Monthly Archives: April 2013
One of the liabilities of being a professional writer is that you attract people who want to collaborate with you. What author has not been collared at a party by a drunk who wants him to write his life story or has this fantastic idea for a novel?
Few such propositions have any commercial value. But from time to time you may meet someone whose story is compelling enough to entice you into collaboration with him. Or your agent may offer you an opportunity to team up with a famous movie or sports star, doctor or astronaut, beauty expert or political figure. If that happens, do you know how collaborations work? How the proceeds are to be divided? Whose byline goes on the cover of the book? Who pays the expenses of flying to Washington or Los Angeles or Hawaii to interview this person or to do research? Whose name goes on the copyright?
As a writer who has collaborated on seven or eight works of fiction and nonfiction and as an agent who has welded together scores of collaborations for clients, I can testify that teaming up with someone on a book can be richly rewarding, elevating, and great fun. It can also turn out to be a nightmare if the parties are ill matched, have unrealistic expectations of each other’s contributions, or fail to spell out their contractual arrangements before getting down to work. Collaborations are complex undertakings because the authors have to please themselves, each other, and their publishers at one and the same time, the literary equivalent of three-dimensional chess. In this two-part post, perhaps I can show you how to enter into a collaboration with your eyes wide open.
For openers one might ask, Why collaborate at all? Collaborations often sound like twice the headaches for half the money, and sometimes that turns out to be the case. But the opposite may also be true: You can end up making more money than you can writing solo, doing less work and turning out a better book.
OVER THE YEARS THAT I’VE BEEN writing about the publishing scene, I’ve discussed many disturbing by-products of the consolidation of the industry. There is one, however, that I’ve been very reluctant to talk about because it cuts so very close to the anxieties that lurk in the darkest recesses of every author’s heart. And that is the emotion of envy. It is as nasty and corrosive a passion as can be found among the seven deadly sins, and although it’s impossible to demonstrate statistically, many editors and agents to whom I have spoken believe that it has been intensifying over the past few years. “Writers have always been a nervous lot,” one editor said to me, “but lately it seems as if the pot is always seething.” “They’re angry all the time,” another told me. “It’s beginning to interfere with my effectiveness,” an agent confided in me. He was referring to what he termed “mass hysteria among authors.”
Authors are no different from anybody else in aspiring to fame, fortune, and status, and in suffering feelings of resentment, depression, and anger when their aspirations are frustrated. Are those feelings stronger and deeper today than before? I have the sense that they are. In fact, there are signs that author rage is becoming institutionalized in the form of unprecedented pressure on agents and publishers to match or exceed each record-breaking deal. In this sense, authors are contributing to the ever-accelerating cyclone that has already blown scores of publishers out of existence in the last decade or two, and that has driven a thousand writers out of the game for each one it has enriched.
I don’t pretend to be exempt from this or the other deadly sins (I’m particularly big on gluttony), and as I’m right in the thick of things trying to secure those record-breaking deals for my own authors, I realize that I’m part of the problem. Still, I think the phenomenon of author envy is very much worth exploring, because it is so devastating to the peace of mind that authors must have in order to produce their best work, and because it creates unrealistic expectations that must, of necessity, lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment.