Succession agreements: What to do when a coauthor transitions toward retirement

Q: “My coauthor on several different titles is transitioning toward retirement. I will soon be starting a revision without his active participation. We have a succession agreement on the royalty split in future editions, so that’s (hopefully) not an issue. However two questions have risen to top of the swirl of concerns that I have as I face this transition: 1) Is this a good opportunity to renegotiate my authoring contract? I suspect that my publisher will want to simply change the authoring designations as an addendum to the current contract. Should I insist on a new contract? Should I avoid that if they insist on a new contract?; 2) Assuming that I should renegotiate, how likely is it that I’ll be able to break them out of their boilerplate?”

A: Stephen E. Gillen, Authoring Attorney:

“Taking on 100 percent of the writing responsibility is essentially a new deal necessitating some change in the terms of the relationship (royalty share, to name but one important term). There is no magic to how this change in the relationship is memorialized. It can be by amendment or addendum or by substituting a new contract. What is important is that, however it is memorialized, you capture all of the relevant changes.

That said, if the publisher offers a new agreement on its ‘revised form,’ the author needs to take the time to compare the new form line-for-line with the old one to be sure s/he spots and understands each and every change. Publishers do not revise their forms for fun. Every change is there for a reason. And the reason is not typically as a show of support for the authors benevolence society.”

A: Zick Rubin, The Law Office of Zick Rubin, Publishing / Copyright / Trademark:

“The retirement of your coauthor can spur some useful give and take with your publisher. One reason for this relates to Steve Gillen’s very useful response to your posting: If your contract is an old one, the publisher may wish to substitute its newer boilerplate. Call it evolution. But you have a contract in force, and you and your coauthor don’t have to accept the new boilerplate. This could provide a negotiating opportunity: the publisher gets certain boilerplate changes that it wants, and in return you get some concessions that you want. The hoped-for result (if we assume for our purposes that publishers and authors belong to different species): a continued and mutually beneficial symbiosis. [From my online dictionary: ‘(sym·bi·o·sis (si˜m’bï-ÿ’si˜s, -b¥-) n., pl. -ses (-sïz). Biology. A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.’]”