Creative Collaboration

August 5, 2022 by Eileen Wirth

Even if no money is involved, approach creative collaborations as you would a business deal – especially if your prospective partner is a relative or close friend. 

Be cold-blooded and strategic unless you are willing to risk a valued relationship over a work battle that might escalate into a personal fight.

Start by thinking about the skills you have and need for a successful project. Write down what you need from a potential collaborator, and then ask someone you trust for suggestions. Go online to check out the work and reputations of prospective partners. Then look at the partnership from the potential collaborator’s side.

Because great people have lots of options, what will you offer them? Money? Professional experience? Resume building? What’s in this for them?

Your first meeting is likely to be a combination of a two-way job interview and sales pitch. Are they excited about the project? How much time can they devote to this? How much control will they want? Is this someone you can see working with for weeks or months? Do you like each other? 

If everything checks out, hold a second meeting to negotiate an agreement that covers the details: who will do what, who has the final decision-making authority, how you will divide any proceeds, whose name will go first on the project, etc.  Putting your decisions in writing protects both of you. 

I’ve had mixed experiences with collaborators, usually because I failed to negotiate our understandings in advance. 

One former professional partner denied me credit for ghostwriting his memoir because he felt that paying me a modest stipend gave him the right to claim my work as his own. Because I had assumed I would get such credit, I didn’t demand it in advance and I was stuck. Ouch! 

On the other hand, I have collaborated on three books with a photographer who has become a dear friend. She handles the photos while I write. Both of our names are on our books, and we split royalties evenly. 

We have a ball working together because we both love local history, red wine, and Mexican food. You’d be amazed how many problems you can solve over red wine and Mexican food!

May you  all find such a partner.

Got a question or topic on creativity you would like Dr. Wirth to address for The Greenhouse Journal? Shoot her an email at EILEENWIRTH@creighton.edu.

Eileen Wirth

Dr. Eileen Wirth is a professor emeritus of journalism at Creighton University and is an author specializing in Omaha history. She was a reporter at the World-Herald and a PR Writer for Union Pacific before joining Creighton in 1991. Eileen’s books include The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Historic Omaha Houses of Worship and From Society Page to Front Page. She is on the board of History Nebraska and a member of the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Women’s Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame. She also has been active in numerous groups particularly the Omaha Public Library.

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