Two Authors, One Book, and Possible Headaches

Mr Bean

So, I was asked about co-authoring a book a while back.  If I thought it was a good idea or something that I would do in the future was the gist of it.  This isn’t as easy a question as one would think, but that could just be me.  Once I get going with a story, I don’t really play well with others, which colors my opinion a bit.  Still, you see it done all the time and it is successful, so there has to be something to it.

First, what do we mean by co-authoring?  Well, it can be many things from what I’ve been able to tell.  Some partnerships have each other write a section with it either being passed between them or done independently.  Others have the main author and then the other will do the revisions.  Some work completely together with one typing and the other talking with switches happening.  I’ve even heard of authors who write scenes with their characters and hand it off for their partner to fill in for the other half of the cast.  If the system works for you then that’s good.  Some of these seem a bit clunky to me, but it really boils down to the connection between authors.

Artists in general can be rather egotistical and stubborn when it comes to their writing because they have a vision.  It’s rare that the vision will match with that of another or be flexible enough to allow for a ton of input.  Equal footing isn’t easy unless both parties are ready to give up parts of their dream.  This is why it seems like you have co-authoring with one as the primary and the other as a secondary.  The main one writes the story while the other adds in things to make it clean.  Almost like a planner and a pantser working together if you think about it.  You also have anthologies, which removes this problem entirely because each author writes their own independent story.  Even with this, you tend to have 1-2 big authors to draw in readers and help the lesser known ones.  So, there is a hierarchy at play.

Personally, I don’t think I’d be very good at this.  I plan a lot of my story and then I craft it carefully, which is very much a solo process.  I can do some give and take, but my experience in trying tends to make me apprehensive.  Much more take than give from the people I tried to work with or they simply weren’t very good.  Once in high school, a friend and I wrote a short science-fiction story with no problem because we were in synch.  Every time after that became a battle of egos or the story was just bad.  I remember one time I tried to work with someone who demanded a flashback happen on the second page even though we were in the middle of the introductions.  Another time, a person took my entire idea and rewrote it to their vision keeping only two things.  That would be the character name and him being a vampire.  I wanted to do an adventure and this guy wanted to do social commentary on religion, so it fell apart rather quickly.  Since then, I haven’t really wanted to try again because I’ve been burned a lot.  It could still happen if I met someone who I really synched up with, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Not to the extent where a project has appeared.

So, what does everyone else think of co-authoring?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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30 Responses to Two Authors, One Book, and Possible Headaches

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    As you probably know, I co-write with Stuart on a regular basis. Some of it is fictional, most of it is fictionalised reality. We use each other’s strengths when it comes to who writes what…and brainstorm the rest. With our fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth books together underway, it seems to work really well. I think that the most important factor here is that we have the utmost respect for each other’s work… and do not take umbrage when things need to be changed, cut or tidied up. I don’t think you can actually write together without that.

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  2. I don’t think I could do it. Sounds like a friendship ender to me.

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  3. I co-authored a book with Gwen Plano. It was a very enjoyable experience of which I think we both would agree. We basically would sketch out a scene and then take a character and make sure the character was consistent throughout the book. What really works is if one is the quick writer and does the basic scene and the other fills in the detail.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    Great post!
    Under my given name (L. Marie being a pen name), I’ve coauthored books with others. You definitely need the right chemistry. A former coworker (still a friend) and I collaborated the most. Having worked as curriculum editors for the same publisher, we knew what to expect from each other, especially in regard to meeting deadlines.
    When I worked as a writer/editor for a book packager, everything was work for hire. So we often hired several people to write a book (usually nonfiction). The deadlines were very quick. There was no time to deal with divas, Divas tended to be taken off the freelancer list, because no one had time to deal with anyone who was not a team player. We didn’t pay enough to suit most divas anyway. 😀

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    • Do you find curriculum books easier to work on with others than fiction? I would thing the stricter guidelines can help out a lot. Surprised divas even tried in that environment.

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      • L. Marie says:

        Even divas like work for hire contracts because they look good on the resume.

        Yes curriculum books can be easier, depending on the skills that need to be taught through them. But they are harder as well, because educational publishers tend to be very picky because there are so many consulting experts to please (people with PhDs who look over everything).

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      • That’s why I never want to try textbook writing. I’d fail miserably.

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  5. I’ve thought of co-authoring. I worked with good partners in my working days. We wrote reports to the states but each person wrote the part of work they were responsible for. But then in the end, one person would edited the report so the style would flow as one.

    I think the writing style is crucial when it comes to coauthoring, unless it’s an anthology.

    I had seen bloggers coauthor and each person wrote his/her chapters.

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  6. Like you, I have pretty firm ideas about my stories and haven’t co-written much at all. I think I’d have to have another writer that I felt close enough to, to want to work on something together.

    I do have a friend who co-wrote some Pern fan fiction with me, ages ago. We talked beforehand and knew what sort of story we wanted (a funny/political wedding) and literally were in the same room while writing. One of us was at the keyboard, the other watching the screen, until they said “oh, I know!” and then we’d switch places.

    It was pretty fun. However, it was specifically a funny story and that meant we could be as silly as we wanted to be.

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    • Fan fiction might be a bit easier when it comes to working with someone else. You’re both fans of the pre-existing material and don’t have to do that much world-building. It definitely takes on a new level of challenge once you have build everything from scratch.

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  7. inkspeare says:

    I am not sure how I feel about it. I have never co-authored but I imagine it can be viewed as an adventure, something to be explored once in the future. I agree with you, personality and writing style, as well as writing ethics have to do a lot with the result and overall experience. Also, I think purpose too, what is the purpose of the partnership? That will help clear things a bit. I think if volume is part of the purpose, as well as the attempt on making writing more profitable, it may work. How well you know the person has to do with it too, the relationship. James Patterson co-authors a lot. Seems to work well for him. I think when your purpose is more on the artistic side, and not so much on the prolific side of writing, it might not work as well. Interesting subject.

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    • James Patterson is a weird one. He’s got a stable of authors and I’ve heard that his involvement varies a lot. Yet, it seems he gets a lot of the credit. You have a power discrepancy with him too. It’s clear that he has more influence and the other author is more like a protege, so it isn’t an even partnership. Honestly, I think he benefits more than the co-authors who we have to look up instead of remembering right away.

      I think profits might make things worse too in a partnership. Ideally, the two would split things 50/50. Yet, you always have the risk of one doing more work or perceiving they do more work than the other. This can break things apart because they could want a bigger cut, especially if things get popular and they feel they aren’t getting credit. A good example is how Stan Lee is known for his creations by those even outside of comic fans, but the name Jack Kirby, who is just as important, isn’t as popular.

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