5 Textbook authors share advice on coauthoring relationships

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What to consider before co-authoring

Co-authorship can be an extremely valuable experience for academic authors, but it can also pose unique challenges. When selecting a co-author it is important to consider several factors—including his or her area of expertise, writing ability and personality—in order to ensure that the co-author experience is a positive and successful one. It is also important to assess a potential co-author’s level of commitment to ensure that all parties are truly vested in the project.

Lawyer: Rosy textbook co-author prospects can sour

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Before entering a co-authoring relationship, sign a collaboration agreement

The first thing you should write before entering into a co-authoring relationship is a collaboration agreement, said Stephen Gillen, an attorney with Wood, Herron & Evans, L.L.P.

“Do it before you write the manuscript, before you sign the publisher’s contract, before you write the sample chapters, before you write the outline, and before you write the proposal,” he said. “Do it first. If it’s too late to do it first, do it NOW! If you think you don’t need one, you’re wrong. By the time you realize you do, it’s probably too late.”

Create a collaboration agreement with your co-author

Collaborating with a co-author on producing a textbook can have many benefits, said Steve Gillen, an attorney with Wood Herron & Evans. “It can diffuse the burden of a large project; allow you to draw on each other’s strengths; create a broader appeal for the work; and give you access to a sounding board for ideas,” he said. “On the other hand, the most bitter troubles and disputes occur between co-authors. Of all disputes, those between collaborators are the worst–they almost never have a happy ending.”

One source of trouble is in the way the Copyright Act deals with co-authorship, said Gillen. “The default positions stated in the Copyright Act with regard to co-authorship are often not those that you would provide yourself,” he said. They include:

Q&A: 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, Attorney, Wood Herron & Evans:

“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.