Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Creating a world, then using it in a novel

So I've been looking around online for help with this, but I haven't really found any clear-cut answers. Me and one of my best friends started collaborating on a fictional world several years ago just for fun and it really turned into a strong setting. We came up with the details, an outline of the "main" plot, and all that jazz. It was a playground for us and our collaboration made it that much stronger. My friend and I each wrote stories in this setting for practice and that was fine for us. But we let many people over the years read our work and they asked why we hadn't tried publishing these things.

Fast forward to now. I've finished a new novel based in the setting, edited it, reedited it, and have polished it as much as I could over the last 2 years in an attempt to actually get something published. My friend is also penning another novel in the same setting--but not a direct sequel to mine. Certain side characters are in both stories, as are locations and such. It's worth noting that we edit each other's work and have a say in things that happen, so we both have a hand in everything.

I've made a nice, short query for my manuscript (after much anguish), but here's my question: how do I approach labeling us both in terms of querying agents and moving forward? Is it OK to just list us as co-authors with everything we do in this setting, even though only one of us is actually doing the writing on a particular novel? Does that even matter?

Yes it matters!

You need to sort this out NOW, before the stakes get any higher. The last thing you want to do is try to come to agreement when a wheelbarrow full of money is staring you in the face.

Most likely you need form a company that owns all the content you and your best friend create in this world. The company receives the income, and you can agree on a case by case basis how to divide it up. You get 80% on books you write, he gets 80% on material he writes. You divide the proceeds from film options 50/50. Those are just suggestions, not some sort of standard.

You absolutely can NOT query this or sell this as a single author. You do not own the work yourself because your best friend also had a hand in creating some of it.

This is the same problem that writers of fanfic run into. Because they did not create the world or the characters they're using, they don't own the material free and clear.

You'd do well to consult a publishing attorney to help you set up a company and get the details done right.

This isn't the kind of thing an agent will see and think Later Gator. It will help if you can tell her the details are sorted out already.

Any questions?


Amy Johnson said...

This is interesting. I thought "Yes, it matters!" would be part of the answer, but I hadn't considered the idea of forming a company that owns all the content. So, I guess that means I didn't win my "What Will Janet Say?" game today. But I did learn something (as always here).

OT: I have news of the most wonderful variety, and I'd like to share my happiness with my reef dwelling fam. My baby girl (now in her mid-twenties) is pregnant with a baby girl. Which makes me a first-time grandma. The fun continues! Hooray!

Janet Reid said...

Amy Congrats on your impending grandma status!

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

In my experience, projects like this are fine and groovy until money is involved. So I would take Janet's advice and really really set up the legal aspects before you even think about querying.

Craig F said...

Actually I think you can query as one person. Think Jefferson Bass or PJ Tracy. That is the object of some pseudonyms.

Collaborators do have to figure the dispensation of the money, but that is a personal problem.

OT: Congrats Amy

Even more OT: VOTE. I don't care who you vote for, just go it. It is important to you, your heritage past and future. I know it looks like both sides of the crazy train are running and you(like 95 percent of America) are probably a moderate. Vote anyway. Checks and balances are necessary in our system.


First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Sherry Howard said...

Congratulations, Amy.

Off to vote!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This sort of reminds me of the novel my mother and I passed back and forth each of us adding to the wonderful world we had created. I was younger than my daughters are now and she younger than I am now. After a while I had to quit the project...her sexy scenes embarrassed me.

AMY, having a grandchild is the absolute best. When your child has a child, the meaning of everything falls into place. It's better than everyone says.

Shaunna said...

As a second-year law student who is currently taking Business Organizations, Intellectual Property, AND the skills labs for both class, this is an absolutely fascinating question. What kind of entity will you form? LLC? Partnership? I can see arguments for both. Will your organizing documents include instructions for how royalties are to be distributed, or will you put those assignments in separate exhibits or amendments to the certificate of organization? Who will be listed as the author on each work? Will the agent represent each author individually or the legal entity? It seems like the agent would need to represent the entity, but what if the agent doesn't like the works of one author but does like the other's? So many fun questions to discuss in law school but an even more fun situation for the lawyer who gets to take this on in real life. Wish I had already graduated and passed the bar. Oh well.

Sarah said...

This OP made me think of the two authors of The Expanse (the book series that was turned into the amazing SciFy and then Amazon series.) Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck collaborate under the name James S. A. Corey. I think it started out as a worldbuilding exercise for a role-playing game that Ty was trying to develop. Then Daniel came along and said it should be made into books. The rest is history.

Anyways, it can be done.

Congrats, Amy! Wonderful news.

John Davis Frain said...

Congrats, Amy, a new voter! Well, soon anyway. And I'm with you on another count: I, too, lost the "How will Janet answer" sweepstakes today. Here's to surprises and plot twists--in answers and in life.

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks so much! Y'all added to my joy.

Colin Smith said...

Absolutely what Janet said. Like I would contradict!

Seriously, though, Craig's suggestion that you query under a single pseudonym that represents both of you sounds fun, and could work for you. HOWEVER, to Janet's point, behind that pseudonym there had better be a legal agreement over how royalties are shared. Forming a company seems like overkill, but I'll defer to Janet's wisdom on that because she knows WAAAY more about it than I do.

Bottom line, though, OP, you must plan for the future. You and your BFF may be all "Sure, whatever," now. But if you are successful, and you and BFF get into a blazing bar fight one night, you could find yourself on the end of a lawsuit unless you can point to an impartial agreement you both signed now that says who's entitled to what.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and AMY!!! Congratulations!!!! :D

Claire Bobrow said...

Good luck with this interesting dilemma, OP. Looks like you got some excellent advice on how to proceed. I hope it all goes smoothly!

Congrats, Amy!!

Shaunna: it's great to see how engaged you are with your course work. Go get 'em!

Brigid said...

Oh, congratulations, Amy! Watching my mom become a grandmother has been incredible. She assures me I'm still her favorite, but IJ is clearly a very close second.

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks again for all the kind words. The Reef is a most wonderful place.