Robert Ludlum, Lawrence Sanders, Ian Fleming, and Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels)
• A Novel Based on the True Story of a Con Man and His Ghostwriter (Olen Steinhauer, NY Times, 6-1-18) The novel: First Person by Richard Flanagan. "Richard Flanagan’s new novel approaches this shift in the zeitgeist by taking us back to the early ’90s and focusing on a time when out-and-out liars could still surprise us, when arguments were about interpretation rather than facts themselves; a time when the denial of objective reality could still frighten. It’s a time Flanagan knows well, because the story he tells is his."
• Who was Carolyn Keene? (Amy Benfer, Salon, 10-8-1999) An interview Q&A with Mildred Wirt Benson, the original ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew mystery novels.
• In Their Own Words? Maybe (Julie Bosman, NY Times, 6-1-11). There is an understanding among publishers, editors and agents that ghostwriters are behind many novels by celebrities. Says Bob Gottlieb, “It’s a way to extend the footprint of the celebrity.”
• Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: 7 fiction authors whose careers were extended by ghostwriters ( Kevin McFarland , Phil Dyess-Nugent , Noah Cruickshank & Mike Vago, A.V. Club, 8-14-13). The seven: Robert Ludlum, H.P. Lovecraft, K.A. Applegate, V.C. Andrews, Mickey Spillane, Tom Clancy, Isaac Asimov.
• Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters (Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss, 10-3-12)
• My dirty secret writing life (Anna Davies, Salon, 7-7-13) For years, I penned a mega-popular series of teen books under another name. I made money -- but I lost my voice
• The Ghost of Miss Truman, (Jon L. Breen The Weekly Standard) Did Margaret Truman write her own mystery novels or were they ghosted by Donald Bain? An interesting look at celebrity mystery authors who worked with ghostwriters, only occasionally (Peter Duchin, for example) sharing writing credits. Breen names names.
• Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters (Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss). Peter Lerangis, Andrew Neiderman, H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Benson, Daniel Ehrenhaft and Ryan Nerz. Can you guess which novels "by other authors" they wrote?
Ghostwriters, Creators, Cheats (Anuradha Swaminathan, WIPO). Novelist Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo) used many "collaborators," one of whom, Auguste Maquet, took him to court for unpaid fees and to "recover his literary property as a co-author." An interesting piece.
How To Break Into Ghostwriting (Roz Morris, guest-blogging on Courage 2 Create, 6-29-11). "I brought out eleven novels, eight of them bestsellers–and not one of them had my name on."
• My next book is a mess (Dan Blank, WeGrowMedia, 7-13-18) A nonwriter with content to share explains how collaborating with a book coach and getting feedback from writers and artists in his mastermind group helped him write better and take creative risk others might back away from ("to experiment with ideas when you don't have a roadmap").
Ghostwriting--The Publishing Industry’s Best-Kept Secret! (transcript of Derek Daniels' long interview with ghostwriter Bob Olson for OfSpirit.com). A plug for his services but a good description of the process.
The Good Life of Ghostwriting (Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01). "Book industry insiders estimate that 50% or more of all traditionally published books in today's market are worked on by one or more ghost/book doctor/line editor. In the self-publishing world, the percentage is probably even higher - and all indications point to the situation just becoming more and more favorable for the ghost."
Google Docs (one way of collaborating in the Cloud):
• Why Google Docs is a writer’s best friend: writing on the go, instant back-ups, advanced organization & tons of space
• Writing a book using Google Docs (Steven Daviss on how he and two co-authors collaborated on Shrink Rap: Three Psychiatrists Explain Their Work
• Don't Lose Your Google Docs Data (Tony Bradley, PCWorld, 5-25-11, writing about what happens if Google crashes and my data disappears?)
• Microsoft Office vs.Google Docs: A Web Apps Showdown (Ian Paul, PCWorld 7-13-09)
• Publish Google Docs To WordPress To Twitter & Facebook ETC
• Google Docs tour and demo
• Takeaway 1 from How to Get Into the Ghostwriting Game workshop (co-hosted with ASJA): Landing Your First Client
• Takeaway 2: Building a ghostwriting practice
Helmut Kohl's Secrets: Former Chancellor's Ghostwriter Plans New Book (Spiegel, 9-26-12) Journalist and ghostwriter Heribert Schwan spent years working with Helmut Kohl on his memoirs. He was able to amass a vast archive of material on the conservative politician and statesman before the former chancellor ended their collaboration, a move Schwan believes was engineered by Kohl's new wife. SPIEGEL spoke with Schwan about his plans to publish his research.
