by Jocelyn Green
Working with contributing writers in your book can greatly add to your book’s richness, depth, and breadth of experiences represented. I worked with fourteen contributing writers for my first book, Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives (Moody Publishers 2008), and without those other writers, my book simply would not have been possible. I also worked with contributing writers for the second book I co-authored: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009).
Whether working with published authors or novices, here are some tips that will make the process a whole lot easier.
1) Give clear direction. My co-author on my second book, Jane Hampton Cook, is a master at this. She created a guidelines document for everyone who was interested in contributing. In it, she provided background information on the project, the publisher, and bios of all three of us authors. She outlined who we wanted to contribute to the book, what types of stories we were interested in, topic ideas, deadlines, word counts and format. She even included sample devotions.
2) Allow time for rewrites. Some people really nail it the first time, and others need a little more guidance. Start your project early enough, and give your contributors early enough deadlines so that you have time to edit or ask them to rewrite according to your instructions. For those who need very few edits, be sure to tell them what a great job they did and exactly what you love about their writing.
3) Encourage, encourage, encourage. Tell them how much you appreciate having their perspective din your book. Before asking for changes, tell them what you do like about their contribution and how important it is. They must feel you are a safe person to share their emotional and spiritual journeys with. You’ll never get good content if they are afraid to reveal their true selves.
4) Keep it tight. Stick to the word count limits. Every story can be trimmed and will probably be none the worse for wear. But be sensitive to the fact that many writers, especially new writers, will have a hard time if they open their document and see that you’ve chopped out entire sections. As a courtesy, it may work better if you ask them to cut out x-number of words, but offer to do it yourself if they don’t have time. If you were clear about the word count in the beginning, they really shouldn’t take this trimming personally. But there will always be some who think the word count is more of a suggestion than a rule and go over.
5) Be kind. Be approachable, and encourage them to ask you questions along the way. Respond quickly to their emails, and when following up with them or asking for something that’s late, keep in mind that there may have been a legitimate reason for the delay. One of my writers had a baby close to her deadline for me—but she hadn’t even mentioned she was pregnant yet! Pay them on time, and make sure they get their free copies of the books in a timely manner once it’s published. Give them credit where it’s due both in the book and in promotional interviews. Encourage them to tell their local news outlets and alma maters about their involvement in the book.