September 4


How to Co-author a Book and Protect Your Relationship

By Boni Wagner-Stafford

September 4, 2018

#authors, #authorskills, #indieauthors, #memoir, #nonfiction, #writers, #Writing

When you co-author a book, you may find it easier to get to the finish line and self-publish. You share the workload, talents, and areas of expertise. Sounds great, right?

However, everyone has a different approach to writing. Everyone has different expectations of how much work is involved, and how much time it might take to complete a draft. Co-authors will share the same view of the global ideas in the book, or they wouldn't agree to co-author a book in the first place. But, when you start to drill down into the detail, you may find you disagree.

So, how do you write a book with someone else? The good news is that co-authoring a book doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be a very rewarding experience. If you do it right.

Whether you are considering co-authoring a book with your best friend or someone you've just met, these tips will help you collaborate successfully and maintain a good relationship during and after the process.

Looking to #coauthor a book? It can be rewarding if you do it right. #amwriting #indieauthor #iartg

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1. Explore Work Styles

Some authors like to write to a plan, an outline, and work in linear fashion. Other authors work better by writing when inspiration hits them, taking a more organic approach. There is nothing wrong with either style. If you haven't discussed this with your co-author, you may run into conflict if your co-author works differently and had expected you to follow the same path. 

2. Talk Tools and Technology

Are you equally comfortable with technology and computers? Does one of you prefer to write long-hand due to the enhanced intimacy with the content, while the other types 150 wpm and bangs out 5000-word chapters in a day? Knowing ahead of time how this is going to go will help you address expectations and create room to accept each other's unique value and contributions to the book.

3. Plan and Outline

When you’ve found your ideal partner to co-author a book, sit down together and draw up a structure for your book. Talk about the objective, theme, who your reader is, and what you're going to talk about. Decide who does what, keeping in mind each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Once you know what is expected of each of you, the rest of the project will follow more easily.

4. Review Timeline Expectations

When you start to write a book, you might think it can be written and published within a few months. Sure, some people do it. As authors, we WANT to get our great book out there as quickly as possible.

It's funny what happens when you actually plot out the outline on a calendar and take a realistic view of how much time and effort it is going to take to finish. 

For example, I'm co-authoring a book (which Ingenium Books is publishing) about autoimmune disease, inflammation, and food. My co-author, Heidi Hackler from Happy Well Lifestyle, and I have generated about 50,000 words toward the first draft of the manuscript. At the start of our journey we thought we might publish within about six months. We had a lot written, but we realized we were only about halfway there with respect to what we wanted to say. 

We sat down to plot the elements of our outline against the calendar, and looked at that against the reality of our already-full professional plates. That led us to realize we were looking at a much later publish date. Like, summer 2019. Or fall. A full six months later than what we originally thought. We did that work together, and talked about the implications. And agreed that life balance and sanity should prevail.

Funny what happens when you and your #coauthor plot your outline on a #calendar and take a realistic view of how long it will take to finish. #amwriting #iartg #indieauthor

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5. Set a Meeting Schedule

How often are you going to talk about your progress? Will you meet in person? Via Zoom, or Skype, or telephone? Heidi and I are both digital nomads, often in someplace new as we work and live and travel. While we are both in the Puerto Vallarta area at the time of this writing, we won't always be in the same place. We know that not being able to meet in the same room won't get in the way of our progress and we talked about this openly at the start of our project.

6. Start Writing

The hardest part of creating a book is, of course, the actual writing. (Until you finish that and start thinking about marketing. But I digress.) One of the biggest challenges authors face when they collaborate is how to merge their styles. When the book switches back and forth between two very different writing styles, if you're not careful, it can become jarring for the reader. There are several options to address this for you to consider.

Draw Up a Style Sheet

Your writing styles may be very different. Creating a style sheet and agreeing on word choice and usage can help reduce those differences. You can add to the stylesheet as you go along, provided that you both agree on those style decisions. For example, Heidi and I will say 'holistic medicine' rather than 'alternative medicine'. That's because our position is that there's nothing 'alternative' about a holistic approach to health.

This does a couple of things. It opens the door to a more strategic discussion that gets us talking about core beliefs. And it will reduce the time and energy spent during the editing phase when we'd otherwise have to align our language after the fact.


You might use the anthology approach, where you keep each chapter as a separate unit. You can add a byline underneath the chapter title to show who wrote that chapter. This approach works well with books that discuss several topics or different aspects of the same topic. However, it opens the door to overlap or completely different approaches to the same topic. To avoid this, plan your outline very carefully.

Tell Stories in Parallel

An anthology style doesn’t always work well in narrative non-fiction. However, if you each have a story to tell, you can tell them in parallel. Then each chapter or section may be headed, for example, “Boni’s story” or "Heidi’s story”.

One way to make this work is to plan your narrative structure in detail. Let each of your stories move forward at the same pace. At Ingenium Books, this approach is working with two of our authors who are co-authoring a memoir about their shared–but separate–experiences as mothers of adult children who came out as transgender. It took us awhile to sort out how exactly to present this to the reader, but we've got a solid plan now. Love You Always will be out in early 2019.

Edit One Another's Work

Write your chapters as agreed. Then swap and edit or critique each other’s work. This can help put more of your own voice into your co-author’s work, and vice versa. The main drawback is that it's easy to overdo it. Be careful not to remove your voice or your co-author's voice altogether. And this approach can lead to unnecessary conflict. Proceed with caution. 

Write Everything Together

This approach will create a fully integrated manuscript. You can literally sit down together to write. Alternatively, you can take turns to write bits and pieces and then email each other regularly to talk about suggestions and comments. This is a good approach to take if you get along really well. However, it is more time-consuming. You may want to agree on limits to the number of times you can go back and forth. You’ll also have to watch out for making too many compromises. Compromising too often can lead to a watered-down book.

Split the Work Differently

When you co-author a book, instead of each writing a certain or equal number of chapters, you may want to split the work in a different way. For instance, you write the outline. Your partner then writes the first draft of chapter one. You edit and/or rewrite that chapter. You write the first draft of chapter two and your co-author edits and/or rewrites. And so on. Or, one of you does the bulk of the first draft, and the other does the bulk of the editing and rewriting. This approach allows each of you to fill in the gaps and to channel your strengths. However, it can lead to resentment if one partner feels that they’re doing most of the work.

Hire an Overwriter

An overwriter will take your draft manuscript and rewrite it in a way that creates a singular voice. 'Overwrite' is a term most often associated with writing over data. That's kind of what I'm talking about. It could be a good editor doing the 'overwrite', but the point is to take both voices and streamline into a single voice for an optimal reader experience. This is the perfect option for you if you don’t have the time for constant back and forth with your writing partner. However, you both need to trust and respect the overwriter’s expertise.

7. Communicate

Throughout the process, you and your writing partner need to communicate. You might want to share ideas that could add value to the book. You might hit a slump and need some encouragement. You might feel that some aspect of the process doesn’t work for you. Whatever it is, you need to communicate regularly, clearly, without judgement or blame. It’s a good idea to meet for coffee or drinks every couple of weeks to catch up and address any issues that may have arisen.

Ready to Co-author a Book?

With these tips in mind and an understanding of the areas that could trip you up on your journey, you will be in a better position to reap the benefits available to you when you co-author a book. You will share the workload, the joys and challenges of the process, and you'll have a partner with whom to celebrate when you publish. And you will be able to deepen a positive and healthy relationship with your co-author.

What do you think?

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