How Much Should I Charge? (Writers and Editors, Pricing Strategies, How to Set Rates and Fees, and Other Survival Basics)
How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter (Kelly James-Enger, Writer's Digest, 6-7-11) When you collaborate with an expert, your work is done when the book is published. They do the marketing, which takes (unpaid) time! Kelly covers typical ghosting fees and terms to cover in your collaboration agreement.
How to Un-Bury the Book You’ve Got in You. Ghostwriter Kerry Zukus guest blogs on Sharisax Is Out There (a site about social media). “We ghosts often refer to ourselves as underpaid shrinks. We hear it all,” writes Zukus. And "While most ghosts come from the worlds of journalism or advertising, the single best calling card for a potential ghost is the proven ability to write a full-length book."
Is Ghostwriting Ethical? (Cheryl Conner, Forbes, 3-13-14) Includes Ethical Guidelines for Ghostwriting (from from Ethics in Human Communications by Richard L. Johannesen, Kathleen S. Valde, and Karen E. Whedbee). See also Ghostwriting isn’t unethical (most of the time) (Steve Farnsworth, Ragan, 6-20-12) Some CEOs need a little extra writing help. Here’s how to offer it without raising any ethical questions.
I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter (Julia Moskin, NY Times, Dining, 3-13-12). "In most cases, the job of a ghostwriter is to produce a credible book from the thin air of a chef’s mind and menu — to cajole and probe, to elicit ideas and anecdotes by any means necessary. J. J. Goode, who wrote the just-released 'A Girl and Her Pig' with April Bloomfield, describes the process as '25 percent writing and 75 percent dating.' And although each project begins as a love affair, it rarely ends that way; disillusion is part of the job." Among food ghostwriters, the "rank beginners might be thanked in the acknowledgments of a book; the next step is being credited on the title page; at the very top of the profession, their names appear on the book’s cover. But getting up that pole can be a slippery business." After Gwenyth Paltrow denied working with a ghostwriter, food ghostwriter Sari Botton wrote this enlightening follow-up story: Ghosts Are Real, At Least In Publishing (The Rumpus, 3-26-12). "Maybe 'ghostwriting' is the wrong name for Turshen’s role. Maybe it’s the wrong label for this work, altogether, although I’m at a loss for a replacement that accurately describes taking raw verbal matter and transforming it first into rough jigsaw pieces, then smoothing and arranging those into a patchwork, and finally weaving it all into a seamless tapestry."
Keys to Writing Successful Cover Letters that Get Ghostwriting Gigs (Marcia Layton Turner, Association of Ghostwriters, 11-29-18)
Lawsuits are two for the books (Alex Beam, Boston.com). What happens when a ghostwriting firm and a ghostwriter disagree on terms.
Like Mother, Like Child (Robin and Sam Henig, New York Times Magazine, 11-21-12, write about the pleasures and problems of parent-child collaboration, which in their case was mostly pleasure, on Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?. Love this excerpt: “How does it feel to be in your mother’s shadow?” one interviewer asked Anna Lappé during the book tour for “Hope’s Edge.” To which she replied: “I’m not in my mother’s shadow. I’m in my mother’s light.”
Marketing Yourself via Ghostwriting (R.A. Burnham, Certification Magazine, about getting publicity through ghostwritten articles).
Medical ghostwriting (as collaboration)
Medical ghostwriting and ethical issues in medical publishing
My Shrink Is My Co-Author (Susan Shapiro, Townies, NY Times, 10-19-11). Amusing piece about how the shrink-patient relationship changed when the financial-collaboration relationship impinged on the shrink's income--the writer-patient got demoted as a patient.
Nailing the Voice in Ghostwriting and Collaboration (Doug Wagner, The Editorial Department). Apparently no longer available.
Nancy Peske on common ghostwriting concerns (Sandra Gurvis, ASJA Confidential, 12-5-17) "How do you handle clients who are constantly contacting you with minor revisions that can be easily managed during routine manuscript flow? How do you avoid project creep? How do you structure your deals and keep clients on track and on schedule?” While some of these issues may occur with all writers they are of particular concern to ghostwriters. Book packagers particularly need ghostwriters and pay well." And I quote again: “A testimonials page is a huge selling point,” Nancy observes. Her page, for example, has not only blurbs from an impressive array of satisfied customers but also photos of the book covers. “A visual element is very important” when drawing traffic to your website. Another important consideration was “that it not just about a big advance, sometimes it’s more about exposure.” Clients who can parlay great book concepts into sequels, blogs, speeches and even movies “can be a constant and reliable source of income, especially if you are very familiar with their voice and platform.”
New authors produce sequels to famous books written by others (Neely Tucker, Washington Post, 10-22-09) Would A.A. Milne pooh-pooh a sequel?
The Online Entrepreneur’s Complete Guide to Ghostwriting (Part 1) (in which ghostwriter Marcy Sheiner offers five reasons to hire a ghostwriter, and one good reason not to: It's not cheap!). In Part II she writes about who to hire and where to find someone who is qualified, and she briefly outlines the four main steps in the collaboration process. Her main point: "To Publish and Sell (or Give Away) This Book, You Do Not Have to Be The One To Write It!" (in other words: hire a ghostwriter). Another point with which I heartily agree: "You don’t make money on a book – you make opportunities to make money."
A Peek Inside the Mother-Daughter Collaboration That Brought Us the Little House Series (Rebecca Onion, The Vault, Slate's history blog, 4-21-14). See also Wilder Women The mother and daughter behind the Little House stories (Judith Thurman New Yorker, 8-10-09)
Polar Opposites Find Common Ground in Music. (Neda Ulaby, All Things Considered, 12-29-10, 5.5 minutes) For years, musical duos with a shared sensibility and strong opposing personalities have made hit after hit. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards — all of these teams have found a middle ground together. ""When chaos meets order, when anarchy meets discipline, it's always the yin and yang," says memoir collaborator David Ritz. "I think tension is the key."
Ed Robertson on ghostwriting (Valerie Connelly's 40-minute interview with Ed on Feb 19, 2008 on Calling All Authors talk show). This doesn't seem to be online anymore.
The Secret World of Ghost Writing (audio of David Kohn's frank interview on ABC Australia's TheBookShow)
The Shadow Scholar ("Ed Dante," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11-12-10). The man who writes your students' papers tells his story. Ghostwriter of academic papers and homework tells how he makes a living ($66,000 his best year) writing papers for a custom-essay company and describes the extent of student cheating he has observed. Long, fascinating, and disheartening article. The "paper mill" was covered more lightheartedly in The Term Paper Artist by Nick Mamatas (The Smart Set, Drexel University, 10-10=08). Nick was also interviewed by NPR (The Paper Market, On the Media, 11-28-10).
Six important lessons from a New York Ghost (New York writer Nancy Shulins ghostblogs on GhostWritePro, 4-9-10)
Top 40 ghostwriter blogs (sez Feedspot.com)
Top 10 Ghostwritten Books (Scott Larning, AbeBooks.com)
Top 3 Reasons I Ghostwrite for a Living (Joey Robert Parks, GhostwritePro, 5-20-10)
When the author isn't a writer: bringing in a ghost (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal blog, 8-3-08)
• Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it? (Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 6-9-14). Mark "Sullivan charges his clients — businesspeople promoting investment strategies and doctors with thoughts about the health-care system, among others — fees starting at $15,000 per book. But the price can rise quickly depending on how long and complex a project is, he says. Top ghostwriters, those contracted by publishing houses to produce, say, a celebrity bestseller, can earn as much as $500,000 for their work, says Kevin Anderson, who runs a self-named ghostwriting firm in New York. “I wish I was in that league,” says Anderson, who works with professional athletes, business executives and “people with incredible life stories but weak writing skills.”
Working with a Ghost (Theodore Kinni, Chief Executive.net, 8-16-06). The view from the "author's chair," about working with a ghostwriter.
