Co-Authoring Without Going Crazy
If two heads are better than one, why is it twice as much work to co-author or co-write a book or other project with someone else than if you do it yourself?
Dealing with another person's quirks (and the other person dealing with yours) can slow a project down, but it can also result in a richer final product.
Here are five areas to consider to make the process go smoother. No right answers to the questions--just some ways to make the arrangement work or to decide it may not be such a great idea after all.
1. Confirm that co-authoring makes sense.
Co-authoring implies that two (or more, but let's stick with two here) people have a reason to share a writing assignment. Why are you considering it? Do you have complementary areas of knowledge so working together is a value-added idea? Will the other person's involvement guarantee a better chance of publication or acceptance by your target audience? Do you have the same level of passion and time for the project--or, if you have unequal amounts, is that okay? In other words, make sure you both agree that co-authoring is the best route before you start. Be honest.
2. Define your roles.
Is there a first among equals, in terms of who has final say about what to include in the final project, or any conclusions that will be drawn? If not, how will you resolve disagreements? What happens if one of you thinks the other is not pulling his or her weight?
3. Get organized.
How will you share the researching and writing? One person can make a first pass, then the other go through it. Or you can divvy up chapters, if they cover discrete topics. Will you have regular meetings? How will you share research and interview notes and pass drafts back and forth for critiquing?
4. Put aside egos.
Critiquing and revising each other's work will be tricky. What if you make a suggestion and your co-author disagrees? How will you deal with hurt feelings?
5. Consult a lawyer or at least have an agreement in writing, depending on the project.
You do not need legal advice when you are co-authoring a report for your nonprofit, but you may for a book that you hope to sell. How will you divide your (hoped-for) revenue? How will you deal with requests for reprints, speaking engagements, or other spillover activity?
It may be that you cannot work out these five issues successfully. If not, better to know at the outset and not when you are enmeshed in a distressing situation.
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