...with Tricia Jacobson and Marie Beswick-Arthur.
Writing a book is often a solitary venture. Sometimes lonely. With coauthoring, it doesn’t have to be.
Teaming up with another author can make for a better book. Two brains are better than one and all that jazz. It can even change history: just look at how Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward brought down a president with their coverage of and subsequent book about the Watergate scandal in All the President’s Men.
Coauthoring a book involves a different process – and the process is different for different coauthoring teams too. In this Empowered Authors Podcast interview, Tricia Jacobson and Marie Beswick-Arthur share their coauthoring journey.
Listen to the episode below — and please subscribe to the podcast, which you can find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Originally, their novel Nova: The Courage to Rise was supposed to be a nonfiction book. Tricia is founder of a nonprofit called the Beauty in Everything Foundation, which offers resources and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds tools to help them thrive. To reach more at-risk girls, Tricia wanted to write a book of life lessons. Towards the end of the first draft, however, she realized that this wasn’t what her audience of teen girls were likely to want to read. They’d be more likely to be interested in a story with characters. It became clear that the book would have to be fiction instead.
Tricia found the idea of writing NOVA, the novel, even more daunting than the nonfiction book she’d already started. Heck, she’d essentially finished it! For example, she was insecure about writing dialogue.
Marie is an editor, ghostwriter, and author mentor who has ghostwritten or co-written more than forty books. But what made Marie an especially good match for Tricia and the message she wanted to deliver to the teen girl audience is that Marie had a previous career in social work. That means she had seen first-hand the issues at-risk teen girls face: including issues around being teen moms. Like Tricia, Marie has always wanted to help underserved girls like these. When she read Tricia’s draft manuscript, she was reminded of how Paulo Coelho, in his bestselling novel The Alchemist, used a story to show people what to do rather than telling them.
Their coauthoring process
Coauthoring teams have different ways of collaborating. They might sit down and write the entire manuscript together. They might split the work, with each one writing a certain number of chapters, sometimes with one then editing everything to ensure cohesion. Or they might have one come up with the outline and the other one doing the actual writing.
Tricia and Marie took a different approach to their coauthoring. Tricia already had her draft nonfiction manuscript with twenty-six life lessons. She sent this to Marie to see how they could turn these lessons into a novel. She also sent Marie the Alessia Cara song “Scars to Your Beautiful” which inspired Tricia. Read more about Tricia’s inspiration here.
Marie immediately understood Tricia’s intention. Within a very short time, Marie had written three new sample chapters and shared with Tricia where she thought the story could go. Because both had similar values and a similar “why” for the book, everything just fell into place. The process was smooth.
The original intention had been for Tricia to retain author billing and for Marie to be the silent, behind-the-scenes ghostwriter. Because of the seamless process, the melding of the motivations, and the end product, Tricia decided to credit Marie as coauthor of what has become a novel that’s won several awards already.
Tips for coauthoring
The smoothness with which the process unfolded for Tricia and Marie is rather unusual for coauthoring projects. If you’re planning on collaborating with another author, however, it doesn’t have to be stressful and complicated. You just need to keep these tips in mind.
- Be sure your “why” aligns.
For Tricia and Marie, this was ultimately the secret to their success. They not only had similar reasons for wanting to write the book—they also had similar goals for the book: to help empower at-risk girls. If your coauthor’s “why” isn’t similar to yours, you will keep trying to take the manuscript in different directions. Ultimately, finding cohesion will be very difficult.
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
A successful collaboration is one where the partners complement each other. One’s strengths will make up for the other’s weaknesses, and vice versa. Tricia, for example, felt that she wasn’t good at writing dialogue. Writing dialogue is Marie’s forte, so that solved the problem. Tricia was comfortable writing nonfiction, Marie is skilled at fiction.
It’s not only the strengths and weaknesses in your writing styles that you have to consider. Maybe one of you works best in the morning while the other prefers writing late at night, for example. Maybe one needs to communicate every day while the other just wants to be left alone and get on with it. Maybe one is a pantser who only needs a rough idea of where the story should go while the other is a planner who needs a meticulous outline.
You need to find the best way to work with these differences so that they don’t turn into obstacles.
- Iron out all the details beforehand.
Before you start the actual writing, be very clear about who is responsible for what. Set firm deadlines for different phases in the project. You also need to think beyond just the writing: how will you split royalties? How will you split costs? Who will have the publishing rights and what will happen to those rights if one of you dies, for instance? In which order will your names appear on the cover? Who makes the decisions about, for example, editors and proofreaders or the cover design? Who has what responsibilities in terms of marketing?
Once you’ve ironed out all the details – and there is no detail too small to talk about – it’s wise to get these all in writing in the form of a contract. This way, you can always hold each other to what you’ve agreed on and avoid possible problems in future.
Nova: The Courage to Rise
A little more about inspiration for the name of the book, and the names of the two main characters:
Nova: An astronomical event causing the sudden appearance of a bright new star.
Aurora: A natural atmospheric light display in the sky seen in high-latitude regions close to the Arctic and Antarctic. The northern lights are called aurora borealis. The southern lights are aurora australis. Solar wind causes magnetic disturbances that result in brilliant, shifting, and colorful light shows.
Stella: The Latin word for star. Stella Polaris is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. Stella is also a crater on the moon.
NOVA: The Courage to Rise published November 15, 2021. It’s already an award-winner: first place winner in the young adult and female empowerment categories of the 2021 International Impact Book Awards, and third-place winner in the coming of age and young adult fiction categories of the 2021 Firebird Book Awards.