Friday, 12 June 2015

Toolbox for Author Collaboration: Part 2


There is no doubt that there is power in authors working together – whether it is through big organisations like the Alliance of Independent Authors, or small collectives like Triskele Books. Working together can reap huge benefits but – a bit like a marriage - it not something that can be undertaken ‘unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly’.

Every collaboration is unique, dependent on the personalities involved and what they want to achieve, but each one must ask itself similar questions and overcome many of the same challenges.

Our new series of short articles aims to provide some of the tools you need to plan your own cooperative ventures, be they long-term collaborations or one-off projects.

Series 1: Setting up a Collective

  1. Deciding on your objectives / Choosing your travelling companions
  2. Sharing the work / Making a plan / Making it watertight
  3. Spreading the word / Building communities / Keeping it fresh
Series 2: Harnessing the Power of the Group

Maybe you have now set up your author collective, or perhaps you are still thinking about what kind of collaborative project you could undertake. In part two of our short series of articles we will explore ideas for harnessing the power of the group – and provide some case studies of those who have tried it already.



Sharing out tasks -
not always what you might expect
So now you have thought through what you what your collaboration is about. You and your fellow travellers have chosen your destination. Your next task is work out how you are going to work together as a team.

1. Are you clear what work needs to be done, when and by whom?

2. How will you make decisions – by majority vote? unanimity? or will one person (or a small subgroup) have the final say?

3. Do you need to assign someone as project manager – either temporarily for a specific project, or longer term?

4. What work do you have the resources to do ‘in house’ and what skills do you need to buy in?

5. If you are buying in services, is this something each author does individually, or are you doing it collectively?

6. If one of the group is providing a service to another, are they to be paid for their time, or is this on the basis of a quid pro quo?

7. Is it practical to assume that each of you will contribute equally in terms of the workload, or is it inevitable (because of their skill set, available time etc) that some will do more than others?

8. If so, are you all content with that, or do you need to do something to redress the balance, financially or otherwise?

Hopefully you have now answered many of the questions in the previous posts, and you have a sense of where you want to go together. So now is the time to MAKE A PLAN.

If you have a specific collaborative project in mind, then you can break that down into specific tasks and decide who is responsible for each task and when it needs to be done by.

If you are planning something longer term, then ask yourselves:

  •  What do you want to achieve in the next year? The next six months? The next month? 
  • If you’re going to succeed, what do you need to do in the next week? The next month? The next three months? 

DON'T just write a plan and then bury it in a bottom drawer. Make sure that you revisit in regularly and keep it fresh. (More on that later.)


Finance & Legal

Since we are all in the business of publishing and selling books, and therefore to a greater or lesser extent, investing and making money, even the most informal collaborations will at some point need to consider a few financial and legal questions.

Are you planning on setting up a company or legal partnership, or do you intend to operate a looser form of agreement?

Setting up a company can be a massive undertaking, especially if – as may well be the case, given the global nature of indie author publishing – you are operating across national borders.

But working without that legal protection puts even more emphasis on the need for clarity and trust.

  • Will you have any shared funds? 
  • Do those come from contributions, or from a shared income stream? 
  • How do you use those funds? Who authorises expenditure? 
  • Who is responsible for holding/managing/reporting on them?
What does each author pay for individually, and what costs do you share?

If you are publishing a number of books under a collective brand, does each author retain the income from sales of their own books?

If you are publishing a book or box set together, how do you set the price, and how do you share the resulting sales income?

Equally, who retains the rights for individual books?

Who holds the rights for any collaborative publications? Who holds the copyright? (This could be particularly important if, say, you publish a book together, and then some time downstream, one partner wants to sell the audio or film rights.)

You may be more than happy operating on trust, but if you have asked each other some of these hard questions up front, you can avoid being taken completely unawares.

A View from Outside the Box, who published the box set  Women Writing Women

I think we get to pat ourselves on the back for a number of good decisions: the theme of unusual/incorrigible women characters instead of limiting to a single genre, the time limit that allowed us to learn, grow and move on, and the moment early on where Jessica Bell said, boom, here's the plan, no more back and forth about every little thing. To be totally honest, I think the very best decision and the very worst decision are one in the same: the price. It kept us from hitting the lists like some of the 99C genre boxes, but it held us to our principles, raised the bar in the public eye and hopefully set an example for authors who feel constantly pressured to sell their work for pennies. The only way to elevate the marketplace is to value our work.

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