Co-Authorship a View in Four Parts – Part One


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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.


93 thoughts on “Co-Authorship a View in Four Parts – Part One

  1. Pingback: Co-authorship Part IV: Conclusion | Story Empire

  2. I read part 3 of your post first, John, and came back to read from Part 1. It makes sense you and Gwen utilized your strengths and wrote the different parts. You had the experience working together on the Blog Talk Radio prior to co-authorship of your book. The established working relationship plays an essential part in the success of your book. A clear understanding of agreement and sharing of responsibilities are great points.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Writing Coherency – Co-Authorship Part Three | Story Empire

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Friday 22nd January 2021 – #Review by Jessica Bakkers, #Co-authors by Gwen Plano, #Funnies The Story Reading Ape | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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  6. Hi John,
    I had begun reading part two of this series with Gwen’s article and realized that I hadn’t read part one. Your article has taught me some things that I didn’t know that I can apply to becoming a published author. Thank you for sharing what you have learned.
    Shalom aleichem

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Co-Authorship Part II: Shared Vision | Story Empire

  8. Thank you for all of your recommendations! I am currently sharing a blog with two other writers who tend to disagree at length about style and form, and I am acting as a kind bridge between the two. I appreciate what you said about everyone finding their comfort zones and creating equity in the actual craft. -DO

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A wonderful collaboration that continues beyond the book you co-wrote. Very interesting and I should think that truth and honesty and mutual respect are non-negotiable. You need those to be able to work together. And a contract is always a good thing for mutual protection.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. John, Great post. You and Gwen certainly made it work in The Contract. I co-authored my 5th Frank Rozzani book with a friend of mine, Kent Arceneaux, that was a new author. It was a great experience and he has since gone on to write books on his own that are very well written. It made me feel good to help launch a new other and it put some new wrinkles in a story involving some of my tried and true characters. Your post definitely gives us some valuable things to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post and subject, John. After a turbulent experience with co-authorship, I’m leery to do it again. The most important thing is trust and mutual respect, IMHO, even if co-authorship only involves multiple authors in an anthology.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a fabulous post, John, and something that’s never been addressed on Story Empire before. I learned so much from this, and look forward to the whole series from you and Gwen. Often in the past, I thought it would be a wonderful experience to co-author a book. My first critique partner and I used to discuss it on occasion, but it never happened, I still think it’s something that would be exciting to do, but I doubt I could manage the time right now. Still, I love learning all the behind the scenes details. My favorite authors are a team of writers—Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I also love P. J. Parrish. Although the author name is singular, it’s actually two sisters who write under that name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Mae. Gwen and I certainly enjoyed the experience and both learned from each other. We entered into the experience with little knowledge but did manage to talk through most of the tenants for success which will be in the series. Others came naturally and we found ourselves in absolute agreement about the path forward. I hope you get the experience some time. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I absolutely LOVED everything about “The Contract!” You and Gwen did a superb of co-authoring. One thing you said that really grabbed me is that any co-author partnership must share mutual respect and trust. That nails it! Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I really enjoyed this post, John. I’ve always wondered how writers go about writing together. Having read this I know I can never do it. I am not a team player and I don’t work well with others in my work environment either. I am so glad you and Gwen were able to do this so successfully.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a fascinating and informative post, John. The idea of co-authoring a book was intimidating to me because I had no clue what it entailed. Now that I have a better understanding of the process it actually sounds like a fun thing to think about for the future. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This is going to be a great series, and it’s presented by two of my favorite bloggers! I’ve always admired and wondered how co-authoring works. I can see where determining each other’s strengths would be critical. I’m looking forward to hearing from Gwen. Thanks, John!

    Liked by 4 people

  17. John, you have eloquently expressed the big picture on co-authoring. It has been a suggestion that has floated through my writing life a few times, yet not come to fruition. Looking back I can see why and reading your post, it shows that trust and communication are vital. I look forward to Gwen’s contributions and the rest of this series. ❤

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Fantastic post, John! And a great idea to co-author the series. I’ve participated in anthologies with a group of people, each writing their own separate story but have never co-authored a book. This post is very valuable to those considering co-authorship.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Pingback: Co-Authorship a View in Four Parts – Part One | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  20. Hi John

    I always enjoy Story Empire posts, but this one, in my opinion, is the best yet. It tackles so many different aspects of co-authorship. Some I had thought of, and some I hadn’t.

    It’s a road down which I have yet to venture, but I do have a trusted friend such as you found in Gwen, plus the advantage that we have met, albeit not in recent years. At present, we do more than beta read. We exchange chapters as we go, and for more than spotting typos, plot flaws, and people straying “out of character”. We make suggestions that sometimes alters the course of the book.

    I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, and I shall be interested to read what Gwen has to say, but I have one question for you, John. Did you find it a help or something you had to work around – a man and a woman working on the same project?

    Liked by 3 people

    • First of all, you are very fortunate to have someone that helps with your writing projects. Hold on to that relationship, Sarah. It is precious support to have. Secondly, you ask a very good question about the gender mix of authors. It is a funny thing but I don’t think Gwen and I considered gender while in the project. Yes, there are two strong characters in The Contract and one is female and the other male. In the course of writing I would make suggestions on the female reaction to events and Gwen on the male so it was a seamless process. To further explain, Gwen has gone on to write two books by herself and has carried the characterizations of both genders. I have done the same. I guess what I’m saying is gender did not play a role and I would not be reluctant to partner with someone not of my gender again. I hope this answers your question. Sorry for the long wind . 😁

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Fantastic, John. You’ve offered a great overview. Though you’re a hard act to follow, I look forward to adding to the conversation next week. All the best!

    Liked by 5 people

  22. Pingback: Friday JohnKu – AKA – TGIF | Fiction Favorites

  23. A great post, John. I loved your co-authored book. You both blended your styles nicely. This is something I’ve always considered doing, and I hope someday I will be able to with my daughter.

    Liked by 5 people

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