Charles McGrath, in A Team, but Watch How You Put It (NY Times, 11-11-09) offers glimpses into the famous collaboration of famous tennis bad boy Andre Agassi and J.R. Moehringer in an "uncommonly well-written sports memoir." Moehringer, who worked from more than 1100 pages of transcripts, from 250 hours of interviews, describes a process that sounds partly like psychoanalysis and partly like Gilbert and Sullivan. He and Agassi dug through those many pages together to find themes.
Toward the end of a long interview with Terry Gross about his novel about Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, Moehringer talks at some length about his collaboration with Agassi on Open. For example: It "wasn't very different from writing my own memoir. When you're writing a memoir the trick, I think, is to treat yourself as a character — to distance yourself from yourself. You write about yourself in the first person, but you think about yourself in the third person. That's the only way you can gain any perspective, any clarity, and keep the dogs of narcissism at bay. And then when you're writing someone else's memoir, you do just the opposite. You try and inhabit their skin, and even though you're thinking third person, you're writing first person, so the processes are mirror images of each other, but they seem very simpatico."
The "first thing that we did," says Moehringer, "was we started a long really wonderful conversation about his life. It worked like therapy. I did - I sat in a straight back chair and Andre sat on a couch and I had a pad in my lap and he really, he dug deep, and together we found patterns and themes in his life. But it did get to the point where I was really worried that I might make some suggestion or render some analysis that would leave him, you know, helpless to Steph and the kids.
"So I started reading, like, Freud and Jung and giving myself this crash course in psychology. And - but he thought that was hysterical, but I was really worried that, I mean, he was digging so deep that I wouldn't be able to get him, you know, back to surface."
Janet Maslin, in her review of Open, writes that Agassi "uses his writing partner in the same way he uses his tennis support staff: as talented individuals in a universe where he, Mr. Agassi, is the one and only sun. (He said that he offered to put Mr. Moehringer’s name on the book, and that Mr. Moehringer declined.)" (Agassi Basks in His Own Spotlight , NY Times, 11-8-09) Moehringer established his life-writing credentials in 2005 with his own fine memoir, The Tender Bar, about growing up fatherless in pub-heavy Manhasset, New York, and finding eccentric role models at a pub, in a "dysfunctional but tightly knit community."
• When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking (Noam Cohen, NY Times 3-9-06)."A need for constant updates has created a cottage industry that fans may not be aware of: Twitter ghostwriters."
• Stars Gain Control of Online Images (Jeremy Beiler, NY Times 5-8-11)
• Should Nonprofit Leaders Have Ghostwriters? (Peter Panepento, The Chronicle of Philanthropy 2-11-10)
• Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue (Dave Fleet, 3-23-09, one of several blogs on this topic)
• The Specter Behind the Tweet – Ghost Writing, Authenticity, and Social Media (Tom Woolf, the PRagmatist, 10-31-10)
• FAQs about Medical Ghostwriting (Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, 8-10-11).
• Ghostwriting and the Medical Writer (Cynthia Haggard, American Medical Writers Association, 12-05)
• Ethical Editing – Ghostwriting is an unhealthy practice (Ernesto Spinak, SciELO blog, 1-16-14)
• American Medical Writers Association code of ethics
• Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. Here's a list of Journals Following the ICMJE Recommendations.
• Being the Ghost in the Machine: A Medical Ghostwriter's Personal View (Linda Logdberg, PLoS Medicine, 8-9-11). What she did, why she did it, and why she stopped doing it.
• Medical writers rail against Sunshine Act (CenterWatch, News-Online, 9-8-15) Citing insufficient professional guidance on how to interpret certain elements of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a group of seven medical writers and editors has concluded that difficulty could have a “chilling effect” on physicians’ ability to participate in clinical trials and publish results.
• Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger (The PLoS Medicine Editors, 9-8-09) "How did we get to the point that falsifying the medical literature is acceptable? How did an industry whose products have contributed to astounding advances in global health over the past several decades come to accept such practices as the norm? Whatever the reasons, as the pipeline for new drugs dries up and companies increasingly scramble for an ever-diminishing proportion of the market in “me-too” drugs, the medical publishing and pharmaceutical industries and the medical academic community have become locked into a cycle of mutual dependency, in which truth and a lack of bias have come to be seen as optional extras. Medical journal editors need to decide whether they want to roll over and just join the marketing departments of pharmaceutical companies."
