Always determine in advance who will do what and who will own what And put down your agreements in writing

Now you're going to say, "Okay, that one doesn't apply to me because I'm going to be doing my collaboration with my best friend. Next!"

Wait. Please. This is the most important thing that you can do, right now, to make sure that you and your friend are still friends after the collaboration is done. I lost a friend - a good friend - over a collaboration, and I might have lost her anyway, but if we had written down, in advance, what each of us would be required to do to complete an acceptable collaboration, maybe we wouldn't have ended up never speaking to each other again.

Here are the absolute minimum number of things you need to agree on, in writing, before you start your project.

1. Who owns each character and the universe you have created (or each part of it), and whether either of you has the right to do solo works in the universe or whether it can only be used for collaborative ventures.

2. What each of you may and may not do to characters owned by the other.

3. Who gets final edit on the manuscript or manuscripts, or if this will change from book to book, how you will determine in advance who will get final edit each time. (And I'm telling you right now, you cannot both have final edit. Only one person can ever have the last word. Figure out before you type the first word who that person is going to be.)

4. How you will divide the work itself.

5. What will happen to the universe and its characters if one or both of you want to drop out.

6. How you will resolve differences if one of you does work that the other deems unacceptable, inappropriate, or simply wrong for the world.

7. Whose name will go first on the cover. It's going to have to be the same one every time, so figure it out now.

There is a further list of things that you'll need to work out in advance if one or both of you have already sold solo works, or has an agent and/or a publisher.

1. Whose agent or agency will negotiate contracts and subrights.

2. Who will deal primarily with the editor.

3. Who will write outlines and treatments.

4. How the money will be divided in both best- and worst-case situations, and who will be the one who receives payment and will be responsible for paying the other one.

An agent can help you with some of this stuff, but some of it you're going to have to figure out on your own. It isn't fun. It is important.

If you're like most potential collaborators, this little list has startled you. None of us, when we're sitting down with a friend hammering out story concepts and shaping our universe and characters together, is thinking, "Now who's going to get first billing on the book and who is going to edit whom, and what happens if my friend turns out not to be able to finish his half of the work so that I get stuck doing all of it?" We're just having fun, playing around with the magic of creation, and all the things that can and eventually will go wrong are still a million miles away. Please believe me when I tell you that all the best intentions in the world won't help you when things start going wrong. Then you need to have things in writing.

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