She sent the follow up email about six months after our initial conversation. The project she described still appealed to me. In fact, there was a part of me that wondered how I could say “no” to working with her on this project. I had plenty of co-authoring experience, and I wanted to see this project become successful.
Something didn’t sit right.
I asked for a few weeks to think things through. I was close to jumping in, but I also didn’t want to hold this project back in any way.
Did it make financial sense?
Would my own book releases slow me down?
I finally found the answer in a rant about translating some wayward Greek phrases in my upcoming book A Christian Survival Guide.
As I considered different theories, perspectives, and arguments for translating the Greek phrase and all of the theological permutations, I stomped into the kitchen and ranted to my wife about how much I really didn’t care.
“I’m a big picture thinker. I write books. I don’t bury my nose in research for hours just to write a paragraph. I want to tell the stories, not labor over minutiae!”
What did I really want?
I wanted a co-author, but a co-author different from myself. I’m the big picture writer with the ideas and stories, and my two latest books were co-written with academic experts. They specialize in research and precision.
As I considered that writing project my friend had emailed about, I saw the project in sharp focus once I considered my rant. We were both big picture storytellers—creatives with ideas. Somebody would have to do the heavy lifting for the research, and since this was her project, she really needed someone who wasn’t me as a co-author.
My Co-Authoring Story
There are many different kinds of co-authors out there, and there are plenty of co-authoring processes. Heck, when my friend Derek Cooper and I set out to work on books together, we took turns writing chapters for our first co-written book Hazardous. For Unfollowers we divided the work between researching (Derek) and writing (me). Derek provided outlines and background information, while I revised the outlines, added introductions and conclusions, and wrote each chapter based on his notes.
The process wasn’t all that difficult since we both had clearly defined roles. I did my best to incorporate his ideas while ensuring that the book flowed well. The editing process was especially effective since we both had several opportunities to make revisions.
By the time our editor saw the manuscript, he hardly changed a thing. Never underestimate the effectiveness of two sets of eyes.
However, that isn’t the only way to write a book with a co-author. In fact, the process for my other new book, The Good News of Revelation, is about as different as it gets. For this project I teamed up with my former professor Dr. Larry Helyer to write a hybrid book that combined fiction and nonfiction.
We divided the book into short stories (fiction) and commentary. I wrote the short stories at the start of each chapter, while Larry wrote the commentary. We also reviewed each other’s work, and I did my best to keep the commentary sections as accessible as possible.
While I generally recommend a co-authoring arrangement like the one that Derek and I used for Unfollowers, using a clearly defined division of labor, a genre-mixing book like The Good News of Revelation proved a good exception to the rule.
The Rules of Co-Authoring Books
Here are a few things I’ve learned after co-authoring three books:
Complementary Expertise: The most important part of co-authoring is working with your strengths—you really don’t want to duplicate each other’s work. It will be best if you have complementary strengths so that you can each provide expertise in different areas. That will pretty much keep the process as conflict-free as possible since the person with the most experience should give the final word.
Trust: With both of my books, I had a long history with both Larry and Derek, stretching back to 2000 with Larry and 2002 with Derek. We had a high level of trust and experience with each other. Almost every big question for our projects was resolved with a short email.
Define a Point Person: Since I thought of and wrote the proposal for each book project, I also served as the primary contact and point person. This saved my co-authors from a bunch of unnecessary emails, and since we had a high level of trust, I just had to touch base over the really big questions. I didn’t always get this right, but it worked out way more often than not.
Consider the Money: If there are two authors, you’ll have to split your advance and your royalties. Publishers won’t double their payments for a co-author. If you’re on a tight budget, this could be a major drawback. While a co-author could make a book more marketable and appealing, he/she may also make the project less sustainable if you’re counting on that advance. As a general rule, authors don’t make much money, if any, on books, so you probably shouldn’t be in the publishing business in the first place if you’re counting on an epic advance to keep you afloat every year.
Co-Authors Expand Your Network: While co-authors can add to the timeline of writing a book, they can double your ability to network and make marketing connections. In fact, the pay off for the extra time that co-authoring demands for publication comes when you have to start marketing. There’s nothing more exhausting that trying to think of new ways to keep your book relevant week in, week out. Another person can relieve a lot of pressure and add to the exposure of your book.
What has your experience been with co-authoring?
Learn more about my two co-authored books:
Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline for Faith and Growth (July 2014) and several co-authored books. He is a freelance writer and work from home dad in Columbus, OH. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com. Find him on Twitter: @edcyzewski and get two FREE ebooks when you join his monthly e-newsletter.