Friday, June 14, 2013

One Plus One Doesn’t Always Equal Two

At some point in your writing career, you may have entertained the thought of collaborating with someone on a book or other writing project. Collaboration can take two forms—working with  another writer or working with someone who’s an expert in a particular subject area.

Writers, agents, and editors all feel strongly one way or the other about collaboration, depending on whether their own experiences with collaborators have been positive or negative.  Rule Number One: Consider what may lie ahead before you get involved.

If you collaborate with a friend, you can ruin your friendship. Or it can be the stimulating experience that keeps both of you working at top form. Looking at collaboration from a strictly business point of view, there are advantages—pooling resources, contacts, and efforts. However, you’ll also need to share the proceeds whether they’re good or bad. 

Before starting work on a collaboration project, draw up a contract specifying who will do what kind of work, how moneys are to be divided, and so on. You’ll both need to think out this agreement thoroughly. After all, it will be a legally binding agreement. If it’s for the long term, you should discuss it with your accountant, lawyer, or agent to help iron out any negative parts prior to signing. Be sure to include a buy-out or phase-out clause in case you or your partner have a change of heart.

A collaborative writing effort means two people agree before-hand what kind of contribution each will make to a given work. The problems aren't the same as those involved in ghostwriting for a non-writer—a scientist, a doctor, or any other professional—who wants to have his or her thoughts or discoveries published. But problems will crop up, even though the neither of you has have no inherent disagreement. Each is bound to react differently, for instance, to what an agent or editor or publisher says about a book, for instance—how it looks, what sort of publicity it gets, and so forth.

In most cases, a writer works individually on a piece, thus deciding what should or shouldn’t be included. In a collaboration, each partner will want his or her own say. And each will have more expertise in one job or another.

One, for example, may be better at research and writing the first draft while the other is better at editing, asking for clarification or amplification where needed, making suggestions, cleaning up the language. With two pairs of eyes looking over the manuscript, it should be in much better shape when you finally send it off to a publisher than if just one of you worked on it.

In this type of working arrangement, the second partner, the one not involved with writing the text first, approaches the manuscript cold, and will see and comprehend it as a reader would. If parts are confusing or there are voids, this partner will find them. Also, working with someone else, especially another writer, will force you and your partner to work to higher standards.

A different set of problems may arise when working with an expert in a given field. While the expert may know his or her subject matter, they may not be able to relay it clearly to the reader. As a writer, you’ll be in the best position to accomplish this. However, the expert partner may think they know how to write, based on the academic writing they learned in school. This can and often does create conflicts in writing style. Let’s face it, the style of writing you work with as a professional writer is often very different than what’s used by academics. You won’t be producing a thesis, but your partner may approach the project as if you are.

Before you make any final decision about collaborating, be certain you've evaluated your own most important needs. If your analysis shows that two heads are better than one, go for it. But if your intuition tells you that you may run into more problems than collaboration is worth, back off.

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