Things to Consider Before Entering into a Partnership

Today, I’ll speak to partnerships between publishers and creators. I’ve been in great ones. I’ve been in hellish ones. So I want to share what insights I’ve gained.

On the surface, a partnership is great! One person thinks “I want to make a thing! But the logistics of it intimidate or bore me.” and another thinks “I want to help you make things! I dig logistics stuff, and like what you do.” Bam, you have a creator-publisher relationship that’s magical and produces amazing things.

Well, it does if you put a lot of work into the business relationship. This sort of partnership makes your intertwined for as long as the project involves both of you, which can cause strains as you have different agendas and focus on different logistics and creative problems (along with personal problems that could bring strain at critical project moments). You’ll have to work together for weeks, months, or even years as the project progresses and is in market, and that comes with some responsibilities for both sides to respect the other.

I have three key things I tell everyone who is going to get into a partnership: make an exit plan for both of you while you’re in a good headspace.

Spend Time on Your Contract: Everything significant about your business relationship should be detailed in your contract, not just ownership, money, deliverables, and all that jazz. Take time to hammer the contract out. Don’t just accept a contract from one party as being unverifiable, and don’t sign a contract thinking that “oh, well, we’ll figure out the other stuff as we go along.” If either side is rushing to get the contract done, that’s not a good sign—not necessarily a sign of being disingenuous, but at least of not putting care into their half of the relationship.

On Handling Disagreements: The contract should state a plan for what you’ll each do if you get to an impasse. At base, use vocal or in-person communication, not IM or email, when you come to these moments. But also examine getting a mediator involved that isn’t biased to one side, or barring that two that are biased to each side. When frustrations are high, communication generally isn’t, so having someone who isn’t frustrated with the situation can be a savior.

Have Exit Clauses: For whatever reason, you might discover the person you partnered with isn’t the person you thought they were. Or one of you might change perspective or demeanor enough to either want out or make the other want out of the relationship. This means you need to ponder each person’s ability to exit if things go bad.

But exit plans aren’t just about being unable to work together due to personal frictions. What happens if a project you thought would take three months takes a year, and partway through one person takes a games day job with a non-compete contract? That’s something I had to consider when job-hunting a few months back. Or if money runs out and the publisher can’t afford to bring your creation to the world, what rights do you have?

It could be a time-based thing (as it is with Tim and I on Backstory Cards, not that either of us are looking to exit), though that becomes far more complicated when the partnership is pre-funded on Kickstarter. But still talk about that—it’s easier to talk about while you’re in a good space than when you’re not.

I hope this helps you out? Hat tip to my partner on Backstory Cards, Tim Rodriguez, for workshopping this post with me.

– Ryan