Hi, SE ers John here. Today I’m going to kick off a four-part series of posts on co-authorship. I will begin the subject by discussing the elements of co-authorship. Then on January 15th Gwen will explore the idea of creating a shared vision. I will return on January 27th with a view of writing coherency. Gwen will wrap the whole thing up with a summary and conclusion on February 3rd.
Now that you have the plan, let’s jump into the subject of co-authorship.
You may wonder what is co-authorship? You’re probably aware that screenplays are often written by committees. It’s not uncommon for non-fiction books to be written by two authors (or more). We are all familiar with ghostwriters. So, it is not surprising that fiction writers are increasingly partnering with another writer to develop, outline, and bring a story to fruition. To specifically define co-authorship, this is about the best I can do. Co-authorship is the process where two writers come together to produce one or more volumes of literature.
Gwen Plano and I co-authored a book and never met face-to-face. We had worked together on Blog Talk Radio shows and read each other’s books. In a sense, we knew each other through these associations, at least enough so that we felt comfortable considering a co-authorship adventure. In other words, through our writing and radio work, there developed mutual respect and trust, both of which form a critical cornerstone for effective co-authorship.
I want to underscore that there is no one blueprint for co-authorship. As with any partnership, the most productive or effective relationships are those that work to each person’s strengths. If you decide to work collaboratively on a book project, you need to determine each other’s strengths. One way to do this is to have a deep discussion of needs and wants and then challenge each other to settle on what works best for both of you.
There are several working models for a relationship. Here are two examples. In one model, a writer creates an outline, the partner writes the first draft, and then the first writer edits the draft. In a different model, writers will alternate chapters and alternate editing. Gwen and I had an approach based on the story itself and our writing styles. Since our book, The Contract, had a thriller sub-story, and I am a thriller writer, guess who wrote those chapters? And, since there are some other-worldly sections, much like in Gwen’s memoir, who do you imagine wrote those chapters? We rather effortlessly wrote to our strengths.
In any partnership, there is give and take. And this is especially true for co-authors. Each needs to identify their comfort zone working toward task equity of writing, editing, and story construction. There are three key areas where this give and take needs to take on a more formal understanding. They are.
Genre: Determine your novel’s genre. With two writers, this simple choice becomes a complex negotiation. This is especially true when both writers are more or less experienced in only one genre. One way to address the difference is to identify what emotions are elicited by the story. Another is to list the book’s goals; in other words, what do you hope to achieve? Finally, set aside time to talk through your perspectives. The choices are many (romance, horror, thriller, science fiction, and more), but each choice also has sub-choices. Co-writers need to negotiate their genre to each person’s satisfaction. Please keep in mind that an author does not necessarily have to stick with a preferred genre. To stretch outside one’s own genre is an opportunity for growth. One of the beauties of co-authorship is the opportunity to grow and experience additional challenges.
Cover Art: Though this may seem a benign subject, Gwen and I spent considerable time going over possible covers. She is very focused on graphics, and frankly, my reaction is usually the same. “Oh, look a cover.” There are three considerations:
- Selecting the graphic artist was the first hurdle. Since I had worked with one successfully, we decided to go with her. You might want to look at the artist’s portfolio or their published work before making a decision.
- Determining the cover message is very important. We started with one cover and finally migrated over to another because of the message we wanted to convey. It is helpful to write out what you want your cover to say. It becomes easier for your artist to give you back an interpretation rather than continuing to try and guess what you are looking for.
- Negotiate the different perspectives is invaluable, although it may be time-consuming. Do not be afraid to be very precise and exacting. I was satisfied with several mock-ups, but I also came to appreciate our cover’s final drafting.
Finances: Fundamentally, co-authorship is a business partnership. Whether you are best friends or a casual acquaintance, a simple contract can protect both parties. In our research on the concept of co-authorship, every co-author arrangement we found utilized a co-author agreement. The Agreement will:
- Offer clarity about shared expenses (book cover design, publishing, marketing) and the royalty split. Most authors have a 50/50 split. Some add a provision that one writer keeps the funds until or if the royalties exceed xxx dollars. How the funds are distributed needs to be spelled out in addition to survivor benefits.
- Include pricing of the book. If you self-publish alone, you will determine the price of your book. With co-authors, the price needs to be negotiated. Each author will bring ideas and experience to the pricing decision.
- Address the division of labor. A balance needs to be agreed upon that reflects efforts and funding. Frankly, a shared workload leads to a sense of joint accountability.
If you do an internet search, you’ll find many examples of free co-authorship agreements. We used one of these stock agreements with a few modifications.
Well, that’s it for today. Gwen will be back on January 15 to talk about developing a shared vision. Have you considered a co-author situation? Lets us know your thoughts in the comment section.