What to Consider Before Agreeing to Co-Author a Book

What to Consider Before Agreeing to Co-Author a Book

Telling other writers that you co-author tends to elicit expressions of both admiration and horror. It’s a reaction that makes me smile, because it’s something I love: the teamwork, conversations, and shared achievements make the co-authoring work I do such an exciting journey.

People often wonder, “How do you do it?”, which is likely a polite way of asking, “Don’t you argue like hell about the plot/dialogue/character development?”

Fair enough question; co-authoring can be challenging, but it’s a refreshing and interesting way to write. Here are a few strategies to help you create a successful and enjoyable co-authoring experience.

Pick someone whose writing you know and like

Natalie Dae and I became friends through writing and progressed to beta reading for each other, which calls for mutual respect and honesty.

Actually writing together came about by accident: Natalie was having trouble after the first chapter of That Filthy Book and asked me to take a look. I loved the story and suggested that I try writing the next chapter to see what would happen. She adored where I took the characters and how they came alive, and got right to work on the next section. She emailed it back for me to write more and that was it, we were off!

Be warts and all friends

Make a pact at the beginning of the whole experience not to fall out over writing, whether it’s where to take the plot, what the characters say, or even how it’s going to end.

Be relaxed, be easy-going, be nice and let the story take you on a journey. You’ll be utterly amazed at how the characters can unfold themselves and go in wonderful directions.

The story is the priority, not ego

If something isn’t right, it should go, no matter who wrote it.

If you aren’t prepared to hear constructive criticism on your writing, then co-authoring isn’t for you. Natalie and I go with the idea that “there are plenty more words where those came from,” so we write and write and write, and then each later go in and chop things to bits. Sulking because Natalie took out a couple of “my” paragraphs that were too repetitive would make the book suffer: after a while, she’d likely start leaving them in to save the hassle of my bad mood.

The reader has no idea which sections were written by you or your co-author, and if they can tell, then it’s not a successful co-authorship. Be prepared to hit delete on each other as much as you are on yourself.

Be flexible about timing

Establish guidelines rather than deadlines of when you’ll get your chapter or word count done, and be understanding if daily life causes delays.

Sometimes, though, it’s fun to hammer out a story quickly and be completely in the flow. Natalie and I once wound up sending chapters back and forth at the rate of one a day! This isn’t always going to happen; it’s good to go in with a relaxed mindset of “let’s make this enjoyable” rather than a firm plan.

Let the characters speak to you

Relationship-led plots work really well in co-authoring, as there often aren’t complex, critical plot twists; they’re more focused on emotions. Once you both get to know the characters, they really become the third, fourth, and fifth people involved in the writing process.

Natalie and I have just written a trilogy together and the hero has stolen both of our hearts; if you heard us talking about Victor Partridge you’d think he was a real man we were both obsessed with! Writing solo, it is of course possible to fall in love with your characters, but it’s a wonderful to be able to share that feeling.

Be brave

When you’re writing with someone else, you can be braver when it comes to pushing your boundaries. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

Try writing scenes, plots and dialogue that test you as a writer and as a person. Don’t be afraid to go down a darker or more comedic route than you normally would, or try sci-fi if you usually write historical fiction.

Ride the rollercoaster

The writing, publishing, and promoting process is one big crazy rollercoaster. Working through each step with someone else means you get to share the highs and support one another during the lows. Hold hands and hang on!

Have you tried co-authoring? Would you consider telling a story with another writer? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Filed Under: Craft
James Chartrand

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13 comments

  • Another important consideration when co-authoring a book is that each author is a co-owner of the copyright in the work in equal, undivided interests. This means that each co-author can exercise the full panoply of rights (reproduce, distribute, make derivatives, etc.) with the entire work, not just the portions she wrote. So, it’s a good idea to have an agreement in writing up front about the intentions of the co-authors with respect to copyright and what each writer can and can not do with the finished work.

    • Alejandro says:

      Do you know if I have an idea of something and want to write it in a book, is it a good option to cowrite it, maybe the other person could say I’m gonna do it by my own, and taking my ideas..

      • Alejandro,

        If you want to protect your idea from being taken by a possible co-author, you need to have a contract with that person — usually called a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA — in which that person agrees he will not take the idea. Here is a sample NDA you can use.

        Kathryn

  • Robyn LaRue says:

    Co-authoring a project is on my schedule for 2014 and I’m happy to have found your post to refresh myself on the benefits and ways to work around the pitfalls. I’m glad my co-author and I have a solid relationship, and I think the structure of our book will help also. I’m looking forward to the polishing. Our styles are similar but our emphasis is sometimes different. 🙂

  • Lily Harlem says:

    Kathryn – once the project is complete, then yes, a solid and equal contract is essential whether using a traditional house to publish or a platform such as Amazon’s KDP. Something I always adhere too.

    Robyn – I wish you every success with your co-author venture in 2014, just keep in mind it’s fun!

    Happy Days

    Lily

  • Andre Cruz says:

    It is so exciting to work with another author since writing can be very lonely. You give some great tips on how to successfully deal with another writer when working on the same project since problems can still arise.

    I for one like to schedule free time to hang out with my coauthor.

    http://www.andrecruz.net

  • Lily Harlem says:

    Andre – I agree writing can be lonely and I’m glad you like my tips. I find social time with my co-author is just the best, we have so much to talk about we talk at the same time. Barely remembering to eat and drink if we have gone out to dinner together.

  • Grayson Selzman says:

    I would very much like to co-author a book, but the trouble is that I have a short attention span so it would be good to have some rigidity and guidelines to bounce against, also I haven’t written anything so far but have tons of ideas. I would l would love to hear if you have any suggestions on how to go about finding a partner. Thanks and have a pleasant day.

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