Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jane Dystel on "The Role of the Collaborator"

It would seem to me that in this economic climate, being a collaborator, especially when a writer isn’t working on his/her own book or articles, is the way to go. In the past months, though, I have increasingly found that people who say they want to collaborate don’t understand what their role is.

The most important thing the collaborator must do is support the person he or she is collaborating with. If the collaborator is working with someone as a writer (and that person is the celebrity or expert whose name will sell the book) then the collaborator needs to understand that s/he is not the main author. In many instances s/he won’t sign a publishing agreement; his/her role is a supporting one in every way.

I have found that collaborators can often forget what their roles are meant to be. They want the same decision-making power in terms of copy, design and even cover approval that the author has; sometimes they even want to receive greater than a 50% share of proceeds which, in my mind, is just wrong and indicates that the person making such a request really doesn’t understand his/her role.

Last year I had the experience of a collaborator actually trying to convince her partner, the Author, to break a contract -- something which was totally against the Author’s best interest. The collaborator had simply forgotten her role.

And I have experienced a collaborator actually asking for 60% of a project when the project would not exist but for the Author. Again, a mistake on the part of the collaborator.

These things are unfortunate, in my opinion, because collaborators can achieve great success both financially and professionally if they have a good track record with those they work with and with editors. I have had many wonderful experiences with collaborations and I am hoping to have many more. But the best collaborators know when to set aside their egos and focus on making the project (and a smooth writing process) the priority.


  1. Being a collaborator is interesting. I could work as one, do my job quietly and never have a problem. But I don't think I could ever work with a collaborator. I never turn down much, but I recently turned something down that was a collaboration project because I didn't feel (on my own personal end; no relfection on anyone else) comfortable with it.

  2. I experienced this problem (with your agency) some years ago. The greatest advice I would give is that the Author try to be clear with the celeb/expert on the nature of the relationship.

    In my case it didn't work out. I was the celeb's second author, and the book never got written.

  3. Great points, thanks Jane!

    Thi kind of thing reminds me a lot of life. We all have our roles to play, and often it is in the background. Yet everyone wants to be noticed, to be the guy on the front page, and we all compete for that position. Competetion and bad feelings arise, when if we just did our own job things would go so much more smoothly!

  4. Curious George27/1/09 3:22 PM


    Bill Ayres complaining behind-the-scenes about not getting the proper love for Dreams From My Father?

    Man, Jane I hope you're ready for the questions coming your way on that one, a mere three years from now.

  5. While there's certainly a time and a place for collaborators, I've always believed that in both the short and the long term, the most valuable collaborator to the author is his/her agent.

  6. Jane,
    You are so right about this. And knowing what you have written rather makes me feel good knowning that a recent collaboration agreement I signed as the "with" cowriter/coauthor was right along the lines in which you mentioned the role should be. More to come soon.