• Ghostwriters in the Medical Literature (Susan Gaidos, Science, 11-12-10) The ugly truth about the role that "ghostwriters, and the medical-education companies (MECs) that employ them, have played -- and continue to play -- in shaping the medical-science literature....The cynical injection of marketing messages into the scientific literature sounds outrageous, but abuses common in academic publishing set the stage."
• Ghostwriting, RICO and Fraud on the Court? (Ed Silverman, Pharmalot blot 8-3-11). Two Toronto academics suggest pursuing class action lawsuits based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and filing claims of ‘fraud on the court’ against a drugmaker that uses ghostwritten articles in litigation. they base their argument on article published in PLoS Medicine: Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles (by Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens).
• Professor files complaint of scientific misconduct over allegation of ghostwriting by Bob Roehr (BMJ 2011; 343:d4458), filed 7-13-11.
• The murky world of academic ghostwriting (Julia Beluz, McLeans 5-6-11). Lawsuits are shedding light on the dubious relationship between medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies
• Answers to FAQs about Medical Ghostwriting (Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, 8-10-11).
• Only full access to trial data will show signs of ghostwriting, meeting hears BMJ 2011;342:doi:10.1136/bmj.d2925 (5-10-11--subscription required). These articles are about an important meeting on medical ghostwriting held in Toronto, Spring 2011: The Ethics of Ghost Authorship in Biomedical Research: Concerns and Remedies
• How Scientific Literature Has Become Part of Big Pharma's Marketing Machine and How Being Nice Hurts Canada: 5 Questions with Ghostwriting Expert Trudo Lemmens (Paul Thacker, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), 6-22-11)
• Ghost Writing and Scientific Misconduct: What does this reflect? (Solomon R. Benatar, JCB Voice, also about the Toronto conference).
• Ghostwriters in the Fray: The Implications for Science, Industry, Medical Journals, and Our Patients (Richard Salcido, Advances in Skin & Wound Care: The Journal for Prevention and Healing, Nov. 2009).
• How drug companies' PR tactics skew the presentation of medical research. Elliot Ross reveals the secret 'army of hidden scribes' paid by the drug companies to influence doctors (5-20-11)
• Give up the ghosts. "Funding agencies should make researchers reveal industry links." Nature 468. 732. (09 December 2010) doi:10.1038/468732a
• What Should Be Done To Tackle Ghostwriting in the Medical Literature?. A debate about medical ghostwriting on PLoS Medicine, with Peter C. Gøtzsche, Jerome P. Kassirer, Karen L. Woolley, Elizabeth Wager, Adam Jacobs, Art Gertel, Cindy Hamilton. (2009) PLoS Med 6(2): e1000023. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000023)
• Publishing: A helping hand (Karen Kaplan, NatureJobs.com, orig. pub'd in Nature 12-1-10). Can the growing number of manuscript-editing services turn a mediocre paper into a publishable one? A plug for the legitimate editing of scientific papers, with sidebars on Opportunities in editing and How to choose a manuscript-editing service. You can also get the PDF version of the article.
• The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT” (Adriane J. Fugh-Berman, PLoS Med 7(9): e1000335, 9-7-10). (Fugh-Berman examines documents unsealed in recent litigation to see how pharmaceutical companies promoted hormone therapy drugs, which included using medical writing companies to produce ghostwritten manuscripts and place them in medical journals). Read the response by Adam Jacobs of the European Medical Writers Association.
