by Darlene Arden
I had sworn I’d never have another co-author. I had also sworn that I would never write a wfh (Work for Hire) book. For those not familiar with wfh, it means that you are hired to write the book (or article, or whatever) for a flat fee. In the case of books, there are no royalties involved. The publisher makes all of the money. Publishers usually make all of the money because when it comes to royalties the bookkeeping can be, uh, er, interesting.
|Aimee Arden, Darlene's adviser, hard at work.|
Then I discovered that he was showing it to everyone who walked through the door. I explained that it was unpublished material that was to be copyrighted and he couldn’t do that. This was not a peer-reviewed article. It was frustrating. The culmination was at a writer’s conference where he got drunk. One of my alleged colleagues barged over, pretended to be drunk, interrupted our conversation and proceeded to try to have him work with her instead of me. That was charming. Not. Particularly after I had worked so hard teaching him the ropes. And this is just the Cliff Notes version. I finally decided he wasn’t worth any more of my time and effort. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth for co-authors.
The next one was not a writer but wanted to write a book. She had already been through one co-author. She was given my phone number by one of my colleagues whom she had tracked down and cold called. It sounded like an interesting project so I agreed. I interviewed her and someone she asked me to interview for the book. I worked hard on the proposal, which, of course had to include sample chapters. I tried every publisher. One was close, but wanted me but not the other person because they knew me but not her. I refused because it was her idea. It would be unethical to take her idea and leave her in the dust. Ultimately, I told her to keep the proposal. I was not paid for that work, my time, or all of the mailing and printing costs to get the proposal to acquisitions editors. Ultimately, the book was published. Perhaps the co-author used the connections she never wanted to use. It was a bad deal for me. What started as a decent working relationship turned into frustration.
And then came the double-header. It was several years after the last co-author experience. The business had changed with so many self-published books and online sites. There were few magazines and fewer book contracts from publishers. People were self-publishing. I needed money to feed my Chartreux (I share her penchant for eating), keep a roof over our heads, gas in the car, etc. An editor in the U.K. had asked me to do a wfh dog book after I was recommended by a colleague. I turned it down. By the time he came back to me with the cat version of the Coffee Table Book, I needed the pitifully small paycheck.
I didn’t think there would be a problem. The book would have a U.K. slant although it would be available in the U.S. and other countries. I assumed that there would be just as much information about cat breeds and cat shows in the U.K. online as there is in the U.S. Well, you know what they say about the word “assume.”
Most of the book was easily researched with permission from two major cat registries. Permission was obtained from the U.K.’s major registry as well but unlike their counterparts in the U.S. there was no detailed information on the cat breeds. That was fine until I came to the breeds with which I’m totally unfamiliar but are shown in the U.K. Then I couldn’t find the information about how the shows were run there.
A book that should have been so easy to write was now becoming a problem and I had a deadline looming. The editor, however, was wonderful. I asked him if I could bring in a U.K. colleague to write the parts for which I had no resources. He agreed. I quickly e-mailed Nick Mays and explained the situation and asked if he wanted to come on board. Nick is very busy writing, editing and judging shows but he agreed. I heaved a sigh of relief. This time, I was the one who was seeking the co-author. Nick could not have been better. He adapted to my writing style, worked quickly and well and could not have been nicer. In case you’re wondering, his payment came out of my payment. I will never see another penny from the book. There was enough money to pay part of one bill and it’s long gone. But it was here when I needed it.
Beautiful Cats goes on sale at the end of March, 2014. The writing is secondary to the photographs, which was proven by the first pre-publication review; the authors were never mentioned.
Darlene's Five Tips for Working with a Co-Author
- Be sure you can get along and that the other person is open to changes.
- Get everything in writing up front.
- Either you each have an agent or agree to one agent who will work on the contract, especially if you’re doing a 50/50 split of payment & royalties.
- If both can’t agree, decide up front who will have the final say.
- Decide up front if one or both will pay for the proposal copies, folders and mailing.
Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author. Arden, a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, lectures widely on wellness for pets including, behavior, training, and nutrition She is also an experienced television producer/host, and a lively guest expert on various radio and television programs and a popular and much acclaimed speaker. Her book, the award-winning, “The Complete Cat’s Meow,” is being followed by her first coffee table book, “Beautiful Cats.” Her dog books include, “Small Dogs, Big Hearts,” and her behavior book, “Rover, Get Off Her Leg!”
A member of The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a former director of the Cat Writers’ Association, former member and board member of Dog Writers’ Association of America, Inc., one of the few layperson members of The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, and a member of Boston Authors, among her numerous awards are the CWA Muse Medallion, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/American Humane Education Society’s Media Award for veterinary writing and animal welfare.