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Writing Partners – a/k/a YOUR Business Partnership

So you and your writing partner have just polished off that first draft – she wrote the jokes and you wrote the drama. Or the two of you have just pitched to that studio with the winged horse, galloping up the mountain with the halo of stars, and the million dollar offer is a phone call away.


So how does it feel to be business partners? And aren’t you glad the two of you hammered out your partnership agreement at the outset as to how to divide the payments, who would have creative final say, who would have the final answer in response to notes and changes from the studio?  Maybe you and the studio can agree on the ending you wanted but didn’t write because your idiot-savant writing partner didn’t like it?

What – No partnership agreement? No “writers’ prenup” about decision making, division of profits, etc.? Under the laws of most states, when the two of you first put pen to paper jointly, you entered into a legal “partnership;” just as though the two of you had started “Heckle & Jeckle’s Auto Repair” or “Abott & Costello’s Widget Factory.”

Writers generally don’t think of their writing partners as “business partners,” but even if this is merely a hobby, a lark, a frolic, a diversion – if there is ever money involved, it will be a business partnership.  And as so often happens, what if during the frolicking process, one of you gets serious; wants to take the script to the next level, show it around, pitch it to the world – but the writing partner just wants to return to his day job as Master-Barista at the Burnt Bean?

When you, the serious auteur, have labored on to craft the script into a masterpiece, and sell it as the next… whatever, will Master-Barista be at your door claiming his contributions were the elixir that brought the sale?  Could you stomach having to share your millions with that java-slinging hack?

The remedy is a simple but through partnership agreement at the outset of the relationship.  Such an agreement doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but should cover all the reasonably foreseeable events – who is anticipated to contribute what? Both to spend equal time on the project?  One to write structure, or story, or character, or jokes, and the other to contribute… other? Who owns what in the event someone walks away from the project before completion? Who maintains creative control in the event of a departure? Who has the 51% vote on notes received or suggested changes from a buyer?

Could it be that a dispute and ambiguity involving the ex-partner’s claimed ownership might foil the very sale of the script?! Well, … yes!

But by anticipating such events at the outset – when everyone is happy and buoyed by the promise of a future masterpiece – life, and business, can be much simpler (and fairer) if disagreements or departures occur later.

The simple fact is that a partnership, even a writing partnership, can be as complicated and thorny as a marriage; but often with the partners not having anticipated the seriousness of their future relationship – after all, there was no ceremony and no one popped champagne.

But confirming everyone’s expectations in writing – at the outset – can make life and business amongst the parters far richer – and successful.