• How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers (Tim Albert and Elizabeth Wager), one of several guidelines published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
• Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy (Natasha Singer, NY Times, 8-4-2009). See also Medical ghostwriting and the role of the 'author' who acts as the sheet (Janet D. Stemwedel, Adventures in Ethics and Science blog, 8-21-09)
• New strategies to tackle medical ghostwriting are debated (Science News)
• Medical Journal Ghostwriting: Time to Do Something? (Shirley S. Wang, WSJ 9-18-09)
• "Ghosting Matilda", humorous verse, on the Health Care Renewal blog (9-25-09)
• Ghostwriting(Derek Lowe, In the Pipeline, a short entry followed by an intelligent discussion with readers)
• Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry? (Sergio Sismondo, PLoS Med 4(9): e286, 9-25-07)
• Good Publication Practice for Pharmaceutical Companies Guidelines (Envision Pharma, 2006)
• Evidence in Vioxx Suits Shows Intervention by Merck Officials (Alex Berenson, NY Times, 4-24-05)
• Revealed: how drug firms 'hoodwink' medical journals (Antony Barnett, The Observer, 12-7-03). Pharmaceutical giants hire ghostwriters to produce articles - then put doctors' names on them
See also (with some repetition of what you find here) Medical ghostwriting and ethical issues in medical publishing
1) Whether you will share copyright jointly or not;
2) Credits: Will both names appear on the cover, and if so, in what order and in what wording and relative size? Generally the publisher will want the name of the more prominent author to appear first, but will it be A and B, A with B, A as told to B, or what? Or will second writer's name appear only on title page, or in acknowledgments, or not at all (as in some but not all ghostwriting arrangements)? Will one name be larger and more prominent than the other?
3) Will one party be paid only a fee for services? (a fee for writing book proposal? a fee for proposal and a share of revenue?) Whether parties will share income from the publisher, and in what proportion (50/50 or ?), etc.
4) Who will have control over the work and, if there is disagreement, whose decision will be final.
5) Termination: What to do if the partnership doesn't work out. What to do should they arrive at a point where they can't agree on the direction of the work.
6) Expenses: Who covers what?
7) What does each person contribute? Who provides content in which areas? Who does interviews? Who does what proportion of the writing? Who clears permissions? Who pays permission fees? How much time can each be expected to devote each week? What will their schedule be, and what deadlines do they agree to meet?
8) Maximum, minimum. Is a party who is a "contributor" guaranteed a minimum but, in exchange, also a maximum--a cutoff on share of proceeds?
9) Share of ancillary rights: For example, does a contributor have a right to income from exploitation of other rights, such as foreign language sales?
* Book Collaboration Basics by Stephanie Golden. Be sure to read Key Contract Clause: Scope of Work and Why Collaborations Fail
*About Collaboration Contracts (Mary Embree, Independent Book Publishers Association, formerly PMA, from publisher's viewpoint)
• Good Fences: When and Why Co-Writers Should Have Collaboration Agreements (Mark Fowler, Rights of Writers, 1-29-11) Outlines what seven questions should be addressed in the agreement, including "3. How will the work be credited? Whose name will be first? Will it be styled: "you and me," "you with me," "by you as told to me," or will I be a completely invisible ghost?" and "7. What happens if you can't sell the work or one of you doesn't uphold your end of the bargain because of illness, death, competing obligations, laziness, incompetence? How will you terminate the relationship? What rights, if any, will each of you own in the work?"
• Ghostwriting – 8 Elements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement by literary agent Anne Wayman. See also her Renegotiating A Writing Contract.
• Legalities 28: Copyright Ownership for Collaborative Projects Linda Joy explains the difference between joint works and derivative works, the role of art directors, and the various copyright implications when more than one person is involved in a project. "In most cases, potential licensees for your work will want exclusive rights to market the work. Your product design will be much less valuable if your joint author could also sell it to your client’s competitors. So it would be prudent for you and your friend to explicitly agree on how you will share the copyright and how you will make marketing and licensing decisions. These terms are separate from your agreement to share profits 50-50, and they can vary depending on how you want to take care of the marketing decisions."
*Collaboration agreement forms for authors and screenwriters (James A. Conrad)
* Good Fences: When and Why Co-Writers Should Have Collaboration Agreements (Mark Fowler, Rights of Writers, 1-29-11)
* Should we sign a contract?
• The Author Prenup: Advice for Collaborators (Lloyd J. Jassin, Copylaw
*Collaboration Agreements in the Publishing Industry (Lloyd J. Jassin, Absolute Write). Do you need a collaboration agreement? Double the trouble or half the work? A good overview of elements of a collaboration agreement.
