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Monday, July 26, 2010

Co-Authors: Writing with Two

My first book was a solo affair and then the idea hit me for a great new series of curriculum study guides. There was one little problem. I did not possess the expertise to write the books on my own, but I knew the perfect candidate to join me in the endeavor. When she agreed I was excited about the prospect and we began our work in earnest. So far so good.

We quickly penned the book, had an editor, her husband read the manuscript and with a few more pairs of eyes and one other professional taking a look we were ready to go. I had speaking engagements lined up and had even contacted another author who was speaking at the same conference to "plug" our book after her seminar, by holding up a newly minted copy. Everything was humming along, or so I thought until reality struck my co-author. Cold feet.

She had a bad experience in the professional work place years ago when another co-worker took her presentation and with a few tweaks called it his own, presenting it to the board of directors and landing a raise. She was concerned that this would happen to her. I assured her that her name was prominently on the cover and I considered her the "brains" behind the science-based curriculum series for children. As the owner of the company, my job as her publisher was to inspire and instill confidence and we went on to write four books in the series and created many hours of hands-on fun  workshops across the nation for school aged children.

Flash forward a few years later and I found myself with another co-author. This one was a bit closer to home and happened to be my teen-aged daughter. She had an idea for a book and between the two of us many hours of brainstorming later we had a series in mind. With the first book written in a little under six months (and another 18 months of reviews by readers and professionals) we were ready to go to print! Our first book signing was set up and we both were speaking, jointly at a conference. It was an exciting time for us and her books outsold my curriculum 2-1. Three books in the series later we had thousands of books in print and the books are in their third printing at this point.

You could say I have experience with self-publishing, co-authoring, and publishing other authors. The above two authors were not under contract, both were verbal agreements. I had a great experience with them and still do, even though my friend is deceased. Her heirs now receive her royalties. I quickly learned this was not the way to do business and I have legally contracted with other authors every since. My attorney (Susan L. Spann) does a wonderful job in providing a fair contract that meets all of my needs and those of my authors.

I was extremely blessed to live through those two co-authorships unscathed. I would highly recommend a clearly delineated contract. Here is a quick check list in the event you consider working with a co-author:

1. Plan on splitting the royalty evenly.
2. Clearly explain each person's job.
3. Decide who will handle the tasks of publishing if you are self-publishing.
4. Decide who will handle obtaining an agent or publisher if looking for a royalty publisher.
5. Decide who will obtain speaking engagements.
6. Sign a contract before you begin that clearly states your royalty split if you plan to do #3 or #4.
7. Split any type of costs such as an editor, mailings or printing.
8. If one of you decides to be the publisher, make sure you receive at least 10% more for the subsequent expense and work (this is optional but highly recommended).
9. Decide who will handle publicity, or contacting or hiring a publicist.
10. Set time-lines and deadlines for all of the above.

One thing I've learned if there is a squabble over whose name goes first on the cover I'd be cautious. The rule of thumb is alphabetically, but it really is up to the two of you to decide. Beware if one author's name goes first the publisher will want to keep it this way through subsequent works even if you are the one doing most of the work. Co-authorships have been called marriages without love and that is possibly true. My experiences have been positive but then my personality is such that I tend to get along with the majority of the people, and I don't sweat the "little stuff"...

I will be interviewing co-authors, Donna McCrary and Sherri Holbert, both professional life coaches who have joined to write the book DIVA's of the Divine. They will share their experiences with the audience and much more about the writing and publishing process. I hope you'll join me live, if not the archives are here.


  1. As you know, Felice, my husband and I co-authored our recent book, Raising Real Men. We had an absolute blast doing it - to the point that we ended up so much in agreement that we wrote in the 1st person plural - we - and can't even really tell who wrote what. The experience taught me, though, that when you co-author with someone, you have got to be prepared for your words to be *our* words, your reputation to be *our* reputation, and all the decisions about style, cover, marketing, etc, to be in agreement. This was great, it really drew us even more closely together, but it made me see that I would want to be cautious about co-authoring with someone else.

    I think you are right -- if you aren't in pretty much agreement from the first, caution flags should go up!

  2. Excellent article, Felice. You gave me several good things to think about.

  3. Wonderfully insightful! Did I space, or did you recently redesign your blog? I love the books in the background!

  4. Recent design, JoJo thanks for noticing! BTW the interview with Co-Authors Donna McCrary and Sherri Holbert was excellent. When I asked if they worried about whose name was first on the book they both said it never occurred to them. A sign of a greater purpose for writing the book and a solid and wonderful relationship.

  5. Excellent advice. I needed this last year; I've learned a few things the REALLY HARD way!!

  6. Melanie that is the best scenario of writing with a co-author, and unfortunately Bethany, yours is the typical scenario. Hope things work out for you.

  7. Felice... It's such a pleasure to read your thoughts... Always...