How to Coauthor a Book

by John Soares on November 18, 2014

Collaborating with a coauthor on a book or other writing project is often an excellent idea; however, it can also lead to major problems.

I’ll examine the benefits of coauthoring first before moving on to point out the potential perils.

3 Reasons Why You Should Coauthor

The Coauthor Has Expertise or Knowledge You Don’t

I coauthored this book with my brother Marc. The collaboration went well!This is a situation where the project is a no-go unless you find someone who knows important info that you don’t, or who has important skills for a crucial part of the project, and you don’t have the time,  inclination, or aptitude to acquire that knowledge or learn those skills.

2. The Coauthor Has Name Recognition

This increases the likelihood of a publisher accepting the project and will likely also lead to greater sales and income. And if it’s something you’re self-publishing, your well-known partner can bring a lot of her or his audience to the book or project and lead to much higher sales.

3. There’s More Work Than You Can or Want to Do Alone

Bringing in a partner allows a project to happen that otherwise wouldn’t simply because you don’t have the time or energy or ambition to do the whole thing yourself.

This was the case for 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California, a book I wrote with my brother Marc Soares in the early 1990s for The Mountaineers Books. I’d just finished my first hiking guidebook (written solo), and I was very busy with other writing projects and teaching college courses. Having Marc do 50 hikes along with photos and maps made the project doable.

And 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California was a win-win situation. The book, in print since 1994 and now in its third edition, has been a steady source of income since it first came out. It’s sold over 50,000 copies.

Ideally You Get Synergy

With a good collaboration the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: What you both together bring to your project is substantially more than what either of you could have done individually.

The Potential Pitfalls of Coauthoring Relationships and How to Deal With Them

There can definitely be a downside to collaborating with other writers on a project. I know several instances in which coauthors were unhappy with each other and the process, and also with the final product.

You Must Be Clear on Who Is Doing What…

And you must be very specific. Typically each writer is responsible for one or more whole chapters of a book. But there are many other aspects of a project for which you must delegate responsibilities.

Let’s use collaboration on a book as an example.

Determine Who Will Do These 10 Tasks for a Book

  1. Create the prefatory material, including the table of contents, preface, and introduction
  2. Write the appendices
  3. Make the index
  4. Write copy for the back cover
  5. Deal with photos and figures
  6. Copy edit the manuscript
  7. Fact-check the manuscript
  8. Serve as the contact person with personnel at the publishing company
  9. Put the book in ready-to-print form, if you are self-publishing
  10. Deal with the various aspects of marketing the book, which can include publicity; website creation; blogging; Twitter and other social media; interviews in print and on radio, television, and the Internet; and book signings and other public appearances.

Follow These 5 Coauthoring Maxims

1. You usually must coordinate writing styles so that the book has a consistent voice.

Otherwise readers will be either confused or jarred when they move from one chapter to the next.

2. You must also be very clear on when each task will be completed.

Draw up a detailed schedule and make sure each coauthor has it, agrees to it, and sticks to it.

3. It’s very important that you decide how you will split the proceeds of the book.

It may not be an even split: One writer may do more work than the others and should rightfully get more of the earnings. You also must determine how you’ll share the various expenses of the writing project.

4. There’s a good chance you’ll have one or more disagreements along the way.

That’s why you need a process for dispute resolution. I don’t necessarily mean something formal with a mediator. It can be as simple as stating that coauthors will calmly discuss any disagreements in a relaxed and supportive manner in which all will be able to state their concerns and all will strive to resolve disputes to create a win-win solution.

5. Finally, make a written agreement covering all of this and have everyone sign it.

It will make you focus clearly on your responsibilities, and you can refer to it if any disagreements arise.

Your Take on Collaborating with Other Writers

Have you coauthored before, whether on a book or another writing project? Any wisdom to share? Or have you considered doing it? Share your thoughts and questions with us.

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