* Writers Guild collaboration agreement (PDF)
* Free Writing Collaboration Contract Forms for Authors and Screenwriters (James Conrad)
*Key Contract Clause: Scope of Work (Stephanie Golden)
* Negotiating Collaboration Agreements: How to Avoid Common Business and Legal Mistakes (Lloyd J. Jassin, Copylaw.com)
* Songwriting. "Simply stated, a Collaboration Agreement is a mini-partnership agreement. The partnership assets are the songs covered by the agreement. The songwriters are the partners and the agreement details how the expenses and income related to the songs will be shared." ~ Kent Newsome, "The Art of the Deal (5-15-98, Suite 101.com)
*"[T]he author of a book is the person who supplies the ideas, plan, theory, stories, etc. The person who helps the author arrange everything on paper in a marketable form is the writer. The person who makes sure the manuscript conforms to commercial standards is the editor. Individuals who bring material, research and/or story ideas to the project are co-authors or collaborators. ~ from an excellent article on the art, craft, and business, The Good Life of Ghostwriting (by Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01).
• Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights . The Guild recommends that any production involving a dramatist incorporate a written agreement in which both theatres/producers and writers acknowledge certain key rights with each other.
• How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter (Kelly James-Enger, Writer's Digest, 6-7-11) Kelly mentions typical ghosting fees and terms to cover in your collaboration agreement.
• Contract terms for book publishing (full section of links to everything from the Author's Guild's Improving Your Book Contract: Negotiation Tips for Nine Typical Clauses to 8 clauses an agent is likely to negotiate in a contract
* See also Sarah Wernick's Q&A further down on this page.
What follows, adapted from the website of the late, wonderful Sarah Wernick, has migrated here by permission of Sarah's husband, Willie Lockeretz, on behalf of all the expert authors who ask, and the professional writers who are repeatedly asked, certain basic questions about writing a book and getting it published. Thank you, Sarah!
You don't have to write a book all by yourself! Team up with someone whose expertise complements yours. You'll make the process more efficient and enjoyable – and boost the odds for success.
- Why work with a professional writer?
- How do I find a collaborator?
- What should I look for in a writer?
- Should we sign a contract?
- What are the usual financial arrangements?
- Who gets credit on the book jacket?
- Who holds copyright?
- How do collaborators write together?
- Other questions?
Updated January 1, 2007
The answer is obvious if you know your prose can't do justice to your ideas. But what if your friends and colleagues admire your writing? Say you’ve written for trade magazines or technical journals. Maybe you’ve published an academic book or articles. Do you really need to work with a writer?
Maybe not. But realize that a popular book requires a different writing style. Also, commercial publishing involves expertise beyond word craft, such as knowing how to find an agent and how to present a book idea effectively in this competitive marketplace.
For example, when a strong writer works with an expert who doesn’t yet have an agent, she arranges for the two to meet with several agents who would be appropriate for their book. If she's selective about the experts she collaborates with – and can write strong book proposals – her books receive six-figure advances (as Sarah's did). Her experience and connections are also useful after the book is published, when the focus turns to marketing.
If you’d rather work on your own, start by learning about the profession. For a quick overview, have a look at So, You Want to Write a Book! Check out the links and read the recommended books; join a writers’ organization and attend classes and workshops. Gain experience as a commercial writer by submitting articles to popular publications.
All this probably sounds like a lot of work – and indeed it is. Do you have the time to develop a second profession as a writer? Is this the best use of your energies? If not, collaborating with a writer might make more sense.
If you're an expert with a high profile in your profession, a writer might find you. Sarah contacted Miriam Nelson of Tufts University after reading an article Miriam wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA); they subsequently collaborated on three books.
A writer might interview you for a magazine or newspaper article, and then ask if you’ve thought about writing a book. Peggy McCarthy, a patient advocate who was a source for two magazine articles Sarah wrote about lung cancer, later called Sarah with a book idea and they became coauthors.
Sometimes experts are contacted by someone in publishing – an agent, an editor, or a book packager – who sees a potential book idea in their work. Any of these people can recommend writers.
Another approach is to look for a writer yourself. Go to a bookstore and browse through books similar to the one you’d like to write. Look at the bylines and read the acknowledgments. Also check magazines and newspapers for popular articles on your subject. When you’ve gathered some names, plug them into Google or another search engine. Many writers have websites, so it's easy to find them and learn more about their work.
