Legally Speaking

In this New York Bookwoman “Legally Speaking” column, Dina Di Maio discusses the importance of a clearly defined contract when co-authoring a work.

My friend and I are writing a book together. Do we need a contract?*

Yes! I know an author who co-wrote a work and constantly polices it because the other author claims sole ownership and uses it without her permission. It is essential if you are undertaking a collaborative work that you create a collaboration agreement. Even if you and your friend work well together and have a great writing partnership, when it comes to ownership, control, and finances, conflict is bound to arise without clearly defined terms.

There are many things you want to consider in a collaboration agreement. The first is ownership. Under U.S. copyright law, “a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole” is a joint work. Copyright ownership exists the moment the two authors create the work. However, a collaboration agreement shows ownership of the work and allows parties to divide ownership any way they want. You also want to stipulate who has control over what happens to the book — who makes artistic decisions. In addition, you want to establish how an advance and royalties will be split. They don’t have to be split evenly. Also, you want to be clear about how the work will be credited — whose name will be first, will the names be in different sizes, etc. A non-competition clause also may be in order, so that no one author will publish a book that competes with this one. You may also want to be specific about warranties and who will be responsible for breaches of contract. Will you be responsible for the whole book or just a portion? It’s best to be specific and detailed about all of these things. Keep in mind, a collaboration agreement is not a publishing contract, and both authors can decide whether to sign a publishing contract jointly or separately. It is best to seek the advice of an attorney who has experience in collaboration agreements.

Dina Di Maio is an attorney licensed in New York and Tennessee. She worked in the legal department of the Authors Guild and is a member-at-large. She has written/edited for Family Circle, Scholastic,, Glamour, Time Out New York, and more. She lives in Manhattan and writes about food on her food blog:

*This is legal information only. For legal advice on your specific situation, please see an attorney.

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