Joint authorship is the technical term to describe the topic of this post. The questions in this post will help you hire a writer with a legally binding contract, while also protecting you against a host of risks.

Joint authorship affects every person in business. Whether it is co-writing a report with someone else, commissioning a person to edit your work for your company, or even writing a great book with a ghost writer that you hope will sell like Fox in Socks or The Da Vinci Code – you will be writing jointly.

Joint authorship is very common for the production of books for children or young readers. It is rare to find a good writer and a good illustrator in the same person. When you do, you have great creators such as Dr Seuss. You also have The Magic Pudding, a classic loved by millions of Australians.

The Magic Pudding’s author was of course the painter, artist, cartoonist and writer, Norman Lindsay (1879–1969). Both Lindsay and the American writer, Theodore Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), created books that were magic puddings. They did not have to worry about who owned the copyright or intellectual property in their work. Being writers and illustrators they owned it all.

Lindsay’s estate (which seems to be “H. C. and A. Glad”) will earn book royalties from Australia till about 2039. Simply stated, the duration or term of copyright under Australian law for “literary works” lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Lindsay’s book therefore will have a royalty stream in Australia of 121 years as it was first published in 1918 and Lindsay died in 1969 (1969 + 70 years = 2039).

As few of us have such talent to do it on our own, here’s a top 10 checklist for joint authors.


1. On what date will you and the writer start to write and what is your target date for completion?

2. How and where will the writing take place? Will you work in the same room, on the same computer, on different computers emailing stuff to each other, over the Net writing it is a joint document stored on a website, or in some other way?

3. How many words is the book targeted to contain and will it have other content such as an index, photos or illustrations? If so this may require additional contracts with editors, photographers and illustrators.

4. What will be the content and style of the book? To avoid disappointment it is recommended that you write an outline of the book’s content on say two to five pages. Begin with a one paragraph description of the book. Go on to state perhaps a list of people or events to be covered and what will be said about them, themes and topics to be covered, and if possible a framework as regards how the whole lot is to hang together as a slice of life, story or tale.

5. What is the working title of the book? It is recommended that you have this as it helps focus the topic.


6. What fee will you pay the other writer, in what instalments (eg $X upfront and $X on completion of each chapter or the full work)?
7. Alternatively, is it that no “fee” will be paid because you and the writer will work towards seeking in time to attract a book publishing company to earn from book publishing contract advances and royalties (ie payments by a third party)?

Credit and Moral Rights

8. What writing credit will you give the writer? For example will it be:

  • written by “Not Norman Lindsay and Writer Named X”? or
  • “Not Norman Lindsay with Writer Named X”? (this approach is often taken by senior business people who write their biography assisted by a professional writer) or
  • just simply “Not Norman Lindsay” with an acknowledgement in the introduction to Writer X? This option is what most ghost writers receive.

Joint ownership or sole ownership of copyright

9. Will copyright be jointly owned and with a 50/50 split of royalties and subsidiary rights?

10. Alternatively, is it that you will be the sole copyright owner and will just share remuneration from book sales?

Your answers to questions 9 and 10 helps pull together and almost summarise answers to all questions and helps a lawyer work out the type of contract you need. Here’s why:

  • Questions 9 and 10 are alternative options. If you say “YES” to 9, you will want a contract in the nature of a book publishing deal.
  • If you say “NO” to 9 and “YES” to 10, it follows you will want a contract in the nature of a hired writer deal, often involving a ghost writer, who will typically get the third bullet point type of credit (listed under question 8), and receive the type of money set out in 6.

So after all the sweat and toil of jointly writing and giving birth to a book, in simple terms from a legal perspective it comes down to money, credit and copyright.

Noric Dilanchian