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Discussion Starter #1
A writer friend of mine who has a short story collection has offered to let me write a novel using a protagonist she created. The story would be wholly mine, but one of the main characters would be of her creation. The reason I'd be inclined to do this is for the cross-promotional possibilities, tie-ins, and so forth with her works and mine.

We want to settle on a fee, but we're not sure what the industry standard for such an arrangement might be. Would I pay her 5%, 10%, 15% of each sale?
 

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There is very little "cross promotional" value to using a character who has only appeared in a short story collection, unless your friend is J K Rowling, and no real creative reason for you to use her character as is unless the character has some very unique circumstances attached to it.

Maybe she had a male vigilante who dresses in a batsuit to fight criminals because his parents died in front of him in a mugging gone wrong when he was a kid. If you want to write about a character like that, you might as well make it your own. a female vigilante with no fancy costumes or gimmicky weapons, who lost one parent in a burglary gone wrong when she was college aged, can hit most of the same emotional and story beats without just copying your friend's character.

It sounds like your friend wants to do co authoring ala James Patterson or Michael Anderle, but doesn't understand that those are either work for hire (meaning that the non originating author gets paid in money for doing the work) or a shared profits arrangement. That or she's severely misunderstood those licensing posts at kriswrites.com

 

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Discussion Starter #4
Well I'm not looking for a reason to do it, I've already decided. The "pros" are that these are developed characters and so it will be less work for me than developing new ones, and it is really just a one-off project. I like the characters so why not?

The only question for me was royalty rates.
 

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Christopher Gray said:
Well I'm not looking for a reason to do it, I've already decided. The "pros" are that these are developed characters and so it will be less work for me than developing new ones, and it is really just a one-off project. I like the characters so why not?

The only question for me was royalty rates.
And we're telling you, in answer to your question, that paying another person in order to use their characters is not normally done in the writing world, so we can't directly advise you on how to proceed with that. In the closest equivalent scenarios I know of, the other author would be paying you in exchange for her control over the works you create with her characters, or the two of you would be working out a profit-sharing arrangement, with whoever is the bigger name getting probably a larger share of the profits.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
jaglionpress said:
And we're telling you, in answer to your question, that paying another person in order to use their characters is not normally done in the writing world.
Really? James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, those are a few off the top of my head, where authors have a licence deal to write a book with characters they don't own. Another example would be Larry Niven's Known Space series, where other authors have used his universe to create original stories. It may not be as common between one self-published author and another, but it happens, whether you personally believe it or not.
 

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Look, I get you're set on what you're doing but I'd pause your logic here and just consider everything people are saying. How developed could a character be who appeared in a short story? If you're writing a novel, you will be developing the character/world leagues beyond the short story, and then paying someone else for the opportunity to work harder. Like someone else said, if it was Rowling or something well known, maybe this would be a good opportunity, but a short story collection from a fellow author? No sir, no.

This situation isn't really comparable to contract work, or ghost work. You're not being paid upfront and there's no guarantees. Comparing this to Star Wars or anything like that isn't applying logic that has your best interest in mind.
 

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Sounds like a good deal to me. A character from a short story, and you pay her to build her brand. Sweet!

Meh. You're going to do it anyway, do some research yourself and find out what others have paid to do this. You've gotten the best advice you're going to get, from people who know what they're talking about. Next move is yours.
 

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Christopher Gray said:
Really? James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, those are a few off the top of my head, where authors have a licence deal to write a book with characters they don't own. Another example would be Larry Niven's Known Space series, where other authors have used his universe to create original stories. It may not be as common between one self-published author and another, but it happens, whether you personally believe it or not.
The Star Wars/Star Trek and post-Fleming James Bond writers are all work for hire cases: the people who created those franchises (or their heirs) pay the writers to create new stories with those characters or in those settings, while retaining all rights to the original characters and the settings. That's work for hire. Sometimes the worker-for-hire gets royalties for it, as Alan Dean Foster apparently did for his Star Wars novels up until Disney bought Star Wars, sometimes not.

With regard to Known Space, you are most likely referring to the Man-Kzin Wars component, where other authors wrote stories and novels in a shared universe approach. I do not know all the details, but my understanding is that shared-universe setups are either work-for-hire (see above) or possibly profit-sharing arrangements if the original rights holder isn't in a position to pay the other authors directly for their work.

So far as I know, there is no law in the English-speaking world that would stop you from paying your friend to use her character, since that is what you two want to do, but you asked what the industry standard was, and you've been told that the industry standard is for the owner of the character to pay the other writer, for the labor of working on something the other writer doesn't own.
 

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If you insist on doing this then I would suggest a simple contract that states some of the following

It is for x amount of books to be published over a certain time.

The time length in which the books can remain live. (what if you help her books blow up and she wants your story out of the way?)

You give up/maintain movie and audio rights (They are her characters)

In the event of something controversial/moral turpitude there is a way out for both.

Licensing fees for shirts/merchandise

If you default on payment you give up all and any rights

When the term expires all rights including new characters you created revert back to her ( her universe remember)

Act of God clause. If for some reason a hurricane strikes, lightning strikes your laptop or other event each one of you has a safety net.

Free control of the characters you introduce. Her readers may not like the male chef named Melvin you created that has a purple mohawk and hunts muskrats.

Political ads. She may not use your characters in advertising for political candidates, causes, etc.

In the event of a divorce, death, your stake will transfer to X and the contract continues under new owners.

That any work that is gained from this venture (ie Steven Spielberg contacts you and wants you to write the sequel to E.T.) remains with each individual.

She releases you from any legal binding that may result in injury or death. (You have a character that kills himself and a reader mimics it)

Good luck and remember have fun!


 

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Don't pay, especially not royalties. It's too much of a hassle for both of you come tax time. You're sharing audiences. You each benefit from that. At the end of the story/book, send the audience to her books with an "if you enjoyed X, here's where to find more."
 
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