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Tips for Co-Authoring a Book

writing coach lisa tenerI often hear from aspiring authors who are considering co-authoring a book for various reasons. Two common reasons are:

  1. Feeling insecure about their writing skills
  2. Having a small platform and not necessarily wanting to develop a large platform or do a great deal of marketing

Co-authoring a book can solve either of these problems but, as you know, you’ll want to be very careful in choosing a co-author.

A Cautionary Tale (almost)

A woman called me recently who is one of the biggest experts in her field. Her first book sold moderately well (17,000 books sold) but probably not well enough to excite a very large publisher. Her second book was self-published and she sold several thousand books–better than 90% of most authors. Yet she did not have the marketing background or interest to sell at the level that would likely motivate a traditional  publisher to pick it up.

She found a co-author who was young and media-genic who was willing to be the marketing arm for the book. I wondered what kind of person would put his name on a book without contributing to the writing. I suggested she have her co-author contribute a section in every chapter so that the collaboration had integrity.

But was this co-author an ideal fit? Shortly after our conversation she saw some red flags.

I’m convinced that my first book–The Ultimate Guide to Transforming Anger— would never have been published were it not for my co-authors. Peaco Todd helped me see a bigger vision of what the book could be–one that would appeal to a much wider audience. Her cartoons also made the book a million times more powerful and fun to boot.

book by writing coach lisa tener

We still had trouble finding a publisher or literary agent, because we weren’t anger experts.  Collaborating with Jane Middelton-Moz not only made our book publishable, but it made it better, because of her depth of expertise on the subject and the stories that made the book come alive.

Here are 7 “Pro’s” for writing a book with a collaborator/co-author:

7 Pros of Co-authoring a Book

1. VALUE: Potentially, you can write a better book that provides more value, wisdom, expertise, fun, accessibility, real life examples,  etc. for readers.

2. CREDS: The book will have more credibility if your co-author possesses expertise you lack.

3. TIME SAVINGS: You have less to write.

4. PROMOTION AND SALES: Additional authors can provide more man- or woman-power to promote the book and reach more people. Jane continues to hold anger workshops and seminars (which I do not) and it’s due to Jane that our book continues to sell and I get a royalty check every quarter.

5. CONNECTIONS: Your co-author may also provide connections that you do not have. In our case, Jane had published ten books at the time with Health Communications, so it was easy for her to present our book proposal and get a “yes” from her publisher.

6. RELATIONSHIPS: When our book came out, there were issues with the dimensions and cover. Book stores would not stock the book, despite the great publicity we were getting. Because of Jane’s long term relationship with the publisher, they agreed to re-publish with a new title and ISBN number (so it would be considered a new book) in order to capitalize on our PR and actually have the book in stores. Without this relationship, our book would have been dead in the water–these were the days before Amazon was as big as it is now. Bookstores were still the main way books got sold. It’s hard to say what relationships your co-author may have that can help the book, but this is something to consider.

7. SUPPORT: It can be motivating to work with a co-author. You can write the book faster and more efficiently. You can help each other get past any blocks, as my co-authors and I did several times.

Sounds great, right? It can be. But are there any “cons” to be aware of? Absolutely. In fact, I know someone who ended up throwing out the original 3,000 copies of her book and starting over with a new title and ISBN number, not to mention hiring a lawyer, when she discovered that her co-author had plagiarized his section of their book.

That’s your worst case scenario, but other challenges can arise.

Here are some of the “cons” or just issues to be aware of and work to prevent when you co-author a book:

Cons of Co-authoring a Book

1. CONFLICT: Not all conflict is bad. Sometimes hashing out a difference of opinion will lead to a better book. However, to avoid unproductive conflict be sure to have a written understanding of how you will resolve conflicts and address differences of opinion. Also choose your co-author / collaborator wisely.

2. MISUNDERSTANDINGS: You may think you’re on the same page about issues but you don’t want to wait until a crisis to realize you’re not. Think of all possible scenarios for writing, editing, publishing and promoting the book. Address your expectations ahead of time. I promise another post shortly on issues to consider to prevent misunderstandings–the list is extensive.

3. LIMELIGHT: If you hire a publicist, how do you decide who gets the big opportunities? Sometimes you may be able to be interviewed together but many times, the newspapers or talk shows want one person. How do you decide who gets what? And who should be “pitched” for which opportunities?

4. MONEY: Have a very clear sense of how you’ll pay expenses. The author above footed the bill for many items and when she did open a bank account with her co-author, he cleared it out. Yikes. Pay attention to red flags. If you are equal collaborators, share expenses from the get-go so one person doesn’t end up contributing more than the other.

5. TONE and VOICE: Ideally, the tone and voice of a book should be fairly even. If a collaborator writes one chapter–or many–can you have the tone match yours well enough so it “fits”? Do you need someone to help the two of you match tone? Alternating voices may work if you alternate chapters, but if your collaborator only writes two it may just feel clunky unless the tone and voice match.

6. CONSISTENCY: It may feel odd to readers if the chapters are too different from each other. Can you match the structure of the chapters? Will readers feel thrown to suddenly read a chapter by someone else? Or will it be refreshing–and instill confidence–to read the chapter by an expert on that chapter’s subject? Explore the reader experience by asking some potential readers.

7. LIABILITY: What if your co-author plagiarizes? What if they do something that compromises the book project legally? Be sure to do your homework on the person before collaborating. Do a “google search” on them. Ask colleagues about them. Also, have your collaborator meet trusted friends or colleagues of yours and see if they get any  red flags. Listen if they do, even if you are excited about the potential collaborator.

8. OWNERSHIP: It’s a joy to own something with someone you love and enjoy–whether it be a home, a boat or a book. But what happens if things go sour? Can you still teach workshops on the topic if you developed those  workshops with a co-author you no longer speak with? Or even if you are on speaking terms, do you need to pay your co-author to use teaching materials you developed together? Be sure to develop clear expectations in writing for such possibilities.

As you can see, co-authoring a book has many benefits, but you need to go in with your eyes open and make sure it’s a fit before you jump in.

leigh lisa conversationHow to Capitalize on the Pro’s of Co-authoring and Minimize the Cons

  1. Be Clear on Your Objectives: Why do you want a co-author? What would you want them to bring to the table? Make a list, which can include things like: Has expertise in some specific area I do not, writes well, has a big mailing list in my target market, has expertise writing a book, is willing to be on national TV, can co-teach seminars with me, etc.
  2. Do Your Research: Identify people who fit the bill and evaluate how well they fit with each objective.
  3. Communicate Your Expectations: Be crystal clear about why you are asking them to co-author and what you expect them to do.
  4. Figure out How to Work Together: You’ll need to decide up front how to divide up tasks, how to incorporate edits from each other and how you will resolve a difference of opinion.
  5. Have a Written Agreement: Put it all in writing. Spell out everything so that you don’t have to rely on memory for what you agreed to.
  6. Include All Phases of the Project: Your agreement should include the writing of the book and/or book proposal, publishing decisions, how you will market the book (and who will do what) and how you will split the proceeds, both of book sales and also any work that comes out of the intellectual property. For instance, if you teach classes, do you each just keep the money from classes you teach individually or do you share in the profits? Also address any expenses. Sometimes, when one person pays all the expenses, it can be a red flag. On the other hand, if you are the primary person in the project, you may want to pay the expenses to have more control.
  7. Assess Compatability: How do you feel around the person? Do your styles seem to mesh well? Do they seem easy to work with and flexible? Do I trust him/her?

One way to make sure you are on the same page before getting started is to prepare a list of questions to ask a prospective co-author.

Questions to Ask a Co-author

Some of these questions are not necessarily appropriate for a first conversation, but you should explore each of these questions before committing.

1. What are your primary reasons for co-authoring? What are your goals and objectives?

2. Which of the tasks of book writing, publishing and book sales do you enjoy? What skills and interests do you have that I might not know about? What do you envision yourself doing to promote the book?

3. How do you envision us working together on the writing?

4. How do you feel about book marketing and publicity? What activities are you willing/planning to partake in?

5. How flexible is your schedule if we get national TV opportunities at the last minute?

6. Why does this book project particularly appeal to you? What aspects do you feel passionate about?

7. What do you think would make us a good team? Why do you want to work with me?

What You Need to Work Out with a Co-Author

Here are some of the specific issues you will need to work out ahead of time:

  1. How do you divide up the writing tasks? Do you each work on specific chapters? Or does one of you work on the overall content and stories and the other work on exercises or specific sidebar elements or features?
  2. How do you make the voice consistent and have it flow well? What/whose voice should it be written in?
  3. Who gets final say or how do you resolve a difference of opinion?
  4. What percentage of royalties do you each receive?
  5. Do income and expenses for the book go into a joint bank account?
  6. How do you keep track of income and expenses related to the book?
  7. What counts towards an expense book-wise?
  8. Who pays for what expenses or how do you break them down? If you are dividing 50/50, does that include travel expenses?
  9. Will you hire a publicist? What is the budget?
  10. If you get publicity opportunities, how will you “divide” them up?

EditMob-content_badge250Choose wisely, do your homework, listen to your intuition and be very clear about expectations. Also explore ahead of time how having different authors might affect the reader experience.

Have a question about co-authoring or collaborating on a book? Or do you have an experience to share? Please share your comments below.

And if you’d like to know more about writing a book, would like some help getting started, or want to get un-stuck, then join me and Samantha Bennett for this upcoming teleseminar:

Jump Start Your Book

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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Comments

  1. Martha Rhodes says

    Since I am the author in this article who blindly took on a co-author with a disastrous outcome, I cannot resist sending a huge “THANK YOU!” to Lisa for shining such a comprehensive, accurate, and practical spotlight on this subject. In my experienced opinion, taking on a co-author can have more hidden ramifications than choosing a marriage partner, although they are frighteningly similar. So much is involved and at stake: your time, creativity, money, integrity, mental, physical and emotional fortitude, but most important — your baby, your book! What starts out as a romance with a co-author (and they usually do!) can end all too easily in a messy divorce.

    Every bit of advice and caution in this piece should be followed — and I mean EVERY WORD of it!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Martha, Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate your metaphor of “romance” as I think there often is a blindness to the red flags. One wants it to work out and be a great match and doesn’t see the red flags. So, it’s important to take a step back and also possibly ask a trusted colleague for their opinion before moving forward. I will say for the record, I got very lucky in my collaborative relationships.

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