Co-Authoring: Heaven or Hell?

by Heather B. Moore

Publishing and promotion—building your platform—can be a lot of work and can sometimes take much longer than you’d hoped. But there may be options for speeding that process along that you haven’t considered. Ever thought about co-authoring (or even just cross- and co-promotion)?

Cases in which co-authoring might be a good idea: Enlisting a co-author to give you some added credibility or experience. Or maybe you’re  the co-author someone else wants to enlist to help execute their great idea (an idea you’re happy to have an in on)! Or co-authoring for increased exposure, broader reach, quicker time to market, and a shared marketing plan. These are all great reasons to co-author (or even co-promote related but already-written books).

However, like most other things in life, there are two sides to the co-authoring story, and some of the disadvantages can be pretty grave. So before you decide whether you need a co-author or if you should co-author with another requesting writer, there are lots of questions you need to ask.

Obvious Must-Asks and Business Considerations

  • Does the project need a co-author?
  • Does the project need you?
  • Have you chosen someone you admire/trust/enjoy working with?
  • How will you divide the labor? Switch off chapters? Share editing?
  • How will you decide on a timeline with hard deadlines?
  • What are your expectations? Is your vision in sync with your co-author’s?
  • What about income and expenses? How will you determine the royalty percentage for each of you? Will you hire an editor before submitting or publishing? If so, who will pay for the editor (or cover designer and publishing help if self-pubbing)? If you both pay, how will you determine who pays what percentage?
  • How will you handle rights reversion, new editions (such as second editions), possible cancellation by your co-author, and other contract issues?
  • Who will communicate with the publisher on all the issues that need to be resolved?
  • What happens if the book is rejected by a publisher(s)? Will you self-publish? What’s your plan?

Critical: Once you have answered all these questions, put everything to which you’ve agreed in writing.

Examples of Co-authored Projects

If you want to get the brainstorming juices flowing, following are examples of different types of co-authored projects, from individual books to multi-author series to anthologies:

1. I co-wrote the nonfiction book Christ’s Gifts to Women  with Angela Eschler. We each wrote three chapters, then swapped chapters and edited each other. Angela had already pitched this book to the publisher before she asked me to co-write. We still had to go through the entire submission process and some back-and-forth editing with the publisher before it was officially accepted. It took an extra year to come out because permissions had to be obtained for all the quotes in the book. I loved working with Angela because she’s a very thorough writer and thinker, and she was also a thoughtful and encouraging editor when we swapped our chapters. On the back end, we divided up some of the marketing duties and she always did a nice job.

2. I co-wrote a nine-book series, The Newport Ladies Book Club, with three other authors. We each picked two characters in the book club and each wrote two full novels focusing on the characters we had chosen. We collaborated on shared scenes, character arcs, plot arcs, and character interactions. The final volume contained all eight of the characters in which we wrote round-robin style, swapping character viewpoints with each chapter. At the beginning of the entire project, we each wrote thirty pages of the first four books and pitched them to a combined publisher’s meeting since we weren’t all contracted with the same publisher. From that initial pitch meeting to the time it took for the first book to come out was about two years. My co-authors had all published multiple novels, and some of them had published series, so although we were the best of friends, we kept our relationship and interactions regarding this series very professional, with a lot of give and take for the betterment of the series as a whole.

3. Another co-writing example comes from Lu Ann Staheli, who co-wrote When Hearts Conjoin  with Erin Herrin. Erin had the story; Lu Ann did research and interviews, fleshing out the story into memoir form.

4. The Timeless Romance Anthology  series is another example of co-authoring. Each romance anthology contains six novellas; each fifty-page novella has a streamlined plot and a limited number of characters. Annette Lyon, Sarah Eden, and I are the main contributors, and we invite three guest authors for each edition. We work together on creating a central theme for each anthology, then on editing and coming up with a cover design and a marketing plan.

5. Another style of co-authoring is a three-part novel. In The Fortune Café, which I co-wrote with Melanie Jacobson and Julie Wright, three main characters are all connected in some way. In this story, each receives a fortune cookie that accurately predicts her future.

6. Rachael Anderson, Karey White, and several other authors collaborated on a connected series with interconnected characters that was released in consecutive order. Each novel in the Ripple Effect Romance series debuted separately and was subsequently featured in a box set.

Deadlines

Deadlines are really important. Of course life happens, but in general, your co-author needs to agree to deadlines for writing the first draft, sending it to alpha readers, revising the second draft, swapping edits with each other, and then submitting to a publisher. If you haven’t already pitched your idea to a publisher and garnered interest, then you also need to decide how many publishers you will submit to, which ones, and how long you’ll wait until you may, or may not, decide to self-publish.