You can also find a collaborator through writers’ organizations. For example, the American Society of Journalists and Authors has a free referral service called Freelance Writer Search; job listings are publicized to a membership of over 1,200 published writers who have met the organization's standards of professional achievement.
Relevant experience is valuable in every profession, including writing. The ideal coauthor is someone with experience writing collaborative books on a subject similar to yours for the same target audience as your book. A writer with an excellent track record is not only more likely to do a good job, but will also be an asset when selling the project to a publisher.
Check references. Ask the writer if you can call experts with whom he or she has worked in the past.
Get together and talk about your project. Do the two of you communicate well? Does the writer ask intelligent questions? Understand your answers? Offer good suggestions? Personal compatibility counts too. Collaborators work closely over the time required to write a book.
Definitely! As soon as you begin writing with someone, you are creating jointly owned property together. Having a written agreement is as important as it would be if you were building a house. Before you start working with a writer, both of you should sign a collaboration agreement. This is true even if you decide to write your book with a friend.
The collaboration agreement covers the following:
- Description of each person's responsibilities
- Monetary issues, including compensation and expenses
- Credit, copyright, and control
- Provisions for the unexpected and the unpleasant
For information on collaboration agreements, see the following books, all of which include other valuable information for writers:
- The Writer's Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook for the Working Writer, Third Edition, by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren (Perseus, 1998)
- The Writer's Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference, Third Edition, by Tad Crawford and Kay Murray (Allworth Press, 2002)
- Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self-Publishers, Revised Edition, by Tad Crawford (Allworth Press, 2000). The book's model collaboration agreement is included in "About Collaboration Contracts," an article by Mary Embree.
Though model agreements can be helpful, it's prudent to have your contract reviewed by a literary attorney or agent before you sign it.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors collects data on collaborative splits from its members. Their reports indicate that the single most common arrangement is for the writer and expert to split the advance and royalties 50-50. But these deals are negotiated individually. Variations in both directions are common.
Even with a 50-50 split, specifics differ. For example, the writer – who usually must live on the proceeds, while the expert normally has other professional income – might receive a greater share of the advance, while the expert collects first royalties to make up the difference.
In most cases the writer receives an up-front fee for writing the book proposal. Fees vary considerably: $3,000 is minimal; $5,000 to $10,000 is more typical – and writers with a strong track record may charge much more. Sometimes the fee is considered an advance against money earned from the book, but sometimes it's a separate payment. All financial arrangements should be spelled out in a written collaboration agreement before work begins.
Credit is determined by mutual agreement. When peers collaborate on a book, they may flip a coin to decide whose name comes first. An author like Sarah receives a “with” byline on the jackets of coauthored books, signaling that the expert is the lead author. The expert collaborator’s name is typically printed first and in larger type. Similarly, the description of the expert-author that's printed on the book jacket flap, is longer than the description of the writer and may include a photo, which the writer’s might not. All these details should be spelled out in your collaboration agreement.
Some experts prefer not to credit the writer. But most professional writers are proud of their books and would hesitate to collaborate with someone who was unwilling to acknowledge their work. Those who agree to be a ghost writer (a writer or collaborator with no credit) usually expect commensurately higher payment to assuage the pain of no credit.
This too is negotiated. A solid professional writer normally shares copyright with his or her collaborators.
Coauthors work in many different ways. Sometimes the writer does all the writing; sometimes the expert produces the first draft and the writer polishes – and those are just two examples. Part of the challenge of collaborating is devising a congenial and effective process.
Some collaborators prefer to meet in person; others work via email or telephone. Often, there's a combination. For example, at the beginning of Sarah's collaboration with Rick Bradley, she traveled to Washington DC, where he works, for a two-day meeting to plan their book, Quick Fit. After that, telephone conferences and emails sufficed. In Sarah's experience, distance is not an obstacle to successful collaboration.
Have a look at Sarah Wernick’s chapter about collaborations in The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business for Non-Fiction Writers of All Experience Levels, edited by Tim Harper for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (St. Martin's Press, 2003).