Author collaborations can be fantastic … except when they aren’t. In this post, we’ll look at how to avoid bad author collaborations and the questions you should answer before you dive in!
It’s no secret that I’m into collaborations. I wrote a whole book on working with others called Creative Collaborations.
And yet … I’ve had some bad ones.
I still recommend working with others, but I’ve learned a lot and am way better at choosing good projects and good partners. I hope this helps you avoid those bad author collaborations!
LISTEN TO EPISODE 183 – HOW TO AVOID BAD AUTHOR COLLABORATIONS
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KINDS OF COLLABORATIONS
First of all, if you haven’t worked with other authors, you might be wondering about the kinds of collaborations you can have.
Really, the sky is the limit as far as ways you could partner up and support other authors or work together. But here are some of the common ways authors work together all the time.
- newsletter swaps (sharing other authors’ books in exchange for sharing yours)
- joint author box sets or anthologies
- series or shared, connected worlds
- co-writing a book
- group promotions through Bookfunnel, Story Origin, etc
- running a giveaway together
- joint Facebook groups
- co-hosting a podcast
- interviews (on blogs, Youtube, etc)
- and so many more!
Authors work together in all kinds of ways and it can really benefit everyone involved to work together and expand reach or share readers.
But … you can also end up getting burned. You might lose time, money, or relationships. Or, you might just derail your forward trajectory and momentum when you make a group project your focus.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CONSIDER BEFORE HOPPING INTO AN AUTHOR COLLABORATION?
So, someone posts in a Facebook group about a box set. Or an author friend emails you about co-writing a series. Or doing a group giveaway. How do you decide if you should go for it? Here are things you need to consider.
LEVEL OF COMMITMENT SHOULD EQUAL YOUR LEVEL OF TRUST
The kinds of collaborations I listed above have varying degrees of commitment. With a joint promo on Story Origin, you might run everything through the app and never “meet” the other authors. With a co-writing project, you’ll be communicating a LOT throughout the process.
The level of commitment a collab requires should equal the level of trust you have in the person or persons.
I don’t need a ton of trust in the people in a join promo. (Though even then, you might want to know that the content in the books they’re sharing is solid.) You need an enormous amount of trust in a co-author. You’ll be sharing words and also somehow splitting up the income. You’re creating digital real-estate for YEARS to come.
On the flip side, if you sign on for a large project with a friend that you trust, can you stay friends if things go south or you come to a disagreement?
It’s not just about how they are to work with, but their reputation. Because collaborating with other authors can mean that their reputation impacts YOUR reputation.
I signed on to a joint project and a few people signed on after me that are not people I would have worked with. If you’ve been around, you know that I am always talking about avoiding smarmy behavior. Well, some of the people on the project were smarmy. And my name got dragged around (to some degree) with theirs.
Make sure you know who is signing on to the projects. I wouldn’t give a final answer if you don’t know. Especially in the nonfiction world, where your authority, expertise, and reputation are the currency. Being tied to someone who does shady things makes you look bad.
So… how do you go about finding out if some random author on the internet is trustworthy?
The more I hang out in author groups, the more I see authors and how they behave. That behavior is a good start. But when it comes to signing on with a bigger project, I might ask around if I can see who was in another project with them.
I don’t want to promote gossip and backstabbing, but you could ask something like this: I know you worked with Awesome Author in the past on This Great Project. I’ve been asked to do This Other Great Project. Would you recommend it?
Do what homework you can on the other authors you’ll be partnering with.
BE SURE OF THE GOALS
Before you hop into a project, know its goals. And not just the goals for that project, but how those goals align with YOUR goals.
Often, multi-author projects can help newer authors get exposure and be seen. Especially if you’re working with authors who have been around longer. But sometimes, taking your focus off your OWN goals and your OWN brand to do these can actually slow your momentum.
I was on a steady income increase with mostly organic reach. (As in, no or low ads.) Then I did two multi-author projects I had planned months before I knew how things would go. It TOTALLY derailed my progress and, to be honest, my income never hit that track again but stayed lower.
Maybe that would have happened anyway (just with changes in the market I’ve noticed), but I can’t help but wonder if I’d stayed narrowly focused on JUST my own series that was doing well, if maybe things would have continued on that upward swing.
Be sure whatever the group goals are, they will fit with your personal goals and really help you reach them.
Now, let’s talk about different goals why it’s important to know them, using box sets as an example. A multi-author box set or anthology could have the goal of making sales, gaining exposure for authors, or hitting a bestseller list. Each of those goals is going to have different actions needed to get there.
In one group anthology I’m in, some authors weren’t clear on the goals. A few thought it was for getting our names out there to a new audience and leading them into our new series. Others thought we would make a profit. (FYI- Just realize that with a group anthology or box set, it’s much harder to make money because you’re splitting it…) The differences in opinions led to a challenge when it came to how to price the book and whether or not to run certain kinds of promotions.
Even with the same goals, you might have different actions. I’ve been in two groups with the goal of hitting the bestseller lists (USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal). The first group worked one way (and yep, we hit the list) and the second one is totally different in terms of how we’re going about it and the time required.
Which leads me to the next big thing…
HAVE SOLID COMMUNICATION AND REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
It’s important to make sure that there is good, clear, consistent communication for the project. You should also know HOW you’ll communicate. I’ve signed on to several projects that I didn’t realize would use a new form of communication that I don’t like or didn’t want to use.
Will the group talk via email? Phone? Voxer? Trello? Facebook group or messenger? Make sure you ask!
Before you sign on, make sure you also understand what you’ll be doing. How much time is involved? How much money? What kinds of activities?
As I mentioned with the two box sets aiming toward hitting a list, things have been totally different. Not good or bad, just different. Would I have signed on to both, knowing the different things I’d need to do? Probably. But I wish I’d known beforehand and didn’t ask all the questions I should have. My expectations were way off!
You should also know who is making the final decisions. Is one person in charge? Do you all get a vote? If there is one person running the show, you need to have maximum trust. I’ve heard stories of authors paying to buy into a group project and then the person organizing ghosts. Or… doesn’t give a clear accounting of money.
If there’s money involved, you need to have a really detailed (or pretty detailed) accounting. How will profits be split? Who covers which costs? Who decides on how much money you’re investing in covers vs ads or editing and other costs?
Often, I’ll hear general things like: the money goes towards ads and expenses.
Okay. But… how much? What expenses? Is the organizer getting paid for time? How are they tracking that time? How much is going into ads? Does the person running ads know HOW to run them? If you are putting money IN, you need to know where it’s going, how it’s being spent, who makes those decisions, and how you’ll get it back.
With that in mind, here are some final warnings of what to watch out for…
FINAL TIPS FOR AVOIDING BAD AUTHOR COLLABORATIONS
Don’t get scammed. Scammers exist. Often you can identify them, but not always, especially if you’re newer. Ask around in trusted author groups. (Are you in the Create If Writing group? Definitely a trustworthy place.)
Ask for an accounting when money is involved. Make sure you know how much money goes in, what it’s going toward EXACTLY, how they share the accounting (screenshots or are they just telling you how much was made/spent?), and if you can outside audit if needed. Some projects are super low to no buy-in. But those that involve money, ASK. oh, and…
Have a contract. And ask a lawyer to look at it. This may sound extreme. I don’t do this on all projects. Ones that involve a lot of time, money, or rights, YES. And I learned the hard way that I don’t know what to look for in contracts. I signed on once that looked reasonable to ME, until I had a problem and then realized some of the things baked into the contract that were not good. OH, and what I was told over email was not what was in the contract. Legally, they were held to the contract. Trying to fight for the promises made in the email when I’d signed something different in the binding contract wasn’t worth my time or money fighting it, as I likely would have lost.
- NEED SOMEONE TO LOOK AT A CONTRACT? For my legal stuff, I like to use Danielle Liss. She’s fabulous and even has some templates and contracts you can purchase for common things. Find her at Liss Legal. or check out Businessese.
Be super wary about your rights. Does the project give up your rights to the book and content? In what way? For how long? When do you get them back? Do you get them back FULLY? Make sure you know all those answers. (Which, again, might mean looking at the legal stuff.)
Know your OWN weaknesses. I can be a TERRIBLE person to work with. I tend to take charge. I have opinions and knowledge. If I don’t feel like the person in charge is doing their job or making smart decisions, I lose it. I know this about myself. So, when I’m signing on to a project, I have to have a talk with myself about it. Do I REALLY trust the organizer to make decisions even if I don’t like them? Can I express my opinions without being a jerkface? You should really take ownership for how you might negatively impact the collab.
WHAT TO DO IF AN AUTHOR COLLABORATION GOES BAD
Before you sign on, try to have an exit strategy. Look to see if there’s one in the contract. If something gets weird, can you get out? What will you lose if you do?
Sometimes there’s no loss. Other times you’ll lose money or a percentage. But a BIG thing you might lose is the relationship. I’ve stayed in something that felt like a sinking ship to save relationships, because those were more valuable than what I was losing staying in.
Other times, I trusted and knew the authors well enough to ask to be set free. I was able to do so without hurting the project or their feelings, and all is well. But this was a multi author series that didn’t involve money or much time, so it was easier to get out of.
The more things (time, money) invested in a project, the harder it may be to get out.
OVERALL, ARE THEY WORTH IT?
Yes. I still firmly believe in author collaborations, even though I’ve had some pretty rough experiences. I can look back and say that if I’d had this post, I either wouldn’t have signed on, or would have been more cautious. I hope that it helps you with the decisions!
Working together can help you build your career, find new readers, and gain expertise, authority, and even money. Just make sure you’re saying YES to the right things.
Jessica Adams says
Thank you for the tips. Very informative!
Kirsten Oliphant says