Keep It Professional

You might be co-writing with your best friend or a family member, but it’s important to keep business things separate from “feelings” or “emotions.” I have turned down some co-writing requests because I wasn’t passionate about the project or because I knew I was too different from the other writer in my approach to professionalism. Here are some tips to consider in keeping your co-authored project professional:

  • Be up front with your expectations
  • Define expectations before starting
  • Meet your co-author’s expectations
  • Be willing to grow and learn
  • Be willing to leave your ego at the door
  • Be committed
  • Be kind in your feedback
  • Be humble regarding his/her feedback

Organize Your Writing and Planning Time

With your deadlines in place, you must plan how to meet those deadlines. Don’t rely on the muse or a “good” day. There’s no such thing. Define how you will get together for collaboration, considering any of the following that would work for you:

  • Email and phone
  • Skype
  • Yahoo! groups
  • Write-aways (even short ones)
  • Editorial swaps

Working with Publishers

You might think that once you have a publishing contract, things will sail smoothly along and everything will be great! Nope. Working with a publisher can be difficult under the best of conditions, and with a co-author in the mix, it can be very tricky when one person wants one thing and the publisher doesn’t agree. You need to be very flexible. Editing, cover design, release dates, marketing, and many other factors are all in flux and can change unexpectedly. One of you should be the main contact person, but everything needs to be agreed on between the two of you before approaching the publisher with ideas/agreements.

Joint Marketing Plans

Your marketing plan needs to be fairly solid once you have a release date. Your publisher will have certain things they do, but it’s mostly just putting you through their “system.” If you have special requests, you’ll need to get approval for them. You’ll also need to do many things on your own. With Christ’s Gifts to Women,  we contacted a lot of bloggers and reviewers on our own and also hired a book trailer expert, then split that cost. With the Newport Ladies Book Club  series, we came up with several marketing ideas and assigned them out. Each of you needs to be very involved in social media, interviews, book reviews, events, and looking for opportunities. Decide what your strengths are. Divide and conquer when necessary.

Final Considerations

  1. Stay away from someone you don’t know who asks you to co-author just because you’re already published (typically this person thinks they have a great idea and that it’ll be a shoo-in). Many people don’t know the months and years and dedication successful publishing takes, and they think it’s “easy” because you’ve already done it. This doesn’t mean you should never co-author with someone just because they aren’t published. If you are passionate about the project and the other writer(s) fits all the above requirements, and you have a good contract in place, then go for it. The key here is to get to know the person asking you, and then ask yourself some serious questions about the project and how committed you want to be. Do not feel obligated to take on a project for any reason; learn to say no—this is your career we’re talking about!
  2. At the same time, don’t shy away from co-authoring just because it’s complicated; just know it must be something to which you are willing to dedicate yourself. There may be hard moments in the co-author relationship, the publishing process, or both, so make sure you’re committed.
  3. Know why you’re writing the book in the first place. Angela and I had some hurdles to overcome before getting accepted for publication, but we were so strongly set on our message and our book that we were able to get over the bumps and persevere. When the second set of four books in the Newport Ladies Book Club  series was submitted for publishing, several details came up that threw a wrench in the publication dates, process, and deadlines. Because of the goals of the series as a whole, we were able to work through all of the issues, and, as a result, the entire series was released as originally intended. When I co-wrote the nonfiction Divinity of Women  with my father, the submission process took more than a year with three different rewrites. Instead of giving up, we stuck to our original goal and were able to work through the revisions with a positive attitude.

Do This Now

If this article got you excited about co-authoring, start brainstorming book or series ideas and listing writers you’d love to work with. Then make sure you keep the critical questions above at hand and find your co-author!

Heather B. Moore

Heather Moore is the owner of Precision Editing Group, author of more than a dozen novels, and publisher of A Timeless Romance Anthology series. Her websites are hbmoore.com and precisioneditinggroup.com. Her blog can be found at mywriterslair.blogspot.com;  and you can join her on Twitter @heatherbmoore or @pegeditors.

 

Your turn: Chime in! What have you learned from your own co-author process, or what info above will you be using in your next publishing endeavor? Share your ideas and this post!

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Comments

  1. Wow. Fabulous information. I loved reading the Newport Series and Romance anthology and seeing all of it come together in those volumes. I can definitely see how, although collaboration is a lot of work, it’s worth it, given the right conditions. Thanks for the heads-up on all the ins and outs–especially your advice about keeping it professional and staying on task throughout the process, plus your examples of the different projects you’ve worked on. Super helpful.

  2. This is an excellent article with great advice! Thanks for sharing. I’d love to see an example of a co-authoring agreement.

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