Informally surveying my nonfiction book coaching clients, their Number One challenge refers to locating the right individual to help them meet their deadlines, i.e., submitting their book on time.
Unless you make the right choice, you may be in for some tough sledding—now, or later. Often, stalled nonfiction authors may choose the wrong individual. Impulsive decisions can create big problems now or in the future. Asking the right questions can help you avoid problems that multiply your tasks, rather than reducing your responsibilities.
Your three options include choosing a coauthor, ghostwriter, or contributor.
Like getting married, relations can quickly sour. That’s why it’s important to choose the right type of writing assistance.
- A coauthor relationship implies equality and equity. For better or for worse, you’re entering a partnership. You and your partner must agree on the title, the topics to be covered in each chapter, and the deadlines each partner must meet. The co-author’s reimbursement is likely to come from their publisher’s advance and progress payments, plus their share of publisher royalties.
- Ghostwriters are often referred to as “work for hire” relationships. The original author can specify the terms—primarily financial–of the ghost-writing relationship. Ghost-writers usually receive payments as they meet their deadlines. There may be future post-publication, sales-based payments. However, as described below, there may be some issues involving promotional rights and obligations.
- Nonfiction authors may choose one, or more, contributors. Contributors are usually responsible for specific chapters of the book. Depending on their visibility and the quality of their brand, their contribution to the book may be acknowledged on the cover of the book and in the book’s author credits and the table of contents.
There is room for flexibility negotiating each relationship. If the author is represented by a literary agency, the agent can play an important role in negotiating realistic terms—including changing the original publishing contract, if necessary.
Success requires both parties to think ahead and candidly discuss both the terms of their financial relationships as well as rights and obligations down the road. The following are some of the potential pitfalls that accompany each option.
Why are contracts necessary?
To eliminate future problems, it’s important to prepare a contract that specifies each party’s rights and obligations. At minimum, a contract eliminates the possibility of misunderstandings that can undermine existing friendships. At worst, a contract can reduce the necessity of hiring an attorney skilled in intellectual property disputes.
Contracts must specify the work that needs to be done, the schedule and deadlines for each task, the agreed upon fees, and when payment is due.
Content rights and obligations
Here are some of the content questions you might want to address before you start to interview potential coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors.
- What happens when the original author and coauthor cannot agree on content, or delivery dates? Who casts the deciding vote? Are they obligated to revise their contributions if the original author feels the content is not acceptable in its current form? How much time should they have to submit a revised version?
- What rights and obligations do coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors enjoy concerning future editions of the book? Are they obligated to rewrite or update their chapters? How will they be reimbursed for their revisions and updates?
- Are coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors required to submit reader questions or resource materials for the chapters they are responsible for? Are they expected to contribute a foreword or introduction to the book or Appendix elements like glossaries and recommended resources?
- Are coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors responsible for preparing the graphics, i.e., infographics and tables, associated with their chapters?
Many writing relationships flounder on promotional issues, i.e. who is responsible for book promotion. Strong relationships are the result of addressing as many promotional rights and obligations before writing begins.
- What promotional rights and obligations must coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors agree to?
- What order will the books authors be listed in?
- How much of the book’s content may coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors use in their profiles for articles, online marketing, blog posts, newsletters, speeches, videos and other promotional materials or reimbursed based on the book? Can they include content from chapters written by the original author?
- How much of the book’s content may coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors use in their newsletters, speeches, videos and other promotional materials based on the book? Can they include content from chapters written by the original author? Can they refer to their involvement in the book without mentioning the original author’s name?
- Are coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors required to notify the original author before they are interviewed about the book? Do they have to offer the original author an opportunity to participate in the interview?
- Can coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors refer to their involvement in the book in their personal profiles or marketing materials without mentioning the original author’s name?
- Can coauthors, ghostwriters, or contributors be required to approach well known authors in their field regarding pre-publication quotes and testimonials?
Financial rights and obligations
Who qualifies for royalties based on book sales? Coauthors may split 50% of the advance and royalties if they come on board before the original author has made significant progress writing a book for a trade publisher. Ghostwriters are paid on a work-for-hire basis. Contributors may, or may not, be reimbursed for their efforts depending on the original author’s platform and visibility.
- When will payments become due? What happens if the ghostwriters and contributors fail to submit their chapters on time or their submissions fail to meet the original author’s standards for quality and quantity?
- How many copies of the book will contributors receive for promotional distribution? What will be the per-copy cost of additional copies desire for promotion or resale? Are there any quantity minimums required for when purchasing books? (Many authors will only sell books in case lot quantities.)
- What rights do coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors enjoy after the book is published? Can coauthors use the book title and cover image to promote their own blog, newsletter, podcast series, speaking tour, or video course? What control does the original author have over the content?
A separate contract is a good idea when preparing a workbook to accompany the original book.
Choosing the right option
The right choice is often determined by how the original author answers following questions:
- What is the current status of the book manuscript? What progress has already been made? How many chapters remain to be written?
- What are the deadlines for the remainder of the book? How far behind schedule are you? If you could reduce stress by delegating one or more of the remaining chapters, how many chapters could you realistically expect to complete on your own?
- What are the penalties for postponing or abandoning the book? Obviously, this depends on whether you’re self-publishing the book or have signed a contract for the book and cashed the advance. If you’ve intended to self-publish your book, can you omit one or more of the overdue chapters and write a shorter version of your book?
- What is your financial condition? Could you afford the costs of hiring capable assistance for a self-published book? This might be the determining factor. Your financial condition doesn’t matter if your book will be printed by a trade publisher. But, many ghostwriters, in particular, may not want to work for future payment, especially when royalty payments depend on the book’s sales success.
At first glance, the questions listed above may appear unnecessarily negative. This is not because I am prejudiced against authors who choose to work with others. I am, however, concerned because choices may be influenced by stress and the understandable temptation to want to work with coworkers and friends—especially when deadlines approach.
There’s a temptation to view coauthors, ghostwriters, and contributors as miracle workers rather than as business partners. But by asking questions which anticipate potential problems, you’ll be better able to make informed choices based on planning and agreement, rather than hope.
The author’s psychology also plays a role. For better or for worse, authors tend to want to be in control because their writing is an important expression of their value. I know of several successful authors who resist the urge to work with others because they are aware that “solutions” often increase, rather than decrease, the amount of work that needs to be done.
When properly set up, coauthor relationships help both authors perform beyond their expectations. These coauthor relationships can remain hyper-productive for decades. But the relationships emerged after years of asking the right questions and fine-tuning the answers.
Roger C. Parker’s first book was Looking Good in Print: A Guide to Basic Design for Desktop Publishing sold throughout the world. Looking Good was the first of Roger’s 30+ books. It played an important role in the rapid growth of desktop publishing software. Today, Roger offers tools and advice for new authors and a free interactive planning guide, 99 Questions You Should Ask Before Writing and Publishing a Nonfiction Book. Drop Roger an email at email@example.com and he’ll send you a copy for free!
If you like this blog post, you’ll love this book: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan by Nonfiction Authors Association CEO Stephanie Chandler!