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Of Credits, Contracts and Contributions – Ask Anne The Pro Writer

peace signHello Anne,

I have run across your site and maybe you can help us solve a dilemma. I am a writer. I typically write inspirational articles and nonfiction books.

However, an old friend kept pestering me about writing a fiction novel for her until I started on it. Now I have written about 6 chapters and it is really awesome! I do have another writer friend who is going to write some chapters with me. Here is our question.

The original “idea” person has written nothing.  She has done a little research. Yet she considers herself an author.  She may even consider herself  “the” author.  I am just trying to understand what is proper in our relationship as far as credits go.  My writer friend and I have the credentials, experience, etc., we’re the ones who stay up late, know how to pitch the book and do queries.

We are not trying to push the original person out by any means, but we’re not sure how to credit her.  She is not a writer, or she would have written the book herself. We were not hired as ghostwriters. Every bit of this book is coming from our own inspiration, characters, plot, etc.  We are merely building an entire plot around a global problem involved with the New World Order.

What is proper? Can she really be considered one of the authors even though all she had was an idea? We mentioned our concerns to her, and she is pretty upset now thinking we’re trying to take “her” book.  Not true.  We would rather bow out and go our way than do that. Though at this time, we are the only ones who have anything vested in it.

Then she started saying something about it is her “intellectual property.”  Do you know anything about this kind of situation?  I mean the legal rights, etc.  And again I say, we are not trying to take her idea and leave. We just felt like she should be more like a contributing editor, contributing author, or something like that, rather than have her name right there on the cover as though she’d really helped write the book.

I would appreciate any input you have on this matter. I may just need to refer her to you at some point to get her inspired where she can write her own book!

Thank you,


Hi DH,

Your situation is a fine example of why every time you or any other writer writes for someone or with someone there should be a written agreement! If you and the friend who wanted you to write the fiction had hammered out an agreement in the beginning, before you wrote a word, most of these problems would have surfaced then and could have been addressed before work and hurt feelings happened. You and your co-writer should also have a written agreement and it may be that you need a written agreement between the three of you.

Okay, enough of a lecture from me. Let’s see what we can sort out, keeping in mind always I am not a lawyer and don’t have any special knowledge or training in the area of contracts, oral agreements, etc. It’s also worth noting that I’m basing my comments here on my understanding of U.S. law.

Some Facts About Ideas

First, a fact about ideas: you can’t copyright an idea, only its expression. So if I have an idea for a novel about how planting an organic vegetable garden results in my saving the world, you are free to write that story.

If you write it and I write it, each version will be significantly different and each of us will have a copyright on the material we wrote – automatically, without filing anything. Each of us has created an expression of the original idea and each of us owns our expression.

By the way, titles can’t be copyrighted either, but, under some conditions, may be trade marked.

Now, it terms of how to credit each of you, there is no “proper” way to do it. As a ghostwriter I routinely write a complete book and my name doesn’t appear anywhere – the client’s name gets full credit. Other arrangements include the client as author with me as co-author or “written with…” When there are more people involved, all can have equal credit, although that gets unwieldy when creating covers and listings. Often multiple authors are listed alphabetically. I’ve worked that way too.

In other words, the two or three of you get to decide how your names will or will not appear on the completed book.

The fact that you and your co author are doing the writing and have some professional experience doesn’t necessarily factor in how credit is shared or not shared. Research can be as important as writing, or not. It’s impossible to figure it out based on who is the “real” writer or researcher – that’s a futile path that tends to lead to self-justification rather than fair solutions.

When people begin to worry about how who gets credit for a book, there is often an implicit, but unspoken concern about who will get the money if the book sells. Again, there is not “proper” way to do it. Whatever you agree to is fine. It’s also worth noting that there is no automatic relationship between who gets credit and payment. It’s all subject to negotiation.

What Should You Do In This Situation?

What should you do in this situation? I have no idea. Here, however, are some things to consider that may help you get to a peaceful solution:

  1. What was your original understanding and/or expectation when you agreed to write a novel based on your old friend’s idea? Did you anticipate a 50/50 split of either the money or the credit? That she’d receive no money or credit? That you’d receive no money or credit? In your heart of hearts, how did you think this would go?
  2. How has your sense of what you want/expect changed as you’ve done the actual writing?
  3. What do you suspect was your old friends original understanding and/or expectation? (Note, you don’t really know what she was thinking and feeling, but you may, if you get quiet, have a reasonable idea; just be willing to let it go in an instant.)
  4. How valuable is your friendship with the women who wanted you to write?
  5. If the tables were turned and it was your idea and she was writing what would you want?
  6. What about the other writer? The one who is going to do some writing. What have you told them to expect in terms of credit and pay?
  7. What do you, in your hear of hearts, know is fair in this situation?

Take some quiet time to just contemplate the situation. Get to your own inner truth. Get clear on what you want, need and are willing to do. Then go to both your friends and talk this out.

There is a constructive solution that will work for all of you. You can be the catalyst to helping all three of you reach for your highest good.

Good luck, and let us know how it works out.

The seriesMy Start5 Ingredients I Bring To A ProjectElements Of My Contracts or Letters of AgreementThe Working Table Of Contents AKA OutlineIs Ghostwriting Fair? Ask Anne The Pro WriterInterviewing To The Working Table Of Contents

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • I agree with your analysis, Anne. After re-reading it several times, it seems to cover the situation perfectly. Professional mediation is a possibility, but it’s far better if the parties can mostly resolve the matter among themselves. Sometimes it’s better to be practical than “fair.” Whatever happens, this is a chance for all to learn something useful. An AFGO, as my people say.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Watcher in the Night =-.

    • Anne

      Thanks Jorge. But what is AFGO?

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