It’s hard to believe that Angela and I have been writing together for over a decade. It started in 2008 with this blog, where we pooled ideas and shared writing responsibilities. Then we stepped up our game and decided to write a book together. And then another, and another. And then came our largest and most ambitious project to date, One Stop for Writers...
Our collaboration has been kind of a magical one. As I’ve often said in my best Forrest Gump voice: Angela and me was like peas and carrots. But it’s more than that—particularly when it comes to co-writing books. How do we do it? How have we managed to create books together that sound like they’ve been written by one person rather than two? How do we agree on the ideas for our books in the first place?
Questions like these are the most common ones we get from authors. Co-writing is on the rise in both the fiction and non-fiction markets; people are interested in trying it but they aren’t quite sure how to make it work. So I figured I would tackle the topic and offer some advice to would-be collaborators. But in the spirit of true collaboration, I reached out to some of the authors I admire who have found success writing books with others.
So read on, future co-authors. Some of the tips that follow are universal in nature while others may be simply one way of doing things. Hopefully you’ll find some answers that will clear the air for you.
1. Find the Perfect Partner
Read books in the genre you want to write. Take the extra moment to send a compliment or two to the authors. We’re writers and we all love compliments and positive feedback. Introduce yourself with an offer or a kind word instead of an ask, which will almost always be ignored.
In addition, Facebook groups can be a great place to meet other like-minded authors. I’ve met some awesome people in those groups. Conferences and writers’ retreats can be another place to make a friend and maybe start a collaborative relationship. For example, we’ve met several new friends at the Sell More Books Show Summit in Chicago. Consider attending local events at libraries or critique groups where you might also find writers looking to make connections.
Regardless of how or where, finding the right collaborator is a lot like making friends or finding romance–it’s not always easy and it’s different for everyone, but you’ll know when you find the right person.
~~J. Thorn, co-owner of Molten Universe Media with Zach Bohannon, authors of the Final Awakening series
2. Discuss the Details Up Front
Create a written document before you start to co-write that acts as a contract between you. It should cover everything from how you will communicate, who is responsible for what, target dates and word count, how you will handle the money, how you will publish and market, what happens if the book is an incredible success — or if it’s a failure. It should also cover what happens if you die, as copyright lasts 50-70 years after the death of the author and you are creating a product that will (hopefully) stand the test of time. I’ve co-written three books with J.Thorn and we used shared Google Docs for our contract agreement, as well as writing our chapters and communicating during the project. We outlined everything in our book, Co-Writing A Book: Collaboration and Co-Creation for Writers.
~~Joanna Penn, co-writer of 5 novels and 2 non-fiction books, including Co-Writing A Book: Collaboration and Co-Creation for Writers with J.Thorn
3. Have the Same Overall Goal
When one author is writing for therapy . . . Okay. We all write for therapy. . . When one author is onlywriting for therapy, and the other author wants to be a USA Today Bestseller within three years, there will be blood. One person will be getting their nails done while the other is breaking their nails on the keyboard. It will end up being a waste of time for both of you. As with any business venture, success requires distinct goals and timelines for your project and making sure both of you are on the same page with expectations and commitments.
~~By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes, authors of Spycraft: Essentials and its upcoming sequels
4. Share Your Words
As my daughter and I edited our two-voice 2019 memoir, some of my narrative fit more logically in her sections. When that happened, she adopted my writing and adjusted the words to fit her own style and voice. Other times, I conscripted her words and made them my own.
~~Nancy Jorgensen, co-author of the soon-to-be-released memoir Go, Gwen, Go
5. Divvy Up Ownership of Viewpoint Characters
Coauthoring fiction can be tricky, because no two authors have the same style, and it’s hard to keep characters consistent. My coauthor and I used a simple plan to solve the consistency problem. The basic idea is that each of us “owned” one or more of the viewpoint characters. We assigned each scene in advance to one viewpoint character, and then whoever owned that character had to write the scene. Immediately after writing the scene, it was emailed to the other author, who then inserted revisions and emailed it back. If there were conflicts in portraying any character in the scene, the “owner” of that character had final veto power. This worked out very well in practice. We also typically made revisions by adding in things, rather than deleting material. If we honestly felt that something needed to be deleted, we discussed it by phone, and then whoever originally wrote it did the deletions.
~~Randy Ingermanson, coauthor with John B. Olson of the award-winning novel OXYGEN, a hard science fiction novel about the first human mission to Mars
6. Don’t Co-Write. Co-Author
That means a decidedly distinct separation of duties. If my name is one of two on the cover of a book, I have either written every word (a la Left Behind) or edited every word (50 titles with Chris Fabry). I know some succeed by sharing the writing, but that would not work for me.
~~Jerry B. Jenkins, New York Times bestseller with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the Left Behind series with Tim LaHaye
And a few final tips from yours truly…
Know Your Strengths & Weaknesses
Each author brings something important to the table. Knowing each person’s areas of strength can help in the doling out of responsibilities. For instance, Angela has an amazing sense of vision that allows her to visualize the overall product and what it needs to include. I stink at that, but I have a knack for distilling information into a sensible order. When we know each other’s strengths, it’s easy to know who should do what.
Build a Foundation of Mutual Respect
This is hugely important for any successful collaboration—in writing, business, family, whatever. It means trusting the other person’s expertise in a certain area and letting them handle portions of the process without micro-managing. It requires give-and-take in situations where you may not 100% agree. Sometimes you’ll have to check your ego at the door and apologize for a mistake, admit that you need help, or take on a duty that may not be your favorite. Basically, if you look at your work as a team effort—two individuals working together toward the same goal—it helps maintain the proper perspective.
Hopefully these tips have filled in some blanks for you. What other questions do you have about the collaboration process?
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Mary Jo Hazard says
My collaboration with Paula Reuben has been a lot of fun. Paula was an editor on all of Fitzhugh Dobson’s books and several of J Randy Tarrabelli’s. We met in a writing group and I admired her insight and thoughtful critiques. We’re collaborating on a novel “Shiver” and I sent the first page of that to Becca and she critiqued it. In the beginning we each took different characters and wrote those chapters and passed them back and forth. We still do that, but as the book has progressed we know the characters so well we don’t need to do that anymore. We use your books all the time, in “Shiver” we have a character who experienced severe domestic violence and, even though I’m a psychotherapist, we use your “Emotional Wound” book all the time.
BECCA PUGLISI says
It sounds like the collaboration is working for you! I’m so glad you were able to make use of Emotional Wounds. I’ve found that it really does help to understand all the possibilities of how a character might respond to trauma. Best of luck to you both!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Oh, can I add one?
Be prepared to grow. Collaborating means being authentic, which means we have to acknowledge our own weaknesses and shortcomings. While that’s never exactly fun, it gives us perspective on where we are now and where we want to be. And, because we want to do right by the other person and bring our best self to the worktable, it opens our mind to stepping outside our comfort zone to fill some of our personal gaps. What a great opportunity to work on ourselves while building something incredible with someone else